How to Use AI in the TEFL Classroom

AI is moving into every area of our lives, including TEFL. Not everyone feels comfortable automating things. But it is part of the digital revolution and something we must learn to live with. There have been some rumblings that it will threaten specific industries. But there is no sign of it, stopping only growing bigger. Most people have heard of ChatGPT, a platform that uses AI to answer questions. Of course, as soon as anything proves to be a success, rival companies launch their version, so there will be more similar platforms. It may seem daunting and, for many people, quite scary, but it is here. We might soon see AI in the Classroom

Looking at it from an English teacher’s point of view, it seems the most logical thing to do is consider how it can help rather than threaten progress in the classroom. AI offers various tools to help with conversational English, including formal-style exercises and more lighthearted games. So, how can you use AI in the TEFL classroom?

Understanding AI

There is every possibility that your pupils will know more about AI than you do. This new generation of learners was born with technology in their hands and has grown up using it ever since. In some developing countries, if you travel abroad to teach, there may not be access to AI, so you can’t use it in the classroom anyway. Still, all developed countries will have access that children will be familiar with already.

This could lead to issues with using AI to complete homework or assignments. It’s almost a challenge for the teacher to see if they notice that AI has been used to complete schoolwork. Students are there to learn English, so obviously, this is a form of cheating and cannot be acceptable. So right from day one, it’s essential that you set the boundaries and talk specifically about AI to your students. Explain that there are ways you can check whether it is being used.

It’s also essential to ensure that students understand that using tools like AI will hinder their effective learning of English. There is no substitute for a trained teacher who understands how to engage students with lessons and homework. They have a recognised and accredited TEFL certification, which has prepared them for life in the classroom. That said, we mustn’t try to hide or shun AI as it is part of the developing technological world. Instead, the TEFL teacher aims to ensure you harness AI and create a positive learning environment. It can form the basis of a lesson and conversation surrounding the ethics and uses of AI.

Using AI Games 

Students may have used things like ChatGPT at home and will be curious to see what you know about it and whether they can pull the wool over your eyes. So, by changing how AI like ChatGPT can be used in a TEFL classroom, you are proving your knowledge and awareness of AI-based cheating and showing students how it can be used positively rather than as an attempt to subvert learning. 

A great place to start is in the visual learning world; with platforms like Midjourney and Dall-E. Getting them to create art pieces using only English prompts offers a way of using AI in the classroom. If they are going to question ChatGPT, they must do so in English to obtain correct answers to questions that you can come up with together. They cannot speak or interact with ChatGPT in their native tongue.

More AI Games

They could use self-learning time in the lesson to gain information from an AI tool about a specific subject, for which they must then write an essay in English without plagiarising the answers they have been given. If they are unsure of the word, they could translate it from their attempted English to their native tongue to see whether they are correct. They should still endeavour to avoid questioning AI in the birth language, as this could be borderline cheating. 

English teachers must monitor the use of AI platforms as there is the potential for them to be factually incorrect. ChatGPT is considered reasonably accurate but still has some programming to provide a comprehensive answer, and of course, how a question is asked could lead to the wrong answer, mainly if the English prompts are incorrect, which can quickly happen with students who are learning. However, AI does seem to engage younger people and spark creativity, so it is better to work with it than against it.

Lesson Planning with AI 

As a teacher, using AI to help create lesson plans makes of cheating; you’ll be pleased to learn. In the future, lesson planning could likely be based on algorithms. Creating lesson plans and bringing differentiation to cater to students of all proficiencies and ages has been challenging for teachers for decades. Planning and preparation have always taken away from the more practical aspect of teaching children. This latter area is why most people go into teaching because they want to work with young people. 

Teaching English as a foreign language is no different; nobody goes into it because they enjoy paperwork. It is an aspiration to help people learn English to further their life plans. So, AI can be a valuable time-saving assistant in this case. With the platform ChatGPT, you can provide a prompt such as ‘Create a lesson plan covering animals for a class of five-year-old children that includes assessments and activities to help them learn English’. That provides the AI with enough information to complete your request. You will learn how to interrogate these AI tools to ensure you get the desired results. 

Other Lesson plans with AI

You could also have AI create reading comprehensions for you; again, you must provide a clear breakdown of what you seek. For example, ‘Please create a reading comprehension for adult learners with basic English skills on the topic of popular movies. Provide 2 to 3 paragraphs to be read and 5 to 10 questions to confirm comprehension.’ Once generated, the ball is in your court to ensure you read the comprehension and check the questions to ensure they suit your learners.

Another thing to remember is that this does not mean that teachers get a free pass on lesson planning. As you will soon see, AI is imperfect, and you will have to tweak and edit what the platform provides. You must thoroughly check the work, but there is little doubt that it can support lesson planning if used carefully, especially with complex tasks like differentiation.

Monitoring Homework for AI Misuse

So, we discussed the issue of AI being used to produce homework, which is detrimental to student learning. Hopefully, because you are teaching English as a foreign language most students want to be there. They will quickly understand why this is not a good practice to get into. Business English learners are most likely to behave in terms of the misuse of AI. They need good English skills to get on in the business world. However, if learners are coerced into learning English by well-meaning parents, they may still think they can get away with using AI to do their homework.

You can do a couple of things to make it harder for them to use AI to cheat while encouraging the trust you are building out. The temptation to use AI platforms for translating will be greater, so if this forms part of the homework, it’s worth reminding your students that it’s straightforward for detection software to pick up AI use. There are several tools you can use the top free and will easily confirm any AI use suspicions if they are happening. Ensuring the students know this should help minimise the risk. The fact that you can use AI together in the classroom to research may also help them accept the limitations without negatively impacting their learning.

Limitations of AI

It’s also worth reminding them that in the same way, Google Translate isn’t perfect. Chat GPT has the same limitations when it comes to translating from one language to another. If you’ve ever translated something in Google Translate, you will understand how easy it is to spot that this was certainly not the work of a human being. Often the results of using AI to translate will be phrased incorrectly, offer uncommon phrasing, and use strange synonyms, making it very easy for a teacher to spot. As you get to know your class, you will also begin to build up a picture of each pupil’s progress. Someone who has struggled with the basics in class and turns in a perfect piece of work is unlikely to have completed the task without AI help.

What is the Future of AI in the Classroom?

Predicting how AI will pan out in any sector is difficult. It could lead to a lot of lesson planning automation, especially when personalising four different groups of students. It may even be able to plan on a student-by-student level. It’s impossible to tell at this stage what will happen in education regarding the use of AI.

All we can do is focus on the current situation, which is accepting that platforms like ChatGPT are here, and students will likely be aware of them. So, instead of reviewing them as a potential hindrance, we should look for ways to work with them. Early adopters of new technologies often have an easier time keeping up with their progress and impact on a profession. 

The Takeaway

It seems that the best use of AI in the classroom is for generating ideas. For example, it creates homework, tasks, challenges and games. This should be viewed as a support tool, not a threat to a teacher. The AI platform is powerful and can offer some excellent suggestions. From a teaching point of view, it can also be used to organise your lessons and help prioritise your work. The endpoint is that it could schedule things in your calendar to ensure you stay on track.  So, it can help speed up the lesson planning process, and work generation is a positive.

From a student’s point of view, as the teacher, you should be laying down strict ground rules about how AI can be used. Educating on why it is unethical and detrimental for it to take over in a homework capacity. The value of being bilingual cannot be underestimated. There is no way to succeed in a second language without working to learn the nuances and structure of English. This means that any cheating by getting AI to do their homework for them is only harming their future progress and, therefore, should be discouraged. 

In Conclusion 

AI is still a very new technology and should not be relied on. However, if you have not used tools like ChatGPT before. Now is the time to investigate the platform and learn how to harness it for positive use.

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