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For Sixth Grade Students in Texas, ChatGPT "Was an Idea to Get Them Going"

May 4, 2023
El Paso teacher says the AI bot has helped bridge the gap in learning created by COVID-19

Erica Orozco has first-hand experience with disparities in classroom technology. In 2022, she taught English to high schoolers at the El Paso Leadership Academy and was able to use ChatGPT to help enhance their writing.

Orozco fed ChatGPT the Phil McGraw quote: “Eighty percent of all choices are based on fear. Most people don’t choose what they want; they choose what they think is safe.”

She asked the chatbot to write an essay in response to the quote. Erica told her students to use the AI-generated essay as an example for what their essay could look like. They should treat ChatGPT “like a textbook,” she said.

“It gave them more detail,” Orozco said. “I was like, ‘Okay, so now you have an idea of what this could look like.’”

“It was an idea to get them going,” Erica said. She was clear in her instructions to not copy the auto-generated essay. “I wanted them to give appropriate credit where it is needed, based on samples from AI because it is wonderful. But I want them to put it in their own words,” she said.

ChatGPT allows for more accessibility, even when Wi-Fi isn’t accessible.
Erica Orozco

But now, at Harmony School of Innovation, a tuition-free public charter school in El Paso, Texas, that’s a much harder task. The school has limited access to technology and Wi-Fi. She can no longer use the chatbot in the classroom.

Ideally, Erica would like to project it at the front of the room for her students to see. Even by projecting a singular essay example, Orozco thinks the tool would serve as inspiration for her sixth graders.

When Orozco’s sixth grade students came back to a physical classroom after the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to adapt back to a school experience without the nuance of modern day technology.

“ChatGPT allows for more accessibility, even when Wi-Fi isn’t accessible,” Orozco said, thinking about the potential benefits that projecting the chatbot for her students to learn from could have.

Orozco was interviewed as part of the Walton Family Foundation's research into how ChatGPT is being used by teachers and students.

She said many of her students got used to typing their essays and struggle when asked to handwrite essays. While ChatGPT wouldn’t cure that, it would bring an element of tech back into the classroom. And it could help make the transition easier – bridging gaps between access to tech and a classroom experience without it.

She said many of her students are starting to write like they text, using casual lingo – such as “u” instead of “you” and words like “gonna” – that tracks between sixth graders but doesn’t cut it for academic purposes. If she were able to provide an example of a ChatGPT written essay for her students, it would show words written out in full.

“A lot of my students like to type and write the way that we would text,” she said. “So for them it’s beneficial because it’s written out the correct way.”

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