Middle School

Plagiarism, Student Writing, and AI

Several days ago, I received an email from one of our students containing an absolutely wonderful poem about the CAIS Middle School that was so touching I almost cried reading it. I was about to go find the student and tell them what a wonderful poem they had written when I received another email from a teacher reporting a tech violation for that same student for using ChatGPT on their Chromebook in class during our Extra-Help study hall period. My disappointment was immediate as I realized that we are not, as I initially suspected, teaching a budding Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, or Amanda Gorman. I do have a measure of respect on the other hand for our tech savvy, early adopter middle school students.

At a recent afternoon student pickup on Turk Street, a parent asked me if I am concerned about ChatGPT and the potential for students using it to complete writing assignments. My answer was no. Plagiarism of many forms has been an ongoing issue at the middle school level probably ever since adolescents were first taught to write. The majority of plagiarism in middle school is not the result of students wishing to cheat to get a better grade or to avoid work—the majority of plagiarism arises from student time management issues. They have not allowed themselves enough time to complete a written assignment so they take information from the internet or copy directly from a book or another student’s work. While plagiarism occurs from time to time, it has not been a major issue at CAIS. Last year a parent asked me if we use plagiarism detection software. I replied that yes, we have plagiarism detection software—his name is Mr. Crow. All of our teachers become familiar with the writing style and writing level of their students and if a student turns something in that is not their work it is almost immediately identified as such by the faculty.

One last note on ChatGPT. The weekend before last on CBS Sunday Morning, reporter David Pogue did a piece on the new AI app and at the end of the article he asked ChatGPT, “I worry about ChatGPT’s effects on education, misinformation, and jobs.” ChatGPT answered, “ChatGPT is a tool which can be used for a variety of purposes both positive and negative. It is important for society as a whole to have ongoing conversations about the responsible development and deployment of AI technology.” Wow! I wish I had written that!