Teaching and learning with AI (part 7)

The learning context

The knowledge and skills that are taught in a lesson have a special context. They are part of a wider sequence of ideas that are intended to lead a student towards mastery of the knowledge or skill. The context is further defined by a variety of local and national factors, as shown below.

The knowledge and skills are appropriate to the age and stage of development of the student, building upon what the student already knows or can do. This is true of classrooms across the world. 

The selection of age-appropriate content has “official” approval by governments (such as the English National Curriculum), or federal state or local district or by the school itself. Professional bodies (such as the Royal Society of Biology or the American Association for the Advancement of Science) also make important contributions to defining what is age-appropriate content, such as the Common Core standards for English and Mathematics in the US. 

It is not surprising that AI-powered apps that are pre-trained on these standards are emerging as tools that teachers can use to plan lessons. Applications such as Teachally will generate lesson objectives, resources, assignments and exit tickets (see this for an example tutorial for a maths lesson). Support for problem-based learning is also available (see tutorial on Treasure Island).

Khanmigo, developed by the regarded Khan Academy, has a lesson planning tool, as well as important modules for student learning that we will preview later.

Both of these applications have a US focus but are likely to develop more international versions in time.

For subjects with external examinations or key tests, the producer of the examinations is also a major stakeholder in defining ‘approved’ knowledge and skills. ‘Approved’ in this case being answers that earn marks in examinations. Such is the pressure to achieve high examination results, that the mark schemes of individual examination questions are often the effective de facto standard for approved knowledge, at least for students aged 14-18. This means that the examination boards (or awarding bodies as they are currently called in England) could play a very important role in developing AI chatbots for the students studying the courses built on their examinations. 

AI pre-trained with the essential policy documents produced by these organisations could be able to answer this student question, which ChatGPT currently finds difficult to address:

Q: what do I need to know before I start learning this new topic? 

A: a self-assessment checklist would be provided with an option to find out more about each of the items. 

The value of this query in allowing students to prepare for new topics before they are taught could be considerable.

The learning context is about allowing students to learn to recognise the language used in the classroom and to be able to use it for themselves. This can be in oral conversation or in writing or in actions. It will soon be possible to have a verbal conversation with an AI chatbot, and this opens up a significant potential for learning, especially new languages. 

Bernstein argued that many students are excluded from learning in schools because they simply cannot recognise the context of the learning: either the words that are being communicated by the teacher or because they cannot form appropriate written or oral responses. 

Teachers of vocabulary sometimes use Isabel Beck’s Three Tier model of vocabulary as a framework for understanding how words in the English language can be categorized based on their complexity and commonality. The AI in education  post ‘Prompt: Mastering Vocabulary with Isabel Beck’s Tiered Model and Comprehensive Teaching Strategies’ shows how teachers can use AI as a vocabulary instructor using Beck’s model.   It a good model for how training prompts can be crafted.  

Teachers often say that a student ‘knows the ideas but cannot get it down in writing’. AI does offer the potential for giving students unlimited writing practice and support for increasingly complex writing.

An appropriately trained chatbot, able to give constructive formative feedback, could be an enormous benefit to students at all ages of their learning.  Khanmigo purports to offer constructive feedback on academic essays and support during the learning process.

Microsoft offers a reading coach with their immersive reader as one of their learning accelerator tools. Microsoft co-pilot tools built into their office applications (such as Word and Powerpoint) may also be useful in helping students to use the language of the classroom.

Q. The learning context defines two important aspects of teaching:
* the appropriateness of the context
* the use of appropriate language and behaviours to include all of the students in the learning.

Assuming you have trained AI to recognise these aspects, how might the “simplify” and “translate” functions of AI help you to prepare for a mixed ability class with learners with individual needs.

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Updated 16/01/24 to include end of article question.