The advent of Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT could be the catalyst we need to change how we assess creative writing in schools. Professor Tom Dobson discusses the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the English curriculum, highlighting how secondary students’ creative writing skills could be impacted by Artificial Intelligence (AI), stunting their growth in this skill set and preventing them from developing certain written skills.

The arrival of AI and, more specifically, ChatGPT, has focussed discussion on the question of authorship, with AI-written books already infiltrating the publishing market.  The most recent book, ironically titled The Death of the Author, is a clear demonstration of how AI can produce books of sufficient quality to engage readers, whilst also making money and not having to pander to the needs of an author.

The Argument Supporting AI

More broadly, an argument put forward for the use of AI to produce texts is that it is to writing what the calculator is to maths.  Seen in this light, AI becomes a shortcut for the production of writing, enabling authors to come up with texts more quickly, freeing their minds to focus on something else.  What they might have for the tea, maybe?

The problem with this argument is that using AI for creative writing texts means that the process authors go through in the drafting and redrafting of their work is eroded.  Or rather, the process becomes the author putting the right terms into ChatGPT, waiting for the text to appear, and then finessing the text with some minor edits for their chosen readership. 

The Lack of Quality Checks with AI-Generated Pieces

Any non-AI published author will tell you, it is the process that is most important in terms of arriving at a quality product, which their readers will enjoy.  Without going through a drafting and redrafting process, without soliciting feedback, internalising this feedback and acting upon it, without thinking about the nature of the creative work in relation to other pieces of writing, the author does not improve their craft and the final written text will never be as good as it otherwise might have been.

And so by replacing the author with AI, we encounter two problems.  Firstly, creative writing as a final product can never be as good as creative writing written by a real author who has engaged in the writing process.  And secondly, by using AI, real authors will dwindle to the point of extinction as the collective consciousness of authors will lose their lived experiences and knowledge of their creative writing practices.

The Impact of AI on Education

This brings me to the point of this blog, written for an education readership (which, we can assure you, has been written by real authors).  The point is this: if we agree that the important aspect of creative writing processes, if we agree that what makes an author is the engagement with a creative process, which includes drafting and redrafting, then we as educators need to find a way of facilitating, reflecting upon and assessing the processes that our young authors engage with in their creative writing in schools.

Because, AI or no AI, let’s be honest – currently we don’t.  In primary schools, the technical focus of the outdated national curriculum (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) means that our feedback on young authors’ writing is also technical, and young writers’ redrafting of their work tends to amount to little more than proof editing.  Correct the spelling… Add a fronted adverbial…  In our secondary schools, the GCSE format of asking young authors to write creatively for an hour in response to an image or a statement means that the writing processes for these authors are even more stunted: they have that one chance to perform their final written product.

Creative Writing and AI

For a while, there was an exception – the Creative Writing A-level.  But that didn’t last long.  It was scrapped in 2017, perhaps because of its focus on process.  The A-level required young authors to draft and redraft their creative writing, presenting their reflections on the writing process as part of a portfolio assessment. 

With the advent of AI, the decision to scrap the A-level might prove to have been a mistake. 

A portfolio approach to creative writing assessment, like the one in the ill-fated A-level, is beneficial in three ways.  Firstly, it helps authors to become better authors.  Authors who think about their writing.  Authors who seek and cherish feedback.  Authors who undertake a kind of deliberate practice to improve what they do.  Secondly, this kind of assessment protects the very nature of creativity and creative thinking skills.  Without those, what else makes us human? is the question we should always be asking ourselves.  And thirdly, it responds to recent panic amongst school leaders by rendering AI as a plagiarism tool redundant.  For although ChatGPT can produce creative texts, it cannot produce the human creative processes that underpin the writing of creative texts.

Creative Writing Resources for Teachers

Within this context, we’re working to develop approaches and resources for teachers to use to promote the practice of radical redrafting of creative writing in schools.  Central to this is the importance of teacher feedback, which, we argue, has the power to impact both positively and negatively upon our young authors’ self-confidence and abilities to redraft their writing. 

Our project is at an early stage.  We are currently consulting with teachers in all settings about their creative writing and redrafting practices.  If you would like to find out more and take part in our survey, it is linked here.  

We see empowering young people to redraft their creative writing as a legitimate challenge to AI.  It is also a way of future-proofing our authors and ensuring they will never die.

Tom Dobson is a Professor of Education at York St Joh University. He is currently co-leading arted, a trans-European project, which provides guides for teachers to promote the creative arts across the curriculum.  

Francis Gilbert is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London.  He is Head of the MA Creative Writing in Education course and has published widely, both commercially and academically.

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The advent of Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT could be the catalyst we need to change how we assess creative writing in schools. Professor Tom Dobson discusses the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the English curriculum, highlighting how secondary students’ creative writing skills could be impacted by Artificial Intelligence.

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