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Education Trends, Productivity Strategies, Podcast Articles   |   Jul 7, 2024

5 ways to automate teaching tasks to save you time

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

5 ways to automate teaching tasks to save you time

By Angela Watson

As you’ve probably noticed especially in the last few months, it seems like every tech tool you use has generative artificial intelligence integrated.

Open a Google Doc, you’re prompted to use Gemini to help you write. Reading a post on Facebook, Meta is prompting you to “ask anything” via their AI. It’s integrated into our phones, our email, in the customer support chatbots on nearly every website when shopping online or troubleshooting services, like your cable, internet, or electricity bill.

AI is everywhere, and it’s designed to help save everyone time. Why not let it help you in your role as a teacher, too?

I talked at length in episode 304 about the pros, cons, and drawbacks of AI, so if you’re worried about AI please make sure you listen to that episode for the context.

Today, though, I want to show you the possibilities. That’s my job. Your job is to decide what’s right for you and your classroom.

So let’s talk about possibilities.

Here are five easy ways I see currently for AI as a tool to automate teachers’ workloads: differentiation (including rewording things for students so they’re easier to understand), assessment, writing, tedious tasks, and creative expression.

#1: Differentiation

Rather than searching out or creating multiple versions of a text to accommodate various reading levels, use AI to generate alternative versions. This is useful for students who need simplified versions of text and can also be used to challenge students who are reading above grade level. A simple prompt like “Rewrite this passage on a fourth-grade reading level”  or “Use simpler vocabulary” will usually get you results you can use right away.

This is a game changer for exposing students to primary source materials which are often inaccessible for all but the most advanced readers.

It’s also useful for ESL students: they can read the same passage as the rest of the class, but AI can either simplify the vocabulary or provide definitions.

AI is also great at differentiating lessons. You can input a lesson that’s on grade level and ask the tool to make it more challenging for students working above grade level and ask it to make a version for students reading at a lower level. This is a huge timesaver for small group instruction in which many teachers have to find texts for all different reading levels. Now you can pick one that’s on grade level, and use AI to adjust up and down as needed.

And, one of the most exciting aspects of the AI tools for teachers is that they are designed to help you analyze student progress, notice patterns about what students are and aren’t understanding, and provide follow-up lessons. If students complete an assignment within an AI tool, you’ll see automatic reports about which students need which interventions or extensions and how you can implement those next steps.

We’re also moving toward a world in which students are personally tutored within AI platforms designed to be safe for them, such as MagicStudent, which I’ll talk about more in a moment. These AI coaches/tutors can reteach things that students didn’t understand and walk them through problem-solving just like you would if you sat down one-on-one with the student, and it’s done within a platform that complies with data privacy laws and provides guardrails to keep students safe and school-appropriate. This is going to be a major part of the future of AI.

#2: Assessment

AI-assisted grading is definitely a function that will be developed more in the future. I think we’ll continue to see learning management systems (known as LMS) integrate with AI seamlessly. Using tools that are designed for school use ensures that they are FERPA-compliant and protect student data and privacy issues. When we can use AI to give students immediate feedback on knowledge-based tasks,  this frees you as the teacher to focus on analyzing work that is more subjective and higher level.

AI excels in providing detailed, professionally worded feedback to students and can help you phrase things eloquently. This allows you to provide more positive affirmations about what students are getting right in their work, since giving feedback is time-consuming and the compliments might be shortchanged in order to focus on what needs to be fixed.

Another aspect assessment you can use AI for to save time is with rubrics. Generative AI is pretty good at generating rubrics from scratch, particularly if you’re using an AI tool that’s designed for teachers (more on that later.). For example, type “Write a rubric for reflective writing for 6th graders.” This might generate a 15-point rubric with 5 criteria, each one with a description, followed by a simple scoring system. You can tell the bot, “Make it a 5-point rubric” or “Only use these 3 criteria”.

Class Companion is a really great free tool for this. They have lots of built-in templates which you can customize as much or as little as you want either on your own or with AI. Class Companion also assesses and gives students feedback using the rubric criteria, and works with short answer, essay, multiple choice, or outline formats.

And AI can even help with grading essays. A great way to get started with this, particularly if you use Google Classroom, is by installing the free Brisk Teaching Chrome extension which integrates with Google Docs. Brisk Teaching will analyze students’ writing submitted in Google Docs, according to the criteria you chose. You can ask it to write a Glow and Grow, or analyze a specific aspect such as structure or vocabulary. Brisk will generate Google Doc comments for you and you can simply approve them and they automatically post for students to review, or you delete them, or edit them. You can even revise the feedback by prompting Brisk to “write a positive comment about good vocabulary use and grammar” or “write 2 sentences thanking a 7th-grade student for putting so much thought into their assignment” and that feedback will be added in.

And that’s just a small piece of what Brisk can do – it can also adjust reading levels in texts, translate into other languages, generate class newsletters, create quizzes, and more, and is integrating seamlessly with existing tools like Google Docs which you likely already use.

Pretty amazing right? Especially when you consider we’re only at the beginning of the AI revolution and there’s more to come.

#3: Writing

AI excels in providing detailed, expertly worded feedback to students and can help you phrase things eloquently. Type out what you want to say, then tell the bot, “Write this in a more professional tone”, or, “Say this more kindly” or “Explain this more clearly for a middle schooler” or “Say this, but in more detail.”

I’ve found that AI is great at simplifying instructions for students or re-wording them so they’re easier to understand. Give your directions to the bot and ask it to phrase things more simply or write it so second graders can understand.

Writing emails, reports, comments, and messages can be extremely time-consuming, as it’s important to strike the right tone and convey information accurately, professionally, and kindly. Whether you are writing to ask about a student’s absence, announcing an upcoming school activity, or requesting assistance, you can ask the chatbot to write it for you.

AI right now is best at formal letters, and not as great at casual communication, although the prompts you give can improve this some. Make sure to specify what you’d like the letter to include, the tone you want to use, and any other important details. While the results are not going to be perfectly worded all the time, they are usually enough to get you started in the right direction. You may be able to spend 10 minutes editing a document rather than 45 minutes writing it yourself from scratch.

#4: Tedious tasks

AI can also take lots of mundane work off your plate.

If you need a list of even numbers from one to 30, or a count by 7 from 1 to 100, type that request into AI, and then you can just copy-paste instead of having to type it all out yourself. You can also use AI to calculate percentages of other math tasks.

Use AI to define something, give synonyms and antonyms, or tell you how to pronounce a word

AI can translate your text into other languages, which is super helpful for students and families whose first language is one other than English. Insert the usual caveats about possible errors, but still, this is a useful starting point.

You can alphabetize with generative AI, so if you have a class list or something like that where everything’s out of order, or maybe it’s alphabetized by last name and you need it alphabetized by first name, just copy-paste the list into the chatbot and ask it to write it in alphabetical order for you.

AI can also save you time by generating a list of examples for you. Ask it to generate figurative language examples, alliteration examples, examples of times when multiplication would be used to solve a problem, or examples of erosion processes in action. You’ll see a list right away and can always ask it to regenerate or give you more if you don’t like what you get.

You can extend this by asking for non-examples, such as phrases people mistake for figurative language, or examples of math problems when multiplication wouldn’t be used. Present the examples and non-examples to students and have them determine which is which.

I also love using AI to generate sample essays and writing samples for students to analyze and assess. Traditionally, teachers have used the actual writing of former students for lack of a better option. Now, you can ask AI to write a good essay on the topic you want or a poor essay on the topic you want.

Some prompts you can try include: “Write a poorly written essay on this grade level about this topic” or “Write an essay about [ topic] that lacks [insert quality]” or “Write a [grade level] essay about [topic] that shows [quality].” Many AI tools for teachers will do this for you, like Brisk Teaching, EduAide, and MagicSchool – ask them to provide below-expectations, meeting-expectations, and above-expectations examplar.

You can then show the various examples to students and have them try to figure out which is which. What makes their favorite example so well-written? How could the others be improved?  Students can use AI-generated rubrics to assess the exemplars, which typically they love doing because it’s always fun to find someone else’s mistakes and grade anonymous work.

#5: Creative Expression

This final way to use AI is my personal favorite because it’s counterintuitive for a lot of folks. People worry AI is going to dehumanize us, turn us all into bots, and remove our ability to think independently and be creative. But AI is actually a powerful tool for sparking creativity and brainstorming.

Let’s say you’re teaching a unit on desert animals. You could ask AI “What are five fun facts about desert animals for third graders?” and then use that as part of your morning warm-up, your hook at the start of the lesson, and so on. If you don’t like any of the results, type “give me 5 more” or change the prompt a bit, like “give me 5 more but make them really surprising and funny.” So you already know the structure of your lesson, but the bot is saving you time in trying to plug some of the content in. You don’t have to research the fun facts yourself.

AI can help you generate metaphors, stories, poems, and song lyrics for teaching writing, analysis, or content-area knowledge. For example, ask for a metaphor to help you explain opportunity cost in economics, or an analogy to help kids understand the difference between climate and weather. If you’ve always wished you could be the kind of teacher who creates songs to teach content or class rules, AI can help. It can make up fairytales and origin stories to teach a lesson, and of course, you can edit these to make them exactly how you want them and put your own personal spin on things.

Another strategy a lot of teachers like is having AI rewrite instructions or class rules in the style of a celebrity their students like. AI is great at providing a fresh twist on the way you’d normally word things.

And of course, you can use AI to brainstorm lesson ideas and engaging teaching strategies. Did you notice that as I was sharing these examples, it got your mind racing a bit? You may have started thinking of an assignment you could have AI rewrite in the style of a person your students recently studied, for example. I didn’t explicitly suggest that, but my ideas were like a springboard that helped you take your own creativity to new heights. That’s the power of AI: you don’t have to use the output exactly as it’s presented. In fact, I don’t always use the ideas AI gives me when I ask it to brainstorm for me, because its list inspired me to think of something new. Ai can combine ideas in new and interesting ways that you may never have thought of. So try, asking for 5 ways to teach numerators and denominators to third graders, or 10 activities for helping students practice vocabulary, and see what ideas YOU think of as a result of reading AI’s output.

AI tools for teachers

The real magic for teachers with AI though, is in the tools that are designed for school use, because there is no advertising, the data that you input is not used to train AI models, and everything is compliant with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, COPPA, FERPA, and other PPRA, and other privacy laws.

Many of the AI tools designed for teachers are also introducing student-facing components. For example, Magicschool.ai recently introduced MagicStudent which allows kids to use AI to help them write, research, and more in an environment that is in many ways safer than using a regular search engine. There are guardrails in place, everything they type is visible to the teacher, and the results they get are accurate and vetted.

The bots in AI tools designed for teachers are also trained to reference learning standards and other important information in teacher-generated text, so that can be helpful. And, some of them will take your text and input it into a self-grading quiz in Google Drive or as slideshow texts in Google Slides. These are paid features as of this recording but obviously huge timesavers.

Right now all the teacher AI tools have started off with free versions before later introducing paid versions, but all of them provide a free tier that’s quite powerful so you don’t have to pay for any AI tools unless there’s something you really love and use a lot.

I mentioned BriskTeaching and MagicSchool already – these are two of my favorites, and if you want to simplify with platforms, I think you could use just those two for everything school-related. If you don’t use Google Classroom with students, MagicSchool alone can do it all.

However, I do want to mention Eduaide which was created by two current classroom teachers, advertised as twice the tool at half the price, simplified interface, and robust.

Also, Diffit, which is excellent at differentiation tasks and cleaner/less overwhelming than many of the teacher tools.

3 mindsets for automating your teaching and saving time with AI

1) The goal isn’t to discover every cool thing AI can do.

If you enjoy exploring AI as a hobby, go for it! But if your goal is to streamline your workload so you can spend time on other things you love, then approach AI like any other technology tool.

This has been my advice with tech tools since my early days as an instructional technology coach 15 years ago. I’ve always told teachers you don’t need to learn every tool and every possible use case. There’s way too much, and it’s always changing.

So, focus on “just-in-time learning” instead of “just-in-case learning.” You don’t need to know everything just in case; you need it just in time. You need to know where to go if and when you need the information or resource, but you don’t have to memorize it all to become familiar with all in case it’s ever useful.

2) Done is better than perfect.

You could spend hours searching for the perfect AI tool, but if you find one that works well enough, stick with it.

3) You can always add more over time. Think about the minimum viable product (MVP): first, make it work; then, make it work better.

If you’re currently using AI for one task, that’s great! Focus on mastering that. It takes time to retrain our brains to rely on AI instead of whatever approach we did before. Pulling up ChatGPT is not yet a default instinct for most of us when we need something. When you’re planning or assessing, you may not even think about AI at all until you’re done, and then remember, “Oh yeah, I probably could use ChatGPT and done that faster, oh well.” So if you’re using AI as a go-to tool for just one or two regular tasks, that’s great! Focus on developing the habit, and you’ll naturally start to explore how AI can help with other tasks. And over time, you’ll slowly integrate more uses for AI into your workflow.

If you’ve found this helpful and you resonate with my approach to AI, consider signing up for the 40 Hour AI membership. There’s a private discussion community right within the membership site (not hosted on social media) where you can share ideas with other teachers, see what’s working in their classroom, and ask questions so you always feel up to date.

40 Hour AI membership

With 40 Hour AI, you get immediate access to all my existing courses on AI, which include the Basics (how to get started), the Ethics (how to create a responsible plan), and Habits (how to integrate AI into your regular routines so that it’s your go-to teaching assistant to accelerate your lesson planning, grading, and more.)

There’s an ever-growing collection of super short video trainings that will help you stay current with the latest ways teachers are saving time with AI. I’m inviting graduates of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Full Year program who have been using AI in their classrooms to create videos for you as well, so you can see exactly how a middle school science teacher creates lab assignments with AI, or how a third-grade teacher use AI to speed up report card comments. As always, I want to highlight the expertise of current classroom teachers who are doing this work right alongside you with students every day.

So those 5-7 minute on-demand videos are for the folks who are like, “I just want to pop in here when I want to know how to do something, use the tutorial to walk me through it for a couple of minutes, and get it done.”

And if you’re the type of person who likes someone to sit down beside you and walk you through something in real-time, the membership includes 30-minute live trainings followed by 30 minutes for you to experiment, ask questions, and troubleshoot. All of these live sessions are recorded and archived in the membership site so you can watch and rewatch any time

Because there’s so much changing with AI and I’m going to need to do lots of updates, I decided to offer this program as a membership, rather than a course that has forever access like the rest of the 40 Hour programs.

This way you can join anytime, cancel anytime, and take a break, come back later if there’s been a new AI development you want to learn about, and so on. You can choose the quarterly or annual membership.

We do accept school purchase orders, have group license discounts, and offer PD certificates of completion for each course within the membership, so let your admin know if AI professional development is something you and your colleagues could benefit from.

If you want to be part of 40 Hour AI, go to https://join.40htw.com/ai and you can sign up there.

Whether you’ve been worried about AI, or burying your head in the sand until you can’t ignore it, know that I’m committed to staying updated on everything related to AI in education so you don’t have to. The 40 Hour AI membership site will help you access the info you need to know, when you need to know it, without bogging you down in unnecessary or outdated guidance.

I hope you’ll join us!

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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