ChatGPT & Generative AI

Using AI to Support Multilingual Students

Artificial intelligence tools can help multilingual students better understand complex texts in English.

November 21, 2023
Fly View Productions/ iStock

When I first learned about incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) in instruction, I felt like I was standing at the entrance to a forest. I didn’t know where to go, and not entering it felt like a comforting option. Fortunately, I had colleagues who were exuberant fans of AI, and they guided me on this journey of integrating AI into my instruction.

Though I am still just at the edge of the forest, I am already seeing how useful AI is as a tool, especially for establishing comprehensible input for multilingual learners. I am using AI to support these students in learning new content, producing mentor texts, and producing accessible texts.

Learning New Content

When students have to learn new content, the content can be rather dense and incomprehensible. I need to show them the key details of that topic, and AI is an excellent tool that meets this goal.

For example, when my students needed to know about the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy, we used Perplexity to produce a simple definition of each form of government. We went further by prompting Perplexity to provide a list of advantages and disadvantages of each form of government.

This Perplexity-generated text was produced from a synthesis of various articles and videos online. Instead of processing all of them, we used Perplexity to provide a brief introductory text so that students would have a basic understanding of these government types.

While a Google search will produce the most viewed links, Perplexity efficiently synthesizes the most viewed resources on the topic. This significantly reduces the time it takes to process all the various resources. Instead, students simply read a few paragraphs on the topic.

Many of my multilingual learners, who are highly fluent in another language, translate the AI-generated text. This helps them learn the content even more efficiently by using their more proficient language.

Producing Mentor Texts

A mentor text brings clarity in the kind of writing students are supposed to produce. Analyzing a mentor text helps teachers identify the content and the academic language required to communicate the content. Previously, I would spend hours crafting an appropriate mentor text. Fortunately with AI, that time is reduced to mere seconds.

I often use MagicSchool to generate a mentor text. I simply identify the content and the type of text (e.g., poem, news article, short story, review, op-ed, biography). In seconds, MagicSchool produces a satisfactory mentor text aligned with the criteria I identified.

I often make minor modifications to the AI-generated text, such as adding contextual details, taking out unnecessary details, and adding synonyms in parentheses behind possibly unfamiliar vocabulary words. After analyzing the text, I have clearly identified the words, sentence structure, and organization of the writing I have to teach. These become my guideposts for developing my lessons.

Producing Accessible Texts

Multilingual learners are frequently expected to learn content through reading articles. However, these articles are often significantly above their reading levels. Fortunately, AI platforms such as Poe can come to their aid.

For example, my eighth graders were expected to read a magazine article about the Willow project that was written at the 11th-grade level. I simply took the URL link for the article and gave it to Poe. I set the reading level to grade 5, and in a few seconds, Poe produced a much more accessible article about the project.

The only downside to Poe is that the length is significantly reduced to a few paragraphs because many of the less essential details are left out intentionally in the AI-generated text.

A Word of Caution

As in all things tech, there are pros and cons. We are just realizing how social media companies are using their platforms to market to the users. We are unaware of any hidden nefarious agenda of the people who are creating AI platforms for teachers and students. Therefore, as we enter this space, move with caution and refrain from jumping at every AI offering. Watch, observe, take note, and move in tiny steps.

After intentionally teaching students how to use various AI learning tools, I noticed that students have gravitated to them more than to Google searches. To see students adopt a new tool so quickly suggests that they feel successful using these tools to support and enrich their learning.

If AI continues to highlight what multilingual learners can do, and it fosters greater academic achievement, then it has rightfully earned a place in my instruction. I hope AI can find a place in your instruction as well.

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Filed Under

  • ChatGPT & Generative AI
  • English Language Learners
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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