Is artificial intelligence–AI–learning how to write?

Yes, according to Ali Hale of Daily Writing Tips*.  Hale lists six ways AI is learning to write.

1.  Google Translate can not only translate words but phrases and sentences from one language to another.

2.  Microsoft Word is able to edit spelling errors, subject-verb agreement errors, singular-plural errors and capitalization errors. Grammerly can detect wordiness, ideas stated too vaguely and passive voice verbs.

3.  Plagiarism can be detected by using Turnitin.

4.  Online search engines can search for textual information, and they are in the process of searching for audio or visual information.  Computers are beginning to learn how to search by decoding sound.

5.  Computers can “write” breaking news stories. Heliograf, a web robot, reported on election results last November for the Washington Post.

6.  Using algorithms, computers can suggest future purchases—such as books—based on your past purchases or searches. Amazon uses this capability as do many retailers.

But can AI write, really write?  Is Gone with the Wind about to be replaced as the great American novel by an AI-authored novel?  Not anytime soon.  But since so much has happened in developing AI since the turn of the 21st century, can we even imagine who will author what Miss Scarlett will be reading by GWTW’s 100th anniversary in twenty years?

*For more information, go to Hale’s posting at (https://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-artificial-intelligence-is-changing-writing/).

Why writers should read, read, read

I have been writing and rewriting parts of a novel for  years in hopes of improving my writing and story telling.  One story line within my novel has had me stumped.  In newspaper articles, TV shows and radio stories I have sought solutions, but none have seemed spot on.

Last night I was reading a suspense thriller in bed—not the genre I usually read, and not the genre I am writing.  But  my sister suggested it, and I trust her judgment.  The thriller started slowly, so slowly that I almost stopped reading.  But then I read a particular scene, and from that point on I was hooked, turning page after page long past midnight.

I was enjoying the novel, of course, but as a writer I was also aware of how the author was constructing her book.  In particular, the protagonist’s interior dialog fascinated me, how her thoughts sounded so real—or what I assumed was real since I have never been in a situation like that character’s.  I need to try writing like this, I thought.

And then all of a sudden, while I was reading about a secondary character, I had one of those light bulb moments.  In one  incident I saw the germ of how I could develop my own story line.

Chills rippled through me.  I had a plan!

Two aspects of this reading experience are important.  One, in the back of my mind I was thinking about a particular writing problem. I was seeking ideas, so when I read the scene in the thriller, I could readily see a connection to my writing problem.  To make an analogy, the seed fell into fertile ground.

Two, I wasn’t thinking specifically about my novel as I was reading the thriller.  I was focused on the thriller.  But my subconscious, always aware of my novel, made a connection.  To make another analogy, I was like a mother focused on making dinner, but through my peripheral vision and hearing, aware of my child in the background.

So many good writing ideas have come to me while I am reading.  I don’t read to learn how to write, but that’s what happens.  I see the way another writer handles a writing problem and try that technique.  Or subconsciously I make a connection between what I am reading and what I am writing and snatch the germ of an idea.

I find that I do more writing and better writing when I am reading.  I am on vacation now, so in the past two weeks I have read three books—two novels and one memoir.  The ideas keep coming!

 

What parents want writing teachers / tutors to teach

When parents ask for writing help for their children, what kind of help do they want?Child writing

  • Grammar?
  • Vocabulary?
  • Sentence structures?
  • Organizing?
  • Transitions?
  • Introductions and hooks?
  • Conclusions?
  • Spelling?
  • Cursive handwriting?
  • Details?
  • Revising?
  • Particular types of writing (paragraphs? essays? book reports? short answer responses? long answer responses? summaries?)
  • Narrative elements (character development? plot? setting? foreshadowing?  point of view? conflict? dialog? voice? suspense?)
  • Verb tenses?
  • Paraphrasing?
  • Clarity?
  • Dialog?
  • Figures of speech?

Most parents have no idea so many elements combine to create good writing.  When they see a list like this, they are taken aback.

That is why it is important for parents and teachers to agree on what students should learn at various ages.  If a parent thinks the student should be perfecting grammar, but the teacher instead focuses on organization of information, the parent will not be happy.  Or if a parent thinks a student should be using a great piece of rhetoric as a model, but the teacher wants the student to develop his own way of expression, again the parent will be dissatisfied.

Only when a parent is aware of all that a student is expected to learn can the parent and teacher have a meaningful conversation about how to improve a student’s writing.

Should your fiction have more than one point of view?

Tolstoy was a master of point of view.  When Anna Karenina begins, we learn about events from the perspective of Steva, Anna’s brother.  His way of deflecting responsibility for the chaos he causes—“[My] stupid smile is responsible for everything”—gives us insights into not only his personality but his morality.

boy writing on a window benchSeveral scenes later we are at a ball where 18-year-old Kitty watches as her suitor, Count Vronsky, the man she expects to propose at any moment, is captivated by the dazzling Anna.  We could be seeing this scene through the eyes of Count Vronsky, hearing why he finds Anna so captivating.  Or we could see it through Anna’s eyes, as she relishes her sexual power over Vronsky.

But Tolstoy lets us see the scene as one of betrayal through the eyes of unsophisticated Kitty.  She enters the scene as the belle of the ball, literally. She sees Anna and admires her, like everyone else, only gradually realizing that Vronsky has been swept off his feet by Anna.  Kitty’s hopes and dreams are shattered as Vronsky ignores her.  Her night of triumph turns into a night of horror.  And we, the readers, perceive all this through the mind of Kitty.

Both scenes offer emotional appeal, but because of the point of view Tolstoy chooses, that emotional appeal is intensified.

Are there any rules for changing point of view?  I’ve read that using more than two points of view in a novel is confusing for the reader, and that deciding on one point of view and sticking to it is better.  But as Tolstoy shows, multiple points of view can work, especially in a long novel written by a master.

So how do you decide?

  • If your piece of writing is short, probably one point of view is better. The reader doesn’t have time to switch back and forth in perspectives.  The writing can feel disjointed with more than one point of view.
  • If your writing is longer than a short story, two or more points of view can work, but usually the writer focuses on one protagonist and that protagonist determines the primary point of view.  Usually that point of view is either first person or third person limited (limited to that one character’s point of view).  I have read novels in which the point of view goes back and forth between two main characters–alternating with chapters–but it feels gimmicky to me unless there are two or three story lines.
  • Should you change point of view in a single work? Unless you are an accomplished writer who presents a second character with a unique perspective that enriches the work or acts as a foil to your protagonist, you should probably stick to a single point of view.  A novel is a biased form of writing, biased in favor of the protagonist.  Through speech or actions we can hear or see the perspective of other characters without interrupting the flow of one character’s point of view.

Summer is a great time to improve your writing!

Lots of activities shut down for June, July, and August, opening your schedule to study with experts and learn how to solve some particular writing problems–even your fear of writing.

One place you might start is at your public library.  When I visited Orlando last week, I picked up an Orange County Library System magazine, where I found five summer writing opportunities offered by that library system:

Write a novel this summer—A published author teaches “character development, plot, creating conflict, point of view, dialog, setting [and] voice.”

Writing backstory in fiction—An author-editor teaches you how to include cultural nuances and family histories “without losing the flow of the story they’re telling.”

World-building for fantasy—Another author shows how to create “believable and compelling worlds for your characters.”

First page workshop—A literary agent shows how “to polish your first page until it shines.”

Story development—A screenwriter / author explores how to come up with a good story idea.

I looked up the NYC library online, and I found it offers 19 classes on how to write during this summer, available at various branches.

My own public library system, in Gwinnett County, GA, offers several writing opportunities in June.

Memoir writing workshop–A published author shows how.

Writer’s Group–Walk-in advice from a group of writers to one another.

Writer’s workshop–A  writer of young adult fiction gives feedback for the first five pages of your book-in-progress.

Poetry writing–“Learn the essentials of expressing yourself through writing and performance.”

But libraries aren’t the only good places to flex your writing muscles.  So are your local bookstores.  The Barnes & Noble near my house has a Tuesday evening writers’ group open to everyone.  Bring copies of your latest effort, read it aloud, and learn from the feedback of published writers and wannabes.

If you’re not sure where to find writing opportunities in your community, ask your public librarian.  Librarians are trained to find almost everything.

Summer is a great time to improve your writing!

How to encourage more student writing and still have a life

If students are to improve their writing, what is the single best thing they can do?

Write  Write.  Write.

Teachers know this.  So why don’t teachers assign more writing?  To paraphrase a former President, “It’s the grading, stupid.”

Reading student writing takes a long time, but writing comments on the writing takes a life time.  A fifth grade teacher might have 28 or more student papers to grade.  A high school English teacher might have 128.

So how can a teacher, tutor, or parent encourage frequent writing without giving up her life?

Here is the solution one teacher, Jori Krulder, has found effective.

  • The teacher reads student essays without writing a word on them.
  • On separate papers, one for each student, the teacher records three things:
  • One, a score for the essay based on a rubric which the teacher and students have previously agreed upon.
  • Two, an element of writing which the student did well.
  • Three, an element of writing which the student needs to improve.
  • The teacher jots down on another paper the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s essays and adds ideas for mini-lessons to teach the whole class.
  • The teacher reports these strengths and weaknesses orally to the class.
  • The teacher returns the unmarked essays, giving each student a feedback paper to fill in. See the box.

  • While students work on their writing, the teacher meets for five minutes only with each student (taking up to three days of class time per class or section per essay). The teacher and student compare the score each gave the essay.  If the scores differ, the teacher talks to the student about the reasons for the discrepancy.  Then they talk about the rest of the information on the feedback sheet.
  • At the end of five minutes a timer rings and the conference ends. If students want to talk longer, they can visit the teacher after school.
  • Students as a group are given a resubmit date for their essays.

According to Krulder, students are able to focus on what the teacher says during the conference, take notes, and use that information to improve their essays.  The result is a noticeable improvement in the resubmitted essays.  An additional yet unexpected benefit is improvement in student-teacher relations.

For more information on Jori Krulder’s method of responding to student writing, go to edutopia.org.

 

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge—Writing examples

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) is one way in which teachers can develop deeper thinking skills in students.  Bloom’s six cognitive skills start with easier thinking skills and move to more difficult, “higher order” thinking skills.

Bloom’s Level objective
knowing remembering facts
understanding showing understanding of facts
applying apply knowledge to new situations
analyzing examining information for component parts
synthesizing* creating something new from diverse elements
evaluating making judgments based on evidence or criteria

*Synthesizing is now called “creating,” and it has become the sixth, not fifth, level.

About 40 years after Bloom’s Taxonomy became known, a refinement of Bloom’s taxonomy called Webb’s Depth of Knowledge was developed (1997).  It has four levels.

DOK Level title of Level
1 recall and reproduction
2 skills and concepts
3 short-term strategic thinking
4 extended thinking

 

For teachers wanting to demand deeper thinking of their students, both Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK Levels can be used to design lesson plans.  Below are some writing assignments based on Webb’s Levels.

 

Literature

 

Level 1  Identify a list of important characters from the first Harry Potter novel.  Explain their relationship to Harry.

Level 2  Compare Harry’s, Ron’s and Hermione’s personalities.

Level 3  Explain how the opening scene in the first Harry Potter book lures readers into that book.

Level 4  Show how the authors of the first Harry Potter book and the first Percy Jackson book used a similar plot sequence to begin those books.

 

Social Studies

 

Level 1  Match famous quotes with 20th century American leaders.

Level 2  Create a set of ten cards with a quote by a famous 20th century leader on one side and the leader’s name on the other side.

Level 3  Using the set of cards created for Level 2, create a set of three clues for each quote, one easy, one difficult and one in between.

Level 4  Describe how specific references such as Stone Mountain and MLK, Jr.’s little children can be understood as metaphors for other concepts in MLK, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

Math

 

Level 1  Define given vocabulary words relating to circles (radius, diameter, circumference, ray, arc, pi, center point).

Level 2   Explain why pi is approximately and not exactly 3.14.

Level 3  Describe three real life situations in which understanding pi can be useful to solve problems.

Level 4  Write an essay on the history of pi, citing sources.

 

Science

 

Level 1  Define a fossil.

Level 2  Identify the sequence of events in the forming of a fossil.

Level 3  Explain why a fossil from an earlier time is found in a lower layer of rock than a fossil from a later time.

Level 4  From the school library take three books about fossils appropriate for a certain grade level.  Critique each book, explaining its strengths and weaknesses for that grade level.