Can ChatGPT Write Decodable Text?
Today I took my first crack at seeing how ChatGPT does writing decodable text. I can see how it is useful in writing sentences with target spellings and sounds. I had some success with writing sentences even though I had to correct ChatGPT over several steps. (New, shines, and bark are not CVC words ChatGPT. It agreed and eventually ended up with a sentence with CVC words.)
From there, I asked it to write a paragraph. I found that ChatGPT does not like to follow a scope and sequence. The closer it got to the scope I gave it, the more awkward it got. Wait, aren’t human-written decodables often “awkward?” Not when compared to ChatGPT’s level of awkward. It sounds like…a robot. Hmm. Go figure. I guess there isn’t enough decodable text it can mine from on the web.
On a separate try, I gave it a few syllable types plus a list of words it could use and asked for a mystery story. Again, ChatGPT was struggling to follow the scope I gave it. I tried to explain the scope several times while asking it to make specific changes. I even rewrote one of its sentences to give it an example of what I wanted. It just spit my sentence back to me. (You don’t get credit for that one ChatGPT. I'm the one who rewrote it.) It didn’t “learn” from the example or it didn’t try to apply any lessons learned to other sentences. It also had a big logic flaw in the story it wrote. An item was in a spot and the animals didn't know why it was there. It turns out it was because an animal stole it from that same spot. The thief agreed to return the item to the spot. Trouble was, the mystery wasn't that the item was missing. The mystery was that is was there in the first place. To return something that wasn't missing in the first place doesn't compute. It also doesn't solve the mystery of why it was there in the first place. So, the climax and resolution of the story made no sense at all.
I finally told ChatGPT I was just going to
have to write my own story. Its response?
Image text includes: I apologize if my previous attempts didn’t meet your specific requirements as intended. Writing within the parameters you’ve outlined, adhering to specific syllable types and vocabulary limitations, can indeed be challenging.
Here I agree with ChatGPT. Writing decodable text with a
high percentage of decodability is challenging. Students won’t need decodable texts for
long, but they can be an essential tool especially for our struggling readers.* Reading
a passage with too many unknown words can be discouraging and defeating while encouraging guessing or other inefficient reading strategies. But having
success with a text written with a limited scope that has been taught can bring
hope as a student practices their new skills.
Maybe ChatGPT can help an author brainstorm story ideas. Maybe it can write uncontrolled text with a focus on certain words or phonics patterns, but it will not be writing highly decodable stories at this point. ChatGPT can write stories that will need some edits. It can write stories with a specific phonic sound/spelling focus. But I don't think it can produce a story using a limited scope of phonics skills.
Check out the first few chapters of my decodable closed syllable chapter book, The Pest at the Black W Ranch, which actually uses story structure with a limited scope. There might be an awkward sentence here and there due to the vocabulary, but it won’t be robotic. You can find the full chapter book in Totally RADPhonics Level C which is itself part of a story told in The Black Silk Path. After all, even when learning to read, the story is what captures our hearts.
*How decodable a text needs to be has not yet been determined through research. There are reasons to not use fully decodable texts and reasons to use text with higher decodability. High decodability can be even more important for some students especially if they are struggling and require more explicit instruction and practice than typical readers. Readingrockets.org has several articles on decodable books. The Reading League also has a YouTube video on using decodable texts here as well as a webinar hosted by The Reading League Wisconsin here.