Writer’s Toolbox arose out of the university research and teachings of Associate Professor Ian Hunter. Concerned about the writing ability in his own university students in the late 1990s, Dr Hunter began what has cumulated into a 25-year action research project.
An historian by training, Dr Hunter was concerned that any approach to writing instruction should not be based on passing fads, rather, should be anchored in time-proven teaching methods. Consequently, he surveyed 150-years of writing research in schools and classrooms around the globe to unearth what had worked irrefutably. The result is Writer's Toolbox. It is a combination of educational philosophy, cutting-edge technology, and explicit, pragmatic teaching.
At the foundation of the Writer's Toolbox system is the composition skills approach from 19th and 20th century scholarship, which taught matters of style, form, and structure alongside extended skills in sentencing, paragraphing, grammar, and composition. Students learn not just the form of the sentence, but its function. Along the way, they master vital stylistic skills and composition principles that have sat silent for over a century.
In 2012, a team was established to incorporate these ideas into an interactive online writing tool. The aim was to build an educational AI that—irrespective of the age of the student or the type of writing submitted—would interact with that student and teach them to be a better writer. This project was more than just writing; a key objective was to build discovery learning and advances in neuroscience within the AI architecture.
Hunter and his team already knew technology and education were a good fit. For over three decades researchers have noted the ability of computer-aided learning (CAL) to improve academic results (Sullivan & Pratt 1996; Yang & Chen 2007; Godwin-Jones 2016; Chun 2019, Wu et al,. 2013). However, as Ericsson and Haswell (2006) point out, a large proportion of the research projects in computer-aided learning focus on the digital delivery of content, but make no attempt to integrate any aspects of automated guided learning to the system.
Writer’s Toolbox smashed this glass ceiling. The AI in Writer's Toolbox provides guided instruction on writing skills from Prep to 12, with an online system that is fully-differentiated to the student’s unique needs. As the student becomes a stronger and better writer, Writer's Toolbox keeps moving them forward. It teaches them.
Longitudinal studies have proven the impact of this research and the Writer’s Toolbox system. In a recent 4-year study of 71 Australian schools and 78,000 students, writing improvement rates were between two and ten times the state of Queensland.
In 2011, Dr Hunter left teaching and formed Writer’s Toolbox as an initiative to help schools solve the writing problem. From a project that commenced in his garage loft, Writer’s Toolbox now has over 60 staff located in offices in Australia and New Zealand, working with around 600 schools across the globe.
On a daily basis, Writer's Toolbox writing coaches work with schools, while designers, illustrators, content creators, support teams, and programmers are unified in their vision to make education exciting and transform writing outcomes for students and teachers worldwide.
Dr Hunter begins research into teaching effective writing at university level.
Release of Write That Essay! Tertiary Edition: Dr Hunter’s first book outlining the Hunter Writing System.
Write That Essay! High School Edition released.
Development of the online writing tool begins in December.
St Paul’s Collegiate becomes the first school in the world to sign up to the online tool based on Dr Hunter’s pencil drawings.
Release of version 2, with additional features including Freewriter.
30,000 students in NZ schools using the tool, the first overseas school adoption of the online tool, and the launch of diagnostic writing tests (CSI) online.
Work commences on Writer’s Toolbox — placed to be the first AI driven educational writing tool.
Writer’s Toolbox launched in Brisbane, Australia on Valentine’s Day.