Findings of the New Zealand Education Review Office | Te Tari Arotake Mātauranga (ERO) 2019 report: Keeping Children Engaged and Achieving in Writing: Teaching approaches and strategies that work
New Zealand’s struggle to lift writing improvement in schools is well documented. Indeed, for nearly two decades, leading indicators have pointed to a decline in writing capabilities among New Zealand students. So in 2019, the New Zealand Education Review Office (ERO) initiated a report into the writing capabilities of New Zealand students.
To find out what is working in New Zealand, the report aimed to find schools where there was evidence of sustained accelerated improvement in writing performance. In total, ERO investigated 129 schools. They found only six had evidence of sustained accelerated learning in student writing. And leading those was Northcross Intermediate School on Auckland’s North Shore, where Writer’s Toolbox had intervened and spent three years working with teachers and students.
A school of over 1000 students, Northcross Intermediate embarked on the goal of turning around their student writing results in 2016. Principal Jonathon Tredray was looking for a solution: “As a school and as a country, we have struggled in writing. Students were having difficulty with sentence construction; teachers wanted more information on the actual nuts and bolts needed for children to become good writers.”
Tredray and his literacy leaders investigated writing solutions: they came back with Writer’s Toolbox. Within the first ten months of implementing the Writer’s Toolbox programme, they saw significant improvement. According to leading educational expert Professor John Hattie, evidence of student progress is demonstrated when a child has an effect size of 0.4 over 12 months. Impressively, the effect size of Northcross students increased from 0.4 to 0.8. And by the end of 2018, some students had more than tripled their expected effect size (effect size of 1.34).
Within the first 10 months, students' effect size had doubled. After two years some had more than tripled: "a phenomenal turnaround."
Tredray was awed by the results: “It was quite a phenomenal turnaround. It is a different way of teaching writing; it is a structured way.” And as ERO reported, they found “children highly engaged and enthusiastic about their writing success.”
Literacy leader Tui Bennett also enthused: “It used to be a struggle to get students to engage; now they are so onboard because they know what to do. They have confidence in themselves as writers.”
There's a pattern: using Writer's Toolbox, students accelerate two year levels in the space of 10 months.
The impact at Northcross Intermediate is not unique. Studies in the central North Island of New Zealand have revealed a similar pattern: using the Writer’s Toolbox programme, students accelerated two year levels in the space of 10 months.
In their 2019 report, ERO identified the school-wide benefits of Writer’s Toolbox:
Australian schools are also adopting the Writer’s Toolbox system. While Queensland’s writing results as a state went backwards between 2016 and 2018, schools using Writer’s Toolbox advanced ahead of their peers and outperformed country averages. It showed particular strengths advancing boys' writing skills. Read the Raising Australia’s Writing Outcomes report.
Writer’s Toolbox Founder Dr Ian Hunter explains: “When we put together the Writer’s Toolbox programme, we looked back across a century of educational research to find the best writing instruction methods—and then worked to make a writing system relevant to modern classrooms. We weren’t interested in fanciful ideas—we wanted proven methods.”
As a result, Dr Hunter’s programme is grounded in the explicit teaching of composition skills using a whole-school approach. Teacher capability is raised through professional development; traditional classroom teaching methods are combined with measurable writing skills and innovative digital technology.