Within a few short months, ChatGPT and its ilk have become hot conversation topics among educators. Some say AI will trigger the demise of humanity, destroy original thought, and dumb down classroom instruction. But what if the opposite were true?
In medicine, agriculture, and policing, AI advancements have been feted. While in education, proponents have argued students will merely regurgitate what ChatGPT tells them and cease to think for themselves. Sound familiar? Similar rhetoric occurred when pen was first put to paper, with the advent of the printing press, and more recently television. We can no more hold back the steady advancement of AI than we can these other historical developments.
As educators and freethinkers, one legitimate perspective is to question how new technologies might be used for productive ends. What if we were to look to AI in education as a way of unshackling creativity rather than a harbinger of groupthink? To see it as a route to developing individual voice rather than passive acceptance of machine-generated suggestions. Even as a springboard to widespread literacy. These are the questions Writer’s Toolbox has been researching for over a decade.
“The objective for the Writer’s Toolbox team was far more fundamental: to teach a learner. Consequently, the team fused global curriculum requirements and cutting-edge writing instruction methodologies deep into the Writer’s Toolbox AI.”
AI ROOTED IN EDUCATION: AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT APPROACH AND OUTCOME
Led by founder and researcher Dr Ian Hunter, the deep learning team at Writer’s Toolbox have wrestled with how to specifically engineer AI to support educational outcomes. In contrast to generative AI, the objective was not to build software to produce text or, like Grammarly, to correct a writer’s syntax or word choices.
The objective for the Writer’s Toolbox team was far more fundamental: to teach a learner. Consequently, the team fused global curriculum requirements and cutting-edge writing instruction methodologies deep into the Writer’s Toolbox AI.
The result is an AI that teaches a student— of any age or ability level—how to be a better writer. This discontinuous leap in computer- aided learning fundamentally pivots the AI debate. For here is AI that has been built to support the moral imperative of education: to engage students who are switched off, to lift underperformers, and to push good writers to become great writers.
Writer’s Toolbox AI does what nothing else can because it is trained on an extensive longitudinal research project into authentic student writing: tens of millions of sentences, across every year level and text type. That means every time a student seeks feedback on their work, Writer’s Toolbox AI responds to where they are developmentally—right in the teachable moment. Instant feedback enables students to learn what they have done well, and what they need to do to make their writing better—whatever subject or writing genre.
For the busy teacher, it is like having another set of hands. In a time where curriculum is exploding in breadth, Writer’s Toolbox AI develops and nurtures the teaching of writing, cementing the relationship between teacher and student. Where classrooms are bursting at the seams and teacher time is precious, AI-based tools can provide the structure, learning, and feedback required to better a student’s understanding.
“Large scale studies of teachers in NSW suggest that many feel ill-equipped to teach writing. Those in the teaching community report a lack of confidence to assess writing or in some instances, even give their students effective feedback. At the level of the student, gaps are equally glaring. As many as 20 percent of Year 9 students no longer meet the minimum writing standard.”
INDIVIDUALISED LEARNING AT SCALE
In 2016, Writer’s Toolbox embarked on a four-year longitudinal study tracking the impact of their technology across 71 schools and nearly 79,000 students in Queensland sitting the NAPLAN writing assessment. The goal of the study was to understand how AI could be used to produce quantum shifts in student literacy. The study found those using Writer’s Toolbox patented AI software advanced two to ten times faster than students who did not.
NAPLAN IMPROVEMENT RATES IN WRITER’S TOOLBOX SCHOOLS COMPARED TO QUEENSLAND AVERAGES (2016-2021)
- Year 3: 3.2 times greater than state growth rate
- Year 5: 5.4 times greater than state growth rate
- Year 7: 2.1 times greater than state growth rate
- Year 9: 2.6 times greater than state growth rate
- Year 9 Boys: 9.6 times greater than state growth rate
USING AI TO BEAT THE NAPLAN WRITING TREND
It has been 15 years since the launch of NAPLAN standardised testing for Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 in Australia. And while the test itself is not without controversy, the main trends in the nation’s students have been clear: numeracy is sound, reading has improved, writing has declined. Such a downward trend in writing is a problem not only faced by Australian schools. US school districts and colleges are reporting similar low performance. Underneath big data, worrying trends are appearing.
Large scale studies of teachers in NSW suggest that many feel ill-equipped to teach writing. Those in the teaching community report a lack of confidence to assess writing or in some instances, even give their students effective feedback. At the level of the student, gaps are equally glaring. As many as 20 percent of Year 9 students no longer meet the minimum writing standard. And there can be an almost two-year lag when comparing boys’ writing results against those of girls.
It was at this juncture that Writer’s Toolbox intervened. Writer’s Toolbox is a cloud-based writing programme that employs Composition Theory, Discovery Learning, and advances in neuroscience to provide immediate feedback to students on writing of any genre. A K-12 initiative, the intelligent AI inside Writer’s Toolbox has been programmed to teach a student how to be a better writer (not just gifting answers).
The impact of this approach has now been tested in a four-year longitudinal study involving 71 Queensland schools and nearly 79,000 students. The aim was to see if this approach to writing instruction— across an entire school system—could trigger change. The initial results surprised even the research team.
Across every year level, NAPLAN writing improvement results were between double and 10 times those achieved by the state of Queensland in the same period. It did not matter if the school was a state school, private school, independent, single-sex or co-ed, inner-city or very remote, writing outcomes lifted. And for boys in Year 9, this was especially true. The rate of writing improvement among boys using Writer’s Toolbox was 9.6 times greater compared to the Queensland state average.
AI AND EDUCATION: WHAT IF GOOD WERE POSSIBLE?
If our fundamental aim is education, these are exciting results with far-reaching implications. The lifelong earnings difference between a person who goes to tertiary education and someone who doesn’t is $1.6 million. But the benefits are not only individual. Opening doors to further education for more young people will positively impact families and communities. Increasing literacy access at a societal level has positive implications for developing nations and knowledge economies.
There are innumerable benefits to broadening access to and strengthening that most fundamental of human skills: writing.
The use of the AI-driven writing programme had further side benefits. Schools involved in the study observed improvements in student self-expression and confidence. Teachers reported greater ability in writing instruction, and due to higher levels of student engagement, confidence, and writing quality, teachers also spent less time marking.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Writer’s Toolbox is proud to host the inaugural Australasian Literacy Summit on 18-19 September in Hamilton, New Zealand. Join two days of thought- provoking discussion and insights on literacy from leading educational experts, including Edinburgh University’s Professor Richard Andrews.
Register now here.
THE WORK IS NOT OVER
The inability to express oneself clearly and powerfully is holding back too many Australian students from fully enjoying the educational and life goals they desire. Using the best of what technology can offer, Writer’s Toolbox is steadfast in its mission to change this trend.
To read the full study including specific school case studies, visit: writerstoolbox.com/naplan-success
Visit Writer’s Toolbox at EduTECH 2023 at stand #1016 at the New Zealand Pavillion.
- The role of GAI in education
- Improving a generational decline in writing skills
- Teaching writing in secondary schools: a story of professional learning