Home/An Introduction to The Writing Hedge
Last Updated: Apr 20, 2021

The Writing Hedge’s Brad Kelly looks at teaching writing effectively – and the gap The Writing Hedge is trying to fill.

Nearly ten years ago, I started this teaching writing improvement journey after I was asked by my principal to lead a writing intervention. I guess I was the school’s obvious choice: I’d published a textbook, recently completed training in journalism, and had just got back from a sabbatical writing news content in London.

One year on, and the intervention was a disaster.

I’d made some assumptions that those I was leading (I use the term loosely) simply didn’t share: that writing was easy (it was for me), that all one had to do was follow a few simple rules or formulas, and that my ideas would stick like toffee.

None of that was true. I’d dragged a team of teachers kicking and screaming to drink from the well of grammar, structure and formula and at the end we were all exhausted.

You can imagine my surprise when I was asked back for a second year to continue the program of teaching writing more effectively!

A decade on, The Writing Hedge is trying to fill what I think it a big hole in the attempt to improve how writing in high schools. And it’s this: to improve student writing, we have to improve how writing is taught.

This is not another kick-the-dog attempt at educational reform where teachers are to blame, but a deeply pragmatic approach that takes into account the complexity and holistic features of English writing when it is experienced.

Yes, to improve how we teach writing, The Writing Hedge is committed to the idea that teachers must experience it. To move into the shoes of the student; to ask better questions about the role of thinking in writing; to slowly build writing knowledge and develop all of the teaching dispositions required to respond to student writing in more skilful, flexible and responsive ways.

This approach came from two ideas I stumbled over.

The tale of two revelations … first my own

My own ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment occurred during the school holidays when I was writing a history textbook on the Cold War. At one point, I stopped stone cold and whispered to myself, ‘I would never write like I teach students to write.’ The thought shocked and needled at me for days.

Here I was leading a writing intervention, but my own experience as a writer had undermined all of my own ideas. What was happening was something very different to sitting in a classroom shouting out instructions about how to write: I was marinating in sources, making selections, building understanding, slicing off quotes, organising an argument, shaping ideas using vocabulary, linking ideas. And all of this was happening at the same time!

My first revelation was the big difference between writing and teaching writing.

The other revelation… and then theirs

The second revelation came from the 1,000 teachers who have come through a Cornerstone Teacher Learning course and I was struck by something I had never expected. In the first 30 minutes, I run a writing activity only to discover that very few teachers write – and these were the ones coming to the writing courses!

At the end of the activity, many would report how surprisingly difficult writing was, how the wheels fell off their teaching writing methods, how little they consciously thought about technical writing skills and the significance of how they felt in the writing process.

Most were quietly shocked. They came to the same conclusion that I had. The attempt to teach writing to a formula would only take you so far: writing couldn’t be sanitised any more that thinking could.

Every teacher is a writing teacher

Those two revelations were the driving force behind starting The Writing Hedge. Teaching writing more effectively is not about feeling overwhelmed by the size or intimidated by the language of writing improvement – it is about experiencing the act of writing so that you are more aware of the processes involved.

Until you have sat down to complete an activity you have set for your students, you are missing out on the most powerful and priceless insights into the act of writing, which will help you write more effectively.

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