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A Mastery Approach to Writing

Jan 7th 2019

It’s a busy Monday morning at Wolverham Primary School and Head of School, Jenni Ogden, has given up some of her valuable time to talk with us about Pathways to Write and how they have used it to develop their text-based curriculum.

The school have been piloting our units and mastery approach to writing since last year: “It had such a considerable impact on the standards of writing in the classes we used it for that we decided that we would role it out across the whole school.

“The texts are lovely and have absolutely changed the children’s attitudes to writing.”

“The consistent approach from Pathways means we’re all speaking the same language, so the children all understand completely what is meant by mastery. For the staff, it means that the language is threaded through the whole curriculum, not just in isolation in an English lesson. Because of this approach, the children are starting to understand that the skills they use in the morning they need to apply in the afternoon as well.” Jenni recalled her delight last year when one of her Year 6 pupils used parenthesis in his card to her at the end of the year: “I thought, it shows that he’s really mastered that: he could use it in his everyday writing, not just in his English book.”

Another significant impact of the approach has been to allow pupils to concentrate on mastering a few key skills and really get to grips with them before moving on. “It has really simplified what we teach. The children aren’t overloaded with ‘I need to include this and this and this’ it just keeps their focus on three or four skills. After teaching the mastery units last year, my Y6 class were so confident at using the range of punctuation required.”

The Year 5 children, who spoke with us, were keen to tell us all about their World War II topic linked to ‘Star of Fear, Star of Hope’. At Wolverham, the children have their Mastery keys attached to small keys which hang on the wall of their classroom; they’re clearly very fond of them: “At first when we were introduced to the keys my writing was quite good, but then it got better. I feel like they’ve helped me improve.”

“We use them in nearly every lesson. Sometimes, I just use modal verbs and adverbs of possibility.” – Year 6 pupil.

“What we wanted this year was to make sure there was more progression across the whole school and so we decided to use Pathways to Write. Already, we’re seeing that, as they move up school, the children who did a couple of mastery units last year are much stronger than the previous cohorts.”

Alongside promoting inspiring texts and ensuring progression across school, one of the main drivers behind writing our units was to reduce teacher workload. Our aim was to create units of work that can be easily adapted to suit the specific needs of individual cohorts and schools. “It has massively reduced teacher workload,” Jenni told us. “We are moving towards using the Pathways documents to make notes on, rather than completing weekly plans. It is easy to play around with them and make it fit your class’s needs. Our marking is significantly reduced too because we just mark to the Mastery keys and our non-negotiables now.” The reduction in time spent planning for Literacy has freed up staff’s time to develop the rest of their curriculum.

The children proudly showing off their Mastery keys.

Jenni and her staff have also taken steps towards personalising to units to suit their children. They have found that because a lot of their children are not quite secure with the Gateway keys yet, they needed to build in time to address this: “We have tended to work the unit so that we cover the Gateway keys for one or two weeks prior to the unit using a different text or different experience which links into the main book.” Their hope is that once the Pathways to Write approach has been running for a year or two they will no longer need to do this as the skills will be fully mastered from previous teaching.

Finally, we asked Jenni what she would suggest to schools considering buying into Pathways to Write: “We had no questions about saying yes to it because we’d used it last year and played around with it and saw the impact that it had. The texts are lovely and have absolutely changed the children’s attitudes to writing. Our writing outcomes last year were the highest they’ve been for a long time.”

She felt that the success they had was down to the mastery approach to teaching: “The children that left last year were far better writers because they understood the mechanics of writing whereas in previous years it had become more like a tick-box exercise. Last year, they had such a long time focused on each skill that they really understood them and they were using them naturally across the whole curriculum.” For anyone who is unsure whether it’s right for them, it’s best to go and see a school who already have it embedded.”

Find out how Jenni’s school have taken the Pathways to Write texts as a starting point for developing their wider curriculum in our next blog post…