A mastery model for Writing: moving away from the text type treadmill

hell

Are we deceiving ourselves about cohesion?
(Cartoon from xkcd.com/724)

I wrote back in the autumn of 2013 about how I found the endless march through text types to be ineffective in really securing children’s skills in Writing. I have spoken at several events since about how our perception of a joined-up curriculum in primary schools may not be conveyed as well as we like to the children we teach. We often build our writing tasks around a common topic or text and describe this as building a coherent curriculum, but too often the cohesion is in the topic, and not in the skill of writing. I have likened this in the past to trying to build a wall with bricks simply by dropping lots of randomly-shaped bricks and hoping they’ll fall into place.

This year, I have tried to improve on this model by bringing greater coherence to the curriculum for Writing. That doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from thematic teaching, nor necessarily moving away from using the text types. However, my intention has been to adopt some of the principles of the mastery model that I discussed in my original blog: focussing on fewer aspects of writing for a greater length of time.

Initially, this was based on identifying common strands through the units we were intending to teach (see details in first blog). Later, however, I began to adapt the text types we were using to ensure that we spent longer focussing on common strands. The idea here was to group the text types together slightly to ensure that we spend longer focussing on common features rather than racing through the various types hoping that some of the content we threw at the children would stick!

Our initial model ended up looking something like this:

Writing Mastery model

Click to download PDF version

Over the course of the year we continued our usual units of study, with writing tasks adapted to focus on some common themes. Generally I would say that this has been a successful approach. I’m not convinced that it made any substantial difference to our progress in Writing this year, but I do think that the children have been – and will be – able to retain more of their knowledge of each of the genres, and so will be able to draw upon that knowledge more effectively in the future. One of my concerns of the race through the text types has been the lack of retention of the main features, meaning that almost every unit of work becomes a revision unit rather than developing further skill, at first at least.

As I approach the new year, however, I think there is more that could be done to develop this cohesion within and across year groups. Traditionally many schools have repeated the structure of the old Literacy framework by trying to get through many text types in each year, re-visiting regularly. My preference is to group the text types such that over the period of 6 weeks there are opportunities to learn and employ some of the key features. This has led me to a model based very loosely on the GCSE writing triplets:

Mastery Writing model

Click to download PDF

I realise that this clear division into fiction and non-fiction blocks will fill some teachers with dread. Many teachers have a preference for one strand or the other, and so find the through of a whole half-term without their favoured type quite daunting. I can understand this, but our focus has to be on providing the most effective curriculum design to help our students to retain the key elements of learning.

The advantages of this approach are hopefully evident at least in part. By focussing on some common areas over a half-term, there are opportunities for students to experience, employ and adapt the various features and techniques being taught. Significantly, it will be possible to share with parents more detail of what is being covered in Writing, since the focus will be narrower. This also allows us to use target-setting more effectively, as students are able to learn from early pieces in the half-term and apply the target in the next piece. This replaces a system where too often children (particularly in upper KS2) have writing targets which are not particularly relevant to the text types/genres being taught.

Obviously this is just a broad example which doesn’t link directly to any topics or themes that are being taught. As with all models, it wouldn’t be possibly to transfer it wholesale from school to school because it would work best when properly aligned with the wider curriculum. However, hopefully it may provide an interesting discussion point for schools thinking about tackling the content of the new curriculum?

Comments welcomed!

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18 thoughts on “A mastery model for Writing: moving away from the text type treadmill

  1. Georgia 1 July 2014 at 6:03 pm Reply

    Your mastery model for KS2 Writing is great, are you planning to do one for KS1?

    • Michael Tidd 1 July 2014 at 6:26 pm Reply

      I won’t personally be making a KS1 model, as that’s definitely not my area of expertise, but I do hope to work with colleagues in my school on a similar approach over the coming year. Can’t promise anything imminently though, I’m afraid.
      My suspicion is that a KS1 model would need even less content with more frequent repetition of core elements.

  2. emmaannhardy 2 July 2014 at 7:11 pm Reply

    This looks really interesting, thank you for sharing it. Do you know if it has been tried in year 2 also?

    • Michael Tidd 2 July 2014 at 7:47 pm Reply

      Not yet. I’ve talked about it with the KS1 team at my new school, but I shall have to follow their lead on how it works best for that age. I presume that there are fewer text types covered anyway, so it may just be a case of thinking about how the texts and styles you do use best complement each other?

  3. Debbie Thomas 29 July 2014 at 11:17 am Reply

    Would you be available to speak to a group of English subject leaders about your approach, in the autumn term?

  4. *VV@|d ®@m* 31 August 2014 at 8:03 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Diary of a Distressed Dad and commented:
    Really interested in this at the moment. Hoping to re-shape literacy based on some of the ideas here.

  5. […] I am a fan of looking at longer blocks on a common theme. I’ve written before about a mastery approach, and here I want to expand on how that might look for a single […]

  6. […] merits of a mastery approach that spends longer amounts of time on fewer things in both maths and English. I’ve never been a fan of the block-based approach that was put forward in the primary maths […]

  7. Kate 3 May 2015 at 8:25 pm Reply

    I am really interested in your thoughts here. Have also read your post on ‘Is Mastery just for Maths’. We have been looking at developing a mastery approach in maths and I think I have a basic grip on how this will work. I have a maths background though and am struggling to understand how this will work in Literacy. Your two posts have been helpful but can you point to any further reading which would help us to understand the concept in both reading and writing?

  8. Kim 7 August 2015 at 1:20 pm Reply

    This looks really good, do you have an overview of other year groups to look at?

    • Michael Tidd 7 August 2015 at 1:56 pm Reply

      I’m afraid not – I have left that development in the capable hands of the teaching teams to plan for, not using the pretty format I wrote for the blog.

  9. rpd1972 7 August 2015 at 5:37 pm Reply

    I really like this idea. I was trained when the genres in English and blocks and units in maths were seen as the be-all and end-all, when I was quite certain that they weren’t.

    I do believe in a spiral curriculum, but I very much like the idea of continuums and making real links between similar (and sometimes even different) threads of learning. This is how I’ve always taught English, with a focus on construction and impact rather than on distinct text types, and I can see how your model works in a similar way.

    We need to get away from book trawls where the number of pieces of writing over a half term are counted and compared to the number of school days, and where leaders tick off the different genres covered over a period of time. More haste, less speed!

  10. Graham Jennings 28 September 2015 at 7:12 am Reply

    Since the introduction of the new curriculum, I have been seeking to move away from a curriculum structure built on “text types” which, were arguably only ever artificial constructions towards a curriculum developed from the starting point of the purpose of the piece of writing. Although you do not mention purposes explicitly in this piece, It seems that your structure has this as an underlying feature. I also like longer units of work so that the children can write a series of pieces similar pieces, giving them an opportunity to recognise their developing skills and to identify similarities and subtle differences between good pieces created for different contexts or different audiences.

  11. Miss I 7 December 2015 at 9:19 pm Reply

    We do this in our school. I’m in year 4 and we spent 6 weeks teaching children to recount and the explored a range of text types such as diaries, letters, trip recounts. We taught them the recount skill and associated language, organisation and structure and they applied it through multiple opportunities to write recounts. We use this approach across all aspects of writing and it really develops the children as writers.

  12. katy brinicombe 7 March 2016 at 7:13 pm Reply

    Do you have a mastery document for year 6 please?

  13. Alison Harris 23 June 2016 at 8:46 pm Reply

    If these become available for other year groups I would love them! This looks like a good middle ground for my new school, where they won’t let me go full blown talk for writing, but realise that ‘the power of reading’ is not working. Too many text types, too little time!

  14. MrsD 9 November 2016 at 9:41 pm Reply

    I was just talking about this today – why not mastery for English as we know it in maths? Children need to truly understand concepts, not just plough on through the curriculum because that’s what comes next. I’ll use your planning ideas as a starting point, as I’m new to coordinating English, thank you!

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