With writing being one of the most hard-hit areas post-pandemic, English Adviser, Emma Mudge, has been investigating what the defining elements of an effective writing curriculum in primary schools are.
A Consistent Pedagogical Approach To Your Writing Learning Journey.
There are a variety of different approaches to the teaching of writing; however, both the National Curriculum and Ofsted are clear about the expectation of the implementation of a ‘process’ writing approach, i.e.
Plan – Draft – Revise & Edit – Share.
Ultimately, a process writing approach is a collaborative, workshop-style approach, which puts the act of writing at its heart.
There is encouragement of discussion and co-operative development allowing learning not just from examples and specific teacher-led instruction, but also from modelling, trial and error techniques and peer conversations.
However, we must not forget the other key elements of writing as Ofsted state in their English Subject Review (July 2022)
“… a process approach is not sufficient on its own, has a limited impact and should be used alongside other approaches.”
So what might these other approaches constitute?
When looking at the main approaches to teaching writing, we can consider that understanding the different features in specific genres, writing for purpose and ensuring that our writing communicates our meaning effectively, can equally be viewed as critical elements.
We, therefore, must ensure that our writing curriculum builds these features in as writing knowledge, while our pedagogical approach to writing follows the process approach consistently throughout the school.
A Progressive Writing Curriculum
When teaching writing in a primary school, we need to be mindful that our pupils will have very different needs. EYFS and KS1 need to focus on the physicality of writing and the transcription knowledge and skills i.e. handwriting, spelling, basic punctuation and grammar, and sentence construction.
This, however, does not detract from the process writing approach. On the contrary, once sentences have been dictated, drafting and editing can focus more on the taught letter formations and other SPAG elements, whilst the more compositional skills will be collaborative, class-based discussions.
In KS1, there is an expectation of writing being produced through discussion, ensuring that the pupil’s cognitive load is reduced and allowing them to focus on their basic transcription. If the fundamental knowledge of spelling patterns and punctuation is not prioritised in KS1, then these will continually re-emerge as issues throughout KS2.
Assuming that these elements are prioritised in KS1, then the KS2 writing curriculum can begin to move the compositional knowledge and skills more into the pupil’s control. By Year 3 and 4 it is expected that pupils are not so distracted by basic transcription efforts, which in turn allows them to consider language and vocabulary choices, layout and levels of formality – all of which enhances their own quality of writing.
Of course, throughout KS2, more complex grammar and punctuation must also be introduced. This must be carefully planned, ensuring that these elements are revisited in a variety of contexts, allowing children to master these tools, and enabling them to use them effectively and independently.
A carefully planned spiral, progressive curriculum is critical in the development and mastery of writing skills and knowledge. The curriculum should ensure that pupils have opportunities to write for a variety of different purposes, in different styles and different contexts, adapting their language and style appropriately.
How The Reading And Spoken Language Curriculum Affect Writing
“Reading is like breathing in; writing is like breathing out” (Pam Allyn, 2018)
We know, instinctively, that reading is connected to writing, but how can we use this to our greatest advantage?
Ultimately, the careful selection of high-quality texts from a variety of authors and in a range of genres will naturally influence a child’s tone, expression and style of writing, but there are other uses for these texts. Deborah Myhill in her article ‘Grammar re-imagined: foregrounding understanding of language choice in writing’, (2021) argues the importance of teaching grammar through contextual examples, and there is a growing voice across English educationalists who agree with her.
Simply put, teaching grammar through contextual examples rather than discrete lessons is a far more effective approach. We therefore need to use our texts to demonstrate how authors use the grammatical devices, sentence structures or punctuation features that we are teaching – and then discuss why.
Through deepening the understanding of how and why we choose specific language structures, children are far more likely to use them, and then use them effectively.
Good quality texts provide a jumping-off board for teachers to inspire their pupils, as well as a plethora of examples of vocabulary, figurative language, grammatical features, author voice etc, and so these must be utilised.
Oracy has been identified by the National Curriculum and by Ofsted in their English subject review as a core and necessary vehicle for teaching writing. Writing is a way of communicating, and if language and vocabulary are not modelled and practiced through reading and speech, then it will not be written down.
As educationalists, it is our duty to design formal and informal opportunities for pupils to practice verbal communication. When considering informal opportunities, we need to consider the interactions that adults have with children throughout the day – we may consider the questions asked, how we summarise what a pupil has said, our own grammar and the sentence stems that we provide pupils with.
When considering informal talk, teachers also need to consider their in-lesson peer discussions – is there room for paired talk, sharing, discussion, group roles etc? When considering the links to our writing curriculum, school leaders also need an acute awareness of their spoken language curriculum and how teachers are trained to implement this effectively, as well as how it dovetails with the writing curriculum, for example – drama, presentations and debates.
How can we possibly expect children to use effective language to describe a character when they haven’t considered how they walk, talk or how they might react in a situation?
If your spoken language curriculum is not robust, then getting your Year 6s to write well will become a tick-box affair, rather than children who can independently and confidently write effectively.
To improve the standard of writing which our pupils produce, as school leaders, we need to ensure that we prioritise:
- A consistent pedagogical approach to the teaching of writing
- A progressive, spiral writing curriculum
- A writing curriculum which is underpinned by good-quality texts and a considered approach to the teaching of spoken language
- High quality and inspiring teaching
At Services For Education, we provide a range of courses and consultation services which can support the development and understanding of your writing curriculum:
- D Myhill, 2021, ‘Grammar re-imagined: foregrounding understanding of language choice in writing’
- English National Curriculum (KS1 & 2)
- Ofsted Subject Review: English.
- Oracy APPG, April 2021 ‘Speak For Change: Final report and recommendations from the Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry’
- The Reading Framework 2023 Summary
About the Author
Emma Mudge - Adviser, Services For Education
Emma Mudge has over 20 years of experience working in primary education. Throughout this time, she has become a leader in a wide variety of areas throughout the school including Assessment, Teaching and Learning, Curriculum Management and Lead DSL, to name but a few. As Deputy Head Teacher and Acting Head Teacher, she has been at the forefront of school leadership and improvement.
During her role as English leader, she successfully introduced new approaches which significantly raised attainment. This led her to be approached to support other English coordinators across Birmingham, make presentations to school leaders and become a member of a small group of specialist teachers and leaders, tasked with improving the reading attainment in a number of schools across the city.
Emma now works as the Educational Adviser for English at Services for Education, sharing her experience and knowledge of working in primary schools to continually promote and improve the standard of teaching and learning in English, and in school improvement.
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