Meet the Publisher: Teaching mastery for writing with The Literacy Company
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Here's the second instalment in our Meet the Publisher series, where we get to know education publishers in more detail. This week we speak to Allison Riley, literacy consultant and experienced teacher and senior leader from The Literacy Company. You can also find The Literacy Company's scheme of work listed on our writing & literacy page.
Scheme Support: Hi Allison. Could you start by telling us how The Literacy Company came about and what your role is at the company?
Allison: The Literacy Company was founded by Linda Neill and Catherine Richardson nine years ago to provide English support to primary schools. Both having years of experience working for the advisory team, they left the Local Education Authority to start up a new venture. Initially, they started working across Cheshire West and Chester providing support with curriculums, subject leadership, moderation, planning and teaching reading and writing.
Now the company has grown vastly both geographically and with what it provides. Three years ago, we launched our pioneering product Pathways to Write – a programme for teaching writing using a text-based mastery approach. There are currently six Pathways Literacy programmes to support with the teaching of English.
I came to join The Literacy Company 7 years ago, from a background in teaching Y6, senior leadership and LA moderation. My role within the company has changed over the years: I started running courses and providing school support but now I lead on product development for our Pathways products, write materials and continue with my work in schools.
An observation I’ve had when teaching is that many schools seem to invest heavily in resourcing maths (such as schemes and staff training), but perhaps not as much for literacy or writing. Have you found a similar trend when you've been working in or supporting schools?
We have found a similar trend. From the beginning The Literacy Company has supported schools with writing their own curriculums and sequences of learning centred around key themes or texts. Alongside this, we wrote units of work around high-quality picture books. Teachers always loved our units of work and would use them in their own curriculums.
After carrying out moderation and book scrutinies, we started to notice that the progression in skills across a whole year was sometimes lacking and often similar skills were repeated and some were missed. We created Pathways to Write so that we could ensure coverage of writing skills, create progression within and across year groups and provide schools with an engaging curriculum for teaching English. Schools want to create individualised curriculums which is why they use schemes less. We have tried to create a product which is flexible, whilst still providing great progression, and one that schools can still make their own.
That's really interesting to hear. I agree that there is a balance to be had between using a scheme and making that curriculum individualised. Now to use another maths comparison; I’ve found it's easier to find materials and challenges to stretch children who are working at above the expected age level in maths. Yet I’ve struggled to do the same in writing. I confess in the past I’ve just asked them to take a thesaurus and ‘up-level’ words! What ways can you recommend to challenge children in writing?
This is an area we have researched and developed over the years. When following the mastery approach, it is important to ensure the majority of learners in the class have mastered the skills that the teaching is focused on so that they can apply their skills flexibly across a range of writing. Therefore, we do not recommend that pupils who are working above expected standard focus on different skills. Able writers need to be challenged to use higher order thinking skills, to make more controlled vocabulary and grammatical choices and to draw upon their wider reading.
We recommend that pupils working above are challenged through the task or outcome set. In Pathways to Write, tasks are provided to challenge greater depth writers. An example of this might be writing a diary entry similar to the rest of the class but from a different character’s point of view, or with a different opinion or mood. Pupils might also be asked to write in a slightly different genre with a greater focus on audience. For example, rather than writing a setting description, they might be asked to write a letter or email to a friend to describe a place. Pupils should also be encouraged to collect vocabulary, interesting sentence structures and grammar from their reading and experiment with applying these in their writing. The task should not be so difficult that it doesn’t leave time for experimentation with language and grammar.
I love the idea of thinking about mastery in writing. I’ve seen The Literacy Company has a dedicated poetry unit of work. What are some ways you recommend poetry can be accessed and taught? I know the teaching of poetry can seem like an intimidating area for some.
We feel teaching a range of engaging poems really develops pupils’ language and enhances their writing. It also supports reading comprehension and develops those all-important spoken language skills. We would recommend trying to link poetry to texts and themes which are the class focus and to begin by investigating and learning to perform a poem. We would then recommend looking at authors’ techniques used within the poem, participating in language play and developing vocabulary, and finally writing and performing children’s own compositions.
The Pathways to Poetry programme was designed to enhance work on vocabulary, spoken language, reading and writing, and to give pupils the opportunity to play with language orally and in their writing. From EYFS, where pupils engage with rhymes, up to Y6 where pupils are creating metaphor, there is an opportunity for all to practise performance and for crafting their own poetry. With this, a wide range of poetry forms and styles are investigated across each year.
Thank you so much for your time Allison. Is there anything you’d like to mention that’s coming up at The Literacy Company?
Over the last year, we have worked very hard to complete our latest products: Pathways to Progress, Pathways to Poetry and Pathways to Spell and have some upcoming webinars introducing them.