Cover image for What Matters in English Teaching Collected Blogs and Other Writing – Barbara Bleiman (Print)

What Matters in English Teaching Collected Blogs and Other Writing – Barbara Bleiman (Print)

208 pages


ISBN: 978-1-906101664 Download sample PDF


One Sunday morning at the beginning of March 2020, just before the publication of this book, Barbara Bleiman tweeted a thread of 20 things that matter to her in English. The thread was not only retweeted and liked by many, many teachers and others interested in the state of English teaching, but provoked a sense both of excitement and relief: finally somebody succinctly capturing what English teaching should and could be.

In What Matters in English Teaching – Collected Blogs and Other Writing, these ideas and principles are explored and wrestled with in the context of her work as teacher, writer, researcher and course leader. It’s a collection which addresses the central issues in English teaching now (and in the past), raising and answering important questions, and argues for a rich, diverse and creative experience of English (teaching and learning). It’s a collection which draws on the work of a wide range of educational researchers and practitioners, to offer an incredibly readable and committed exploration of what really does matter in English teaching.

Get a preview of what matters by enjoying the full thread of 20 points, reproduced here:

A few things that 'matter' for me in English teaching:

1. There must be opportunities to 'think' as well as 'know'. Knowing involves thinking.

2. Response is important, before, during & after reading.

3. The exploratory is a route to the formal, critical.

4. Choice matters... to develop taste & pleasure, in reading & writing.

5. Books should be age-appropriate & diverse (the canon, YA fiction & much more.)

6. The creative & the critical should work in conjunction with each other.

7. Dialogic classrooms are essential for many of the above.

8. Talk... about texts should push towards deeper thinking & exploration of meanings, not meaning.

9. Assessment should be properly formative – what does this student really need to move on.

10. Small detail should be at the service of big ideas.

11. Formulae & scaffolds should be... treated with caution & used sparingly.

12. Vocabulary is just 1 element in a whole structure of language, all of which need to be taught in the context of reading, writing and talk.

13. The teacher is expert, guide, craftsperson, collaborator, cheerleader, mentor – all of these! 

14. Development of taste for reading should be a core aim.

15. Most things work, in different contexts with different texts – selecting carefully from a repertoire is better than blanket rejection of approaches.

16. Valuing students and what they bring is of paramount importance. 

17. Bringing one's own enthusiasm(s) to bear is essential.

18. Opportunities for teachers to talk about the texts they're teaching are essential.

19. English isn't History. The focus should be on what illuminates the text. And... 

20. Texts don't always need a lot of front-loaded 'prior knowledge'.

Often they tell you a lot of what you need to know & the pleasure in reading them is learning that from them. What's needed can be offered along the way. I could go on but I'll stop there! 

What Matters in English Teaching includes chapters on:

A Timeline – Key Events in English Teaching    

Way Back Then – Ruskin Conference on English Teaching 1991    

What English Is and What it Could and Should Be    

  • Where we’ve come from and why it matters 
  • Real English versus exam English – the case for authentic experience
  • Global moves and local operations – big picture thinking
  • Challenge and text choice – walking the tightrope
  • Diversity in the English classroom   

Knowledge in English

  • Why aren’t we talking about Applebee? 
  • What is significant knowledge at KS3?
  • Setting the agenda
  • Literature – the walk, not the map  
  • Cultural capital – is it a useful term?


  • Over-emphasising the vocabulary challenge
  • Focusing on terms, missing meanings

Group Work and Talk in English Classrooms 

  • Speaking up for group work 
  • It’s good to talk – changing practice in English
  • Group work – had we but world enough and time
  • Creating as well as thinking in group work 
  • Group work or teacher transmission – a false dichotomy? 

Teaching Writing

  • The transition from artlessness to art 
  • Exploratory talk and writing – pupil progress at KS3 
  • Freedom versus constraint – EMC’s ‘Let Them Loose!’ 

The Creative and the Critical 

  • Reading as a writer, writing as a reader
  • Learning how to write critically by writing creatively 

Teaching Poetry 

Teaching the Novel 

Assessing English 

Teaching English Language

Research, Theory, Practice and CPD 

  • Is ‘What Works?’ the only question
  • What is good CPD in English? 

Postscript: Harold Rosen Lecture, 2019 

Resource type: Paperback teacher book

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