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

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

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 

What Matters in English Teaching e-book

A Kindle edition is available from Amazon – click the logo on the left.

Resource type: Paperback teacher book


On the 'messiness', the rigour, the importance of English, I can't think of a book I'd rather read about English teaching then, now, and in the future, than @BarbaraBleiman's indispensable What Matters in English Teaching. It takes me back to my roots as an English teacher. 

Geoff Barton, Twitter, April 2021

I  tremendously admire the patient challenge to the false dichotomies, quick fixes, cart-before-the-horse notions about necessary prior knowledge with which we’ve been plagued in recent decades. I admire too the careful, critical embracing of both/and rather than either/or in so many areas of English – in fact, across just about the whole waterfront. Barbara Bleiman stands up for the un-pigeon-hole-able centrality of meaning, valuing of the student’s contribution to the culture of the classroom, the necessity of learning by doing and learning in doing rather than learning before doing. Brilliant. 

John Richmond

Finally managed to get hold of a copy of Barbara Bleiman's book which arrived this morning. Reading it through, I think that this is one of the most important books on English teaching ever written, intelligent, stylish, and thought-provoking writing. Every English teacher should read it.

Marcello Giovanelli on Twitter, 18th April 2020

Such an important book which captures so much about the current and previous state of English education. It'll resonate with me for a long time, and feature on many reading lists of mine.

Ian Cushing on Twitter, 5th April 2020

It is a complete joy to read and so keenly needed at this moment; a major contribution to discussion re need for urgent English curriculum change; robust argument and evidence showing why & how. So important. Needs to be heard. 'Big' and 'hard' thinkng here. 5 stars.

Elizabeth Draper on Twitter, 6th May 2020

Anyone training to teach English should read Barbara Bleiman’s collection of writings about the teaching of English, its history, its philosophies, its debates, its practicalities - she covers it all. However, I also found it hugely useful, even though I’ve been teaching for years, to remind myself exactly what matters among the hubbub and fuss and polarisation that can characterise the subject and the discussion of it. Bleiman’s focus on classroom practice, how to run group work successfully and the real joy of reading and writing with students is especially helpful. Great CPD for members of English departments.

By Fran Hill on 01st Jun 2020

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