The story of a year

A little over a year ago, I had a vision for reading in my school. Inspired by the incredible work of Fiona Ritson, Alice Visser-Furay and Alex Quigley, I knew that we would have to be relentless in our aims, but that the results would make it worth it. Despite the enormous challenges of the past twelve months, we’ve come a long way. This post outlines the main steps we’ve taken in the hopes that it might serve as a guide for other schools interested in changing their reading culture.

A new library

Our old library was no longer fit for purpose. Crumbly…

The Early Career Framework has the potential to transform the experience of new teachers, and ultimately the whole educational landscape. It can help us all get better.

Since I first heard whispers of the Early Career Framework a few years ago, I’ve been incredibly excited by it. This is exactly what education needs, I thought, a carefully sequenced teacher-curriculum that breaks down core knowledge all teachers need to develop and asks them to deliberately practice each element until it is mastered. Fantastic!

You only need to take a glance at the dreadful teacher retention statistics to know something has to change. …

There’s likely to be a flurry of remote teaching blog posts over the coming days and weeks, and I sincerely hope so. Since last March, we’ve never had to learn such a complex new way of working such a short amount of time. But as a profession, we have learned a huge amount, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that my early remote lessons bear very little resemblance to what I plan to be using in the upcoming weeks.

This post outlines what I think are the most important things to remember when teaching children…

January 2021

Teachers don’t do well with uncertainty. There’s something about the reassuring ring of the bell that tells us everything is in its place. The comforting hug of routine keeps us safe and secure. The tidal rhythms of each half-term are calming in their familiarity.

So there’s nothing quite like the ‘unprecedented times’ of global pandemic to whip the rug from our feet and make us feel lost.

I’ve found it particularly hard to shift gears between normality and extraordinary times. From March to July, everything was different. But September lulled us into a false sense of security. Exams were firmly…

Ten short stories to sooth and enlighten, by Elisabeth Bowling and Edward Hancox.

Italo Calvino, Zadie Smith, Alexia Arthurs, Rudyard Kipling, Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro, William Faulkner

Before this year, I was never much of a fan of short stories. I found them unsatisfying, dense, too brief to provoke an emotional response or stay in my memory for any amount of time. But about six months ago, I started to find long fiction draining — no doubt in response to the looming uncertainty of unusual times. I found it impossible to focus on novels and lose myself in their twisting narratives and cast of characters. Suddenly, short stories seemed more palatable.

So in March, three friends and I resolved to read and discuss one short story per…

We all recognise that effective writing, reading and speaking skills are absolutely vital for the pupils we teach. So this blog, based on my talk at ResearchEd Norwich, focuses on that very complex but very important process of writing. I’ve written about it a little before when I discussed academic writing in English essays, but here I widen the scope to look at accurate and cohesive writing across school subjects.

The recorded version is available here.

The importance of writing

We know that clear and confident written expression is key to both academic success and success in later life…

I was privileged to speak about middle leadership as part of this year’s ResearchEd Birmingham. It’s a topic close to my heart: with almost six years of being a middle leader across three different schools, I’m now preparing to step away from leading a department. I’m excited about new challenges in senior leadership, but the change in role is certainly bittersweet. I’ll miss the rigour and close-knit teamwork of being a middle leader.

This blog is a condensed version of my ResearchEd presentation, and it focuses on what I believe are the important aspects of middle leadership: leading from domain…

An essential reading list

I’ve been teaching reading for going on six years. Because I’ve never fully understood how we actually learn to read, I’ve taught it through a hotchpotch of instinct, imitation and responding to the difficulties I’ve seen children experience. Has it worked? Sort of. Many children become better readers; most pass their exams. But I’ve never felt fully confident. I’ve never felt secure in knowing exactly what works when teaching reading.

So that’s why it’s been incredibly satisfying to spend or year or so reading up on reading.

These books have taken me on a journey that…

Far from being tedious, repetition can help students develop fluency, grow in confidence and enjoy learning.

Photo by John T on Unsplash

Last year I had a challenging ‘borderline’ Year 11 class. They were amazing (fun, energetic, often hilarious), but still challenging. It was a large class, and they had a huge range of abilities and confidence levels in English. Their behaviour was patchy: not terrible, but often far from focused. At times, they had me pulling my hair out and feeling as if I was the worst teacher imaginable. But the great thing was that I had a decent amount of time with them each…

Designing and teaching a term of Oliver Twist.

In Part 1, I wrote about the different processes that go into making curriculum decisions collectively. This post will exemplify these processes in our development of a unit of work on Oliver Twist. I’ve put all the resources below: feel free to use.

This outlines the different steps that we took in creating this unit of work:

The collective thinking that went into our teaching of Oliver Twist.

For more information on these steps, please have a look at part one of this blog series.

Oliver Twist is a rich and dense text that can be pushed in all sorts of directions. We…

Elisabeth Bowling: A Wild Surmise

Considering education, schools and books. Elisabeth Bowling, Assistant Principal and Head of English. I tweet at @elucymay.

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