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Philip Pullman in conversation with Michael Rosen

Centre for Language, Culture and Learning Online Event –  21 May 2021

5.30 pm – Welcome from Head of Centre for Language, Culture and Learning – Vicky Macleroy

5.35 pm – Introduction by Head of MA Children’s Literature programme – Julia Hope

5.40 pm – 6.40 pm – Philip Pullman in conversation with Michael Rosen

6.40 – 7.00 pm – Questions from panel of MA /PhD Children’s Literature students – Alice Penfold, Mette Lindahl-Wise, Seraphina Simmons-Bah, Louis Garratt


What happens when you bring together two leading figures in the field of children’s literature?

We share some reflections and highlights from this brilliant event which was first planned between these two long-time friends and prolific well-known writers over a year ago. Originally planned as a live event (the week we went into lockdown and before Michael nearly died from COVID-19), the event was then transformed into an online conversation.

Michael Rosen is Professor of Children’s Literature and in the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning at Goldsmiths. Julia Hope, Head of the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths, introduced Michael Rosen and Philip Pullman in a warm, witty, political way that set the tone for this special event giving us a glimpse into the lives of these highly esteemed writers in the field of children’s literature.

Michael framed the conversation with his questions and the ebb and flow of the discussion was a real pleasure. Philip spent much of his childhood at sea and remembers being on the water and the movement of the sea and this sense of impermanence and ‘nowhere that I can really call home’. We heard that his mother used to write poetry and he had loved the rhythm of Hiawatha as a child and read ‘with enormous glee’ the Just So Stories and How the Camel got its Hump’. Philip shared his enjoyment of comics – swift and quick moving – Superman, Batman, The Eagle and Michael remembered becoming an ‘aficionado’ of comics but with his father’s running ideological commentary in his ear.

Philip and Michael reminisced about their time at Oxford and the odd disjuncture with figures in academia at that time and obstacles put in the way of success. Philip thoughtfully remarked that: ‘If I had my time again, I would have been a furniture maker’.

Michael moved onto talking to Philip about his earlier books and the influence of children’s writers on him such as Leon Garfield, Owl Service. Philip talked about reading Paradise Lost and words in poetry and how his ‘skin bristled’ and he was ‘intoxicated, spellbound by these words, what words, what phrases, how do you find words like that?’. He also talked about loving ballads and folk music.

We were given a rare treat into Philip’s current writing on the last book in the trilogy of The Book of Dust. In this book, Philip wanted to send Lyra, to Central Asia, to near Aleppo, but Aleppo one hundred years ago when it was a happy, thriving, bustling, busy, joyful place. Pantalaimon has decided Lyra has lost her imagination (because of certain books she has been reading) and has to leave Lyra to find her imagination and go east (to the Tian Shan Mountains in Western China). Lyra is following him and she is now in Syria, meeting strange events and strange people. Philip sees this novel turning into a romance, smaller scale than an epic, and about an individual questing for lost love. He was on p. 132 of writing the book at the time of talking and we eagerly await its publication.

Panellist reflections

 The event was then opened up for the 4 panellists to ask their questions and they reflect here on the questions and Philip’s responses.

Strong female characters (Mette Lindahl-Wise)

My question to Phillip stemmed from my interest in girlhood, feminism and children’s literature and I asked Phillip where his strong female characters came from – was he inspired by particular people or literary characters? Philip explained that he never sets out to create strong female characters for ideological purposes or to prove a particular political point, they just ‘turn up like that’. However, never having been a girl himself he is interested in examining female characters through the omniscient narrator, a non-human ‘spright’ ‘whose voice it is a privilege to inhabit’. Drawing on his many years as a teacher and observing classroom dynamics to create his many fabulous female characters like Lyra, Alice, Sally, Lila the fire-maker’s daughter he said there had been a ‘Lyra’ in every class he taught. Fascinating!

Fantasy genre (Alice Penfold)

My PhD research is focused on representations of mental health in young adult fantasy fiction. Due to my interest in genre, I asked Philip why he had chosen the fantasy genre for many of his novels and what unique possibilities he believes that the genre offers. Philip offered a very thoughtful and honest response and outlined how the ideas for his novels came to him before choosing a specific genre. I was particularly interested in his comment on the possibilities of fantasy to escape everyday reality and also for using fantasy to represent growing up, as shown in His Dark Materials through the fact that the daemons of young people (such as Lyra) can change, whereas those of the adults stay the same. It was such a pleasure to hear Philip’s answers and his conversation with Michael and to be reminded of the power that fiction has to help adult and young adult readers alike to make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

Anthropomorphism (Seraphina Simmons-Bah)

As I have been exploring the use of anthropomorphism as part of my research into societal power structures and children’s literature, I asked Philip about his use of the device through the daemons in His Dark Materials. Philip built on his answers to Mette and Alice’s questions, explaining that there was no deliberate ideological rationale for how he used the daemons, but fondly recalled the moment that he had had the idea to make it possible for children’s daemons to change whilst adult daemons cannot. When listening to Philip’s responses, what struck me the most was just how inspired he is by children and the resilience and adaptability they can have.

Writing prose (Louis Garratt)

 As a writer who aspires to the swiftness and clarity of Philip’s works, my question was if there is a rule, or set of rules or practices, that Philip adheres to when writing prose to capture the reader and instil a swiftness to the text. Philip’s response was to emphasise the importance of good habits, commenting that ‘habit has written far more books than inspiration has’. It is more beneficial and realistic to have an accomplishable routine when setting out on the task of writing. Philip also commented on my admiration for nonsense literature, naming The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster as well as the Alice books of Lewis Carrol, as examples of texts that are stitched together in a logical manner that aids the reader’s immersion.

Returning to Michael Rosen and Philip Pullman at the end of the panel discussion, Michael talked about how Philip had taken us on a roundabout route through story and posed the question:

What does story give us?

You can watch a recording of the event here.


 Philip Pullman shared some pages with us afterwards of his work in progress.

These words are not for reproduction or publication outside of this blog (and not to be posted on social media).

Work in progress

Lyra listened. The silence was vast. It was the sort of night when you might hear the planets moving among the stars. She found herself comparing it with the silence in the world of the dead, but that was a closed silence, where nothing was alive, and that world was stale and stuffy, for all its immensity. But the silence in Al-Khan al-Azraq was open, and not quite silence either; there were little scratches, little susurrations and clicks and rasps, none of them louder than a pinch of sand dropped on the skin of a snare drum, and they all meant … Nothing. She remembered a night some years before, in Oxford, when she had thought that everything had a meaning, and had seen how she might understand it. But that was before she’d read Gottfried Brande and Simon Talbot, at a time when Pan was still happy with her.

“You can’t hear them?” said Nur Huda.

She spoke tentatively, anxious that Lyra should believe her, and Lyra saw how young the girl was, and how much she’d suffered, and felt how tightly Nur Huda was still gripping her arm.

“Yes, I can a bit, but I don’t know what they’re saying. Is this the best place to listen to them?”

“It’s better in the market place. This way.”

They had to clamber over the fallen stones and make their way around the broken walls of a basilica before they came to an open area that did look like a market place, a public space to hold meetings: a forum.

The sand underfoot was so fine and white that it might have been newly-milled flour. In the centre of the forum there was a plinth where a statue had once stood. The statue itself lay in three pieces beside it, toppled by an earthquake, perhaps: a bearded god whose sightless eyes glared up at the moon. Lyra and Nur Huda sat on his muscular chest. There was nothing moving in the forum, not a sign of life anywhere, and everything around was drenched in moonlight and frozen in stillness.

Lyra gradually became more aware of the scratchy little susurrus, the scraping of insect claws, the clicks and rustlings like dry leaves in a porcelain bowl being stirred by a breeze. The girl’s arm pressing against hers, her flesh warm in the cold air, made Lyra realise a little of what their dæmons must be feeling, so bare and vulnerable away from the solid comfort of a human body.

She gathered her breath to say something, but Nur Huda whispered “Sssh …”

Lyra could hear no difference in the tiny scratchings and scrapes. She strained to hear better, and tried to focus her ears on whatever was there, and then remembered Giorgio Brabandt telling her how to see the secret commonwealth: You got to look at it sideways, he’d said. Out the corner of your eye. So you gotta think about it out the corner of your mind. Its there and it ent, both at the same time.

Of course. She shouldn’t strain at it. She relaxed her mind and her eyes and her ears, and let the night flow in and out of her body. A nimbus of perception spread out around her as if her senses themselves were slowly merging with the city of the moon.

And in the clicks and rasps and scratches she began to hear words:

… you alone … we will talk only to you … what we have to say is not for the world to know …

Then she said into the dark “Who are you? Are you angels?”

… we are beings of another kind …

“Are you part of the secret commonwealth?”

… deeper by far than that … we come from the gulfs between the good numbers …

“The gulfs between … Did I hear you properly?”

No reply.


Philip Pullman

From The Book of Dust, Part 3


Many thanks to Philip for this rare glimpse into a ‘work in progress’.


         The Book of Dust, Part 3   

You can find information about the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths which has 3 pathways: MA Children’s Literature: Issues and Debates; MA Children’s Literature: Creative Writing Pathway; MA Children’s Literature: Children’s Book Illustration.

Blog by Vicky Macleroy (with panellist reflections by Mette Lindahl-Wise, Alice Penfold, Seraphina Simmons-Bah, Louis Garratt)



Gabriel Troiano: The forbidden and creativity

Below is an unedited video of Gabe Troiano’s talk on the Forbidden and Creativity, 15 April 2021, hosted by  Goldsmiths Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and MA Creative Writing and Education Please feel free to scroll to the relevant section.


Gabe writes:

It was an absolute pleasure to participate in the Inspire conference on the 15 and 16 of April 2021. I was impressed with what the participants had to showcase, their work has great value and will certainly be of importance moving forward in the field of critical pedagogy, creativity, and writing. In regard to my session ‘Forbidden’, I wanted to explore a creative writing practice that can take place in a variety of formats.

By formats I mean not only writing, but other artistic forms of expression such as painting, drawing, etc. This goes along with a part of my presentation where I talk about other artistic creations and how they impacted me as a writer. My idea with this piece was to think about a scenario where a person or character finds themselves in a difficult place, a moment where him/her is doing something forbidden or dangerous that could potentially impact their life in some way.

This was the driving force behind my story, and I believe that this simple action of doing something forbidden can and has been extremely explored throughout the artistic world. Some of the examples from different genres that I utilized in my presentation are shown below:

Adam eating the apple, 1786 by Parmigianino (1503 – 1540)

Adam eating the apple | Works of Art | RA Collection | Royal Academy of Arts

Dream Theater’s “Metropolis PT 2: Scenes From a Memory”

Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory - Wikipedia

The generous feedback from my peers and visitors at the conference (which also included my mother, father, and grandmother!) also allowed me to showcase this point quite clearly. After the completion of the freewriting exercise, I was shocked to see so many responses and the amount of creativity that was embedded in only 8 minutes of writing. Some of the comments below say more than I could ever express into words:

‘She’d do what she needed to do. It was the mantra that she kept replaying to herself all those lonely months. And now she was here. The worst was over. Now all that was left was to cover the thing that had fallen out of her in the soft, sweet smelling earth of her parent’s back garden. Then she could go back into the house; get into bed and tomorrow she would just be a cheerleader again.’

‘I stood in the bathroom stall shaking and unfolding the crumpled piece of paper where I had written all the math formulas. My forehead dripped with sweat and my ankles felt stiff. I tried to scan the paper as quickly as possible. When I walked back to the classroom my sneakers squeaked through the cold and quiet hallway. When I opened the door to classroom 2D, Mr.s Levin looked at me. “She knows”, I thought. “Play it cool” i told myself. I slipped back into the seat to look at my math quiz and I had forgotten all the formulas.’

‘I lied. I don’t usually lie. It is hard to do so when one has been brought up in a strict ‘Thou shalt not lie’ household. I lied to my children. I thought at the time I was protecting them and to this day I do not know if that was a good thing. But they lied right back at me. They pretended that they believed my lie. so we lived for years dancing around this strange thing, this lie. It coloured everything and as it turns out, they were having to work harder to protect me. And I had no idea that any of it was going in. How would our lives have been if I’d told them the truth from day on? What would it have been like if they had not lived, knowingly, with that lie, played it out for years? That lie. It had so much power. It carved the gorge that our life path took. To this day I can’t work out if I did the right thing but I remember the shock when my children told me they knew I had lied to them. Did it make them accepting of lies, of untruths? Did it colour their lives. If it did, I hope it has been for the good. But I will never know. I can’t turn back the clock, change that act.’

Overall, the experience of attending the conference as an observer and presenter was a truly magnificent opportunity. It always blows my mind to see so many talented people that are not afraid to showcase their work and inspire people to grow and be creative. I have always thought that creativity is something that you must be born with it, but attending conferences like this makes me reflect on the value of pedagogy and serving as a mentor to others who may want to explore their more creative, abstract side. It is easy for us writers and educators to sit down and jot our ideas to ourselves, but it is when we shed light on the why and how of this process to others that we fundamentally alter the way in which creativity is practiced and perceived. That is to say, one can do the work and stimulate their ideas to oneself, but one can also share pieces of the puzzle that was developed throughout a body of work in order to truly mend these different pieces together. I hope that you become inspired by watching the conference as I did, observing and interacting with the different pieces of the puzzle produced by the trend setting collection of inspirers.


Gabriel Troiano was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1996. After moving to the United States in 2013 to complete his high school and bachelor’s degree, Gabriel relocated to London, United Kingdom, where he currently resides and is completing a master’s from Goldsmiths University in Creative Writing & Education. His first original poetry and short story collection entitled Inner Worlds is set to publish in 2021, one which he compiled throughout the span of his academic life. The author is also deeply interested in social work and acts as a volunteer for The Reader organization based in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Besides his literary ventures, Gabriel enjoys topics relating to sports, health & wellness, music, and is an advocate for mental health.

Matilda Rostant: How to get started on building your fantasy world

YouTube Video

Below is the link for an unedited video of Matilda Rostant’s talk at the Inspire Conference 15th April 2021, hosted by Goldsmiths Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and MA Creative Writing and Education. Please feel free to scroll ahead to the relevant sections.

The Blurb for this Conference Workshop

The magic of a fantasy story is the exciting world that you are introducing to your reader, a place where they can get lost and explore. Your world will be the backbone of your story, the home to your characters and the beginning of their adventure.

In the 30 minute workshop, we explored the world in which your story is set, whether that is in an alternative London, or your very own Narnia. World building is an integral part of fantasy writing, although sometimes it can be daunting and difficult to know where to begin. Through a series of writing exercises, we broke down the process into manageable tasks to help you get going with creating your fantasy world.

Exercises and responses

Below are the exercises covered in the workshop. You could focus on one question, or try and answer as many of them as possible to get a wider idea of what your world might look like. By first creating a character, we then used our character to show us more of the world around them, whether it was through where they live, or their place of work.

Create a character who inhabits your world (3 mins)

Give them an attribute that doesn’t exist in our world – occupation/physical/clothing etc.

Who are they? Name/age etc.

What do they do for a living?

What are their hobbies?

What are their dreams/ambitions/goals?

What stands in their way from achieving those things?

Describe your character’s home (3 min)

Where do they live? Show us around their home.

Use all the senses – vision, touch, smell, taste, and sound.

What is the climate like where they live? What season is it?

Does your character like where they live?

Can you incorporate something into the home that doesn’t exist in our world?

Write about a day in the life of your character in your world (7 mins)

Where are they going and why? (could be relating to their job/hobby/goal)

What do their surroundings look like (street/village/town/city)? Any landmarks?

Who else lives there apart from your character?

 To take it one step further:

What is the political system?

Is there magic in this world? Magic always comes with a price, what would be the price for using magic in their world?

What plants and wildlife exist in their world?

For this workshop, I included as many questions as possible so that people could find an area that they felt comfortable writing about, whether that was wildlife, or going into more details about someone’s job. However, as discussed in the workshop, when introducing fantasy in a classroom, some might struggle if the brief is going in too many directions. In those cases, it is best to narrow it down to one question and focus on that scenario – such as ‘what if…’.

Writing fantasy isn’t always as easy as one might imagine. Where some writing focuses on having you look inward to what you know, fantasy asks you to let go of what you know of your world and create something out of the unknown. And that can be daunting. Therefore, it was lovely to find that some people who had never written fantasy before, and found it challenging, came up with the most imaginative stories and enjoyed writing them.


Born in Sweden, Matilda Rostant is a fantasy writer who now lives in London. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London with an MA in Creative Writing and Education in 2020. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Reader’s Digest. The aim of her workshop is to encourage anyone interested in creating their own fantasy world to take the first step.

Note about the Inspire conference and anthology

‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ was a conference hosted online by Goldsmiths’ Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, on 15th and 16th April 2021, 9.30am-4.15pm.

The conference explored through a series of dynamic online workshops and lectures how we can inspire people of all generations to be creative. It was in part a celebration of the publication of Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing (ed. Brankin, Gilbert & Sharples: 2020). You can access a free copy of this wonderful book here:


Refugee Narratives

At present I am writing a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Refugee Narratives, to be published imminently.  It is entitled: ‘Fostering empathy, or presenting refugees as victims, in need of “white saviours”? Reviewing recent middle grade/ young adult children’s literature about refugees.’

For the past 15 years I have been researching children’s literature about the refugee experience, identifying early on the exponential growth in books about this controversial subject as an “emergent genre” (Hope, 2008, pg.296).  By the time of the publication of my book “Children’s Literature about Refugees: A Catalyst in the Classroom” (Hope, 2017) I could include an appendix of 250 titles on the subject published in English in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and since then more titles are continually appearing, with several books achieving considerable notoriety in recent years.  Obviously, the theme is topical, particularly since 2015 with the escalation of conflict in Syria contributing to “the world’s largest refugee crisis in decades” (UNHCR, 2021), but children’s literature does not always reflect reality so closely.

I have looked at how these books are authored, studied in the classroom, mediated by teachers, and read by refugee and non-refugee children alike, and over the years, I have come to recognise that, although not a homogeneous category, much middle grade/ young adult literature of this kind (targeted at 8 – 18 year olds) could well be described as “docu-novels … whose priority is to narrate a social circumstance, or which have a message to tell” (Wilkie- Stibbs, 2008, Pg.12) following an almost formulaic representation of the refugee experience.  More recently, I have begun to notice a trend towards increasingly grim and explicit depictions of the suffering of refugee children, especially when trapped in refugee or detainment camps.

This chapter, therefore, questions the motivations of authors, the messages of such stories, and the images of refugees proffered by the books.  I will be examining in depth three middle grade (8-12)/ young adult (12-18) texts all of which are set mainly or partly in refugee and detainment camps, and been published since 2016, receiving public acclaim – Zana Fraillon’s “The Bone Sparrow” (2016), Elizabeth Laird’s “Welcome to Nowhere” (2017) and Ele Fontain’s “Boy ‘87” (2018).  Drawing on close textual analysis I will ask, controversially, how far should we go in exposing the horrors that children may be experiencing in the current global setting?  Does this foster empathy and a humane response, or do some of these narratives depict refugee children as victims of politically sanitised global disasters, without background explanation of the causes (Vassiloudi, 2019) and in need of “white saviours” to bring them to safety.  I will argue instead that we need a new framework of RefugeeCrit (Strekalova-Hughes, 2019) that promotes criticism and discussion, avoids pity and “othering”, and does not take war, violence and persecution for granted, but examines more closely the complex contexts about conflict leading to flight.

Dr Julia Hope is Head of the MA Children’s Literature programme. You can find information about the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths which has 3 pathways:

MA Children’s Literature: Issues and Debates

MA Children’s Literature: Creative Writing Pathway

MA Children’s Literature: Children’s Book Illustration.


Blog by Julia Hope

Community/heritage language learning during the Covid-19 pandemic: Lessons for pedagogy and community building

We are a group of researchers based at the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, at Goldsmiths and UCL BiLingo. We are passionate about multilingualism and language education and want to share our passion with language educators from formal and non-formal educational settings, parents, researchers, policy makers and other interested parties.

The pandemic has brought about unprecedented change and we wish to collectively reflect on how it has affected language education in the UK and beyond. With this objective in mind, we launched a new virtual events series called ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’.

For our inaugural event, we explored the impact of the pandemic on community/heritage language learning. Community/heritage language learning is at the heart of sustaining the languages, cultures and histories of inheritance of minority ethnic communities for the next generation. It plays a central role in cultivating children’s multilingual capabilities and strengthening their linguistic and cultural identities. Community/heritage schools are thus, important sites for language and culture learning and socialisation.

They are also hubs for communication and social interaction between different generations. These schools are frequently grass-roots initiatives organised and led by ethnolinguistic communities themselves. Because they are a community-based organisation, they may struggle with funding and material resources, but at the same time they are more resourceful, flexible and creative. Social distancing restrictions and school closures has meant that many schools have been forced to suspend their operation or adapt overnight and with little preparation to different forms of online instruction:

  • How have schools responded to the shift to online teaching and learning?
  • What forms of online provision have they developed?
  • In what ways has the digital mediation of teaching and learning transformed pedagogic practices?
  • What new roles, relationships and networks has it fostered?
  • How has it sustained a sense of community, belonging and wellbeing despite not being able to meet in person?
  • What are the gains and what are the losses of online teaching and learning and for whom?
  • What issues of inclusivity and social justice do these issues raise?
  • What new visions of community languages education are emerging during and after the pandemic?

To address these questions, we invited Ms Cátia Ribeiro Verguete (Deputy Director at Instituto Camões UK for the promotion of Portuguese worldwide and PhD candidate in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London), Ms Marianne Siegfried-Brookes (Deputy Chair at VDSS, the Association of German Saturday Schools UK, Director at the German Academy UK, and German language educator) and Ms Pascale Vassie, OBE (Executive Director at the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education) to share their personal and professional experiences.

To set the context of the panel discussion, Dr Vally Lytra (Goldsmiths) shared findings from her ongoing research project ‘Making sense of teachers and parents’ experiences with online teaching and learning in the Covid-19 pandemic’ which investigates to what extent and in what ways the pandemic has transformed Greek community language education in Switzerland. The webinar was moderated by Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo).

Watch the webinar and join the conversation:

Community Heritage Language Learning from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Group members: Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo), Dr Jim Andrerson (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Vally Lytra (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Merle Mahon (UCL BiLingo), Dr Vicky Macleroy (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (UCL BiLingo and hld) and Dr Cristina Ros i Sole (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths).

Blog by Vally Lytra


Disappearing Londoners: monolingual voices in a multilingual city

The best Universities are looking for the most academically able students; our school community is full of exceptionally bright students, and our job is to empower them to achieve their potential, knowing that if they do this, nothing will stop them from reaching the highest of heights.

Sam Dobin, 2021

The aim of this study is to uncover the stories of three generations of four White British families who have lived for most of the twentieth century in the same streets in the East London Borough of Newham; to learn about life and how it has changed across the generations, how people have forged their own destiny within challenging circumstances and how they view their future in the area. The study is showcased through an interactive website which highlights the changing nature of work, skills, knowledge, traditions and ways of speaking. The website is designed and illustrated by the artist Zahir Rafiq and photographs are by Chris Kelly. It has been funded by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship (2017-20).

Like most Londoners, I have been inspired to learn about the extraordinary success of students attending school in one of the poorest and most diverse Boroughs in the capital. In 2021, fifty-five students at Brampton Manor Academy in Newham, East London, have been offered provisional places at Oxford and Cambridge – more than from Eton, Britain’s most famous fee-paying school. I join the Director of their Sixth Form, Sam Dobin, in applauding his students when he says:

This achievement is even more impressive when we learn that only two per cent of the school’s students are of monolingual White British origin. The students are from many countries of the world and for most, English is not their first language.

But what of those not lucky enough to get a place in this school?  Sitting in one of the small terraced houses in the middle of the school’s catchment area is sixteen-year-old Emma. Her mum is looking for a good sixth form College for her daughter, since her secondary school, near Tilbury, doesn’t have one. In fact, the school doesn’t even have a steady supply of excellent teachers or indeed teachers at all; nor reliable heating or other essential equipment like books and computers. When I ask her mum why she doesn’t try to get her daughter a place at the highly successful school around the corner, her reply is telling:

Oh, that school isn’t for the white children around here. It’s only for the black children. The Head doesn’t want our children. It’s not for the likes of us.

What is going on?  Paradoxically, White British families such as Emma’s have been variously accused of being racist or displaying ‘white privilege’ by some academics and politicians. Yet for this small community of White British families remaining in East London, nothing could be further from the truth. Squeezed between suggestions of racism and privilege and accusations of lethargy and violence, the families in the website reveal a tenacity to keep high standards of behaviour as well as mental and technical skills in spite of the current tide being strongly against them.

Blog by Eve Gregory

Who are you? – On the voice, touch and film (making) as a pedagogical tool in the (languages) classroom

What is touch? How is touch linked to our sense of identity? How can we use film(making) to explore these ideas?

Film(making) opens up personal, sensuous and collaborative space(s) and horizon(s) for a playful encounter with being of and in this world. That is, a safe space to engage with that which excites us, makes us happy but also with that which scares us, unsettles us, upsets us and helps us explore our multiplicitous selves.

In German we call the act of watching television “fernsehen”. “Fern” means “far” and “sehen”, “to see”. Inspired by film phenomenological, feminist theories and critical pedagogy, I am passionate about the way in which an engagement with film allows us to see further than our own eyes, towards that which we can learn about if we are open to the possibilities, to listen attentively and not be afraid to ask questions. But it also lets us to look inwards, towards ourselves, to explore our own assumptions, misconceptions, prejudices, feelings and thoughts, including those that we might not be able to put into words (yet).

Minto Felix writes about how “to decolonise the curriculum, we have to decolonise ourselves” (2019: n.a.). In the past years, film(making) has become a focal point for me in my work as languages teacher, lecturer in initial teacher education, researcher and filmmaker. My audio-visual filmmaking practice A caressing dialogical encounter (2019) led me on my own personal quest to critically engage with these ideas.

Earlier in 2021, together with some former Goldsmiths PGCE Secondary Languages students, now NQTs, and partnership schools, we published an article in the Association for Language Learning (ALL) Languages Today Magazine (Issue 37) entitled Seven Starting Points to Decolonise the Curriculum, featuring amongst other resources, films to inspire and engage young people. Last year we had made stop-motion films together. Students on this year’s programme learned about the use of film in the languages classroom in a webinar with the educational charity Into Film.

It is our joint responsibility as educators to continuously reflect upon the questions: Who is represented? Who is speaking? Who is silenced? Which stories are explored or silenced? (Kramsch, 2011)? It is also, I feel on us to think about how we can educate our students who perceive today’s world as one in which the digital and the material are deeply interwoven (Pink, Ardèvol and Lanzini, 2016), to responsibly use digital tools and to use them to make our world more inclusive, more just, more equitable, more peaceful. Film(making) helps me critically engage with these ideas. In my work here at Goldsmiths but also as ALL Deputy Honorary Membership Officer, I see it as my responsibility to support languages teachers and students in whichever educational setting they work and learn to engage with these questions and issues. We must tackle the challenges we face collaboratively, together, as a community.

Blog by Dr Judith Rifeser (PGCE, FHEA)




Flying Over the Boundary: Working with Teachers at Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan

She (Yu-chiao) asked me if I would like to join this project of making digital stories.

Little did I know that from the moment I said yes to her, an interesting and rewarding journey had begun.

(Peggy, EFL teacher, FSHS)

I was invited to present the Critical Connections Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project (2012-present) at a webinar held by Tohoku University, Japan in March 2021. It was a special webinar for Japanese-Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Heritage Language Education. Most of the participants were teachers of Japanese in mainstream or complementary schools outside Japan. While preparing for this webinar and looking through the data, once again, I was touched by the feedback from the teachers working with us on this project. In addition to benefiting the young participants, observing transformative pedagogy has been another important aspect in the multilingual digital storytelling (MDST) project. I would like to share a couple of examples from Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan here.

Peggy, an English teacher at Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan, was the first Taiwanese teacher we worked with on the MDST project in 2012. She was my classmate at Normal University in Taiwan. At one of our gatherings, she mentioned her frustration with the repetitive teaching materials she had to cover, the low motivation her students had towards learning English as a practical, live language but their obligation to take taking English as a subject which would be tested in their entrance examination to universities. I proposed she join our multilingual digital storytelling project. She decided to take the opportunity, which might be risky, for herself and for her students. Peggy started to learn about digital stories, mind mapping, filming, editing so that she could teacher her students. She was very pleased with her own professional development through working on the project. She was also amazed to see how her students’ engagement and motivation was raised by returning the ownership of learning to them.

Peter, another English teacher at Peggy’s school, acted as the lead teacher for the project in the following years. Peter commented that the MDST project was not just an opportunity for his students to learn but also for himself: ‘This process has overturned my attitude towards teaching’. He recalled a conflict he had with his students while working on the MDST project.  After their weekly presentation, he provided some ideas. The students took his suggestions badly. One of them shouted angrily: ‘What do you want Our story to be like?’

Peter commented:

As a teacher, I tended to give the students suggestions which I thought would be the most efficient way for them to tell the story and complete the project. Sometimes, I got worried because I could see them going around in circles, taking a long time. However, not all of them would accept my suggestions.

(Peter, EFL Teacher, FSHS)

Peter turned to me for suggestions. I proposed he allowed the students to express their voice in their own way and see what would happen. His feedback to me was:

I suddenly realised that this was something I had to learn. I always gave feedback and expected them to accept my comments. I should have respected their ownership of their story and raised questions when I had doubts. I should have allowed them time and space to review their story and consider whether any improvements were needed; just as I expected they would do with their classmates. I had forgotten I should have done the same.

(Peter, EFL Teacher, FSHS)

In the MDST project, the young digital storytellers are beginning to understand their own sense of agency and teachers are learning to trust their students and give them time to move through their stories. As Peter said to me: ‘It is like you have planted seeds in our heart and they keep growing’.

The MDST project continues to benefit and bring changes to young people as well as their teachers.

Peggy’s introduction and feedback

Peggy edited new.wmv from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Peter’s introduction and feedback

Film 7: How Weird is Weird? by Fengshan Senior High School Introduction from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Blog by Yu-Chiao Chung


Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing

If you have not done so, I highly recommend you read Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing published by the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning in November 2020. You can download your free copy here or buy the paperback on Amazon. The anthology was followed by a conference, Inspire (15-16 April 2021) in which some of contributors presented their work. In the anthology, you will find a series of essays, creative responses and meditations on the teaching of creative writing – and much else besides. The aim was to inspire the reader to write imaginatively, and to learn more about creative writing and how to teach it. The editors of this anthology (myself, Emma Brankin and Carinya Sharples) are practising creative writers and teachers of this familiar but possibly contentious subject. Creative writing is seen as a controversial subject for lots of different reasons: in academia because it’s viewed as lacking rigour, in schools because it might facilitate unsavoury views and images, in society as a whole because it’s perceived as a ‘soft’ subject. Watch this hilarious SNL sketch on YouTube which pokes fun at attitudes towards it:

Proud Parents

But people’s attitudes towards it need to change. This is, in part, what we aimed to do by publishing the anthology. The contributors to the anthology have a great deal of ‘real world’ experience of trying to impart our enthusiasm for reading and writing poetry, fiction, drama and creative non-fiction in diverse settings. We see this as an important social and pedagogical mission. We first discussed devising such an anthology in order to showcase some of the great work that the postgraduate students on the MA in Creative Writing and Education at Goldsmiths have done as part of this programme during the 2019-2020 sessions. Some of their work is in the anthology. What follows are the highlights of their work; an invitation, if you like, to read more!

Lexi Allen offers a concise, original piece based on more detailed research here. She writes of overcoming many barriers – both physical and psychological – to leave excerpts of her creative writing in a number of public settings – trains, libraries, bars and some virtual spaces too. Her work is inspirational because it illustrates how a writer can find a public voice and new resources of confidence in very surprising ways and places. Matilda Rostant shares her important findings for her research, focusing on the sometimes secret writing of fantasy fiction. She shows how there is an unjustified snobbery about genre fiction in many educational settings, and uses ‘autoethnography’ – a research-informed version of autobiography – to unearth some important findings about the connections with genre fiction and one’s own life.

Tanya Royer demonstrates how creative writers can research their unconscious using a series of mindful strategies such as meditation and free writing. Her findings are startling and moving, and reveal how creative writers can guide themselves to pen original pieces and find out about their own unconscious desires if they follow a strict research methodology. In his piece, James Ward admits to being intimidated by what he perceived to be his lack of subject knowledge in the field of creative writing. And so, setting out in a similar way to Tanya, he devised a regime of writing and reading exercises, which built up his confidence and unlocked his creativity. Anyone who has similar issues should read his article. Both James and Tanya (and many other writers here) show the power of what Peter Elbow, the acknowledged champion of this often-criticised way of writing, calls ‘free writing’. Elbow wrote in the 1980s (the edition I quote from is a later edition):

The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week. They are sometimes called ‘automatic writing’, ‘babbling’, or ‘jabbering’ exercises. The idea is to write for 10 minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen-twenty). Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing.

Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you’re doing. If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just a squiggle or else write ‘I can’t think of it’. Just put something down. The easiest thing to do is put down whatever is in your mind.

(Elbow, 1998: 3)

Free writing plays an important role as a pedagogical strategy in a number of pieces, but most particularly in James and Tanya’s.

Moving into the modern age, Emma Brankin explores how social media can be used to nurture students’ creative writing. The article is bursting with fascinating and very workable ideas, including the brilliant idea of the ‘auto-complete’ poem, which is a sort of modern day update of Elbow’s free writing concept. Teacher and writer Sara Carroll shows how teenage girls could be guided to be more critical and feminist in their perspectives. She uses free writing as one of many strategies to encourage her female pupils to think about the ways in which girls are conditioned in oppressive ways by a patriarchal society. Juwairiah Mussa shows how free writing and poetry can be used as a form of healing during extremely stressful times. Her pieces about living through lockdown are not only powerful examples of creative writing in themselves but also great models to share with creative writing students. Her reflections on the process of writing the pieces are pedagogical in that they guide the reader into thinking about the ways in which free writing can be healing and also help develop a greater awareness of the social, psychological and economic factors that shape who we are.

Carinya Sharples shares with Juwairiah a similar quest to find new ways of expression in her search to find a ‘third space’ where mixed-race writers can feel free to express themselves and explore their identities. Using various strategies such as ‘heritage objects’ ‘rivers of reading’ and the devising of mixed-race characters – all explained in her article – she reveals how creative writing can liberate and enlighten, and also challenge and disturb. Jake Smith draws upon a rich tradition of experimental writing in order to devise a series of learning activities and lessons that create astounding and thought-provoking writing. He uses experimental reading material as prompts to generate creative writing and offers his own free writing as a possible model to inspire his students.

So to sum up about the pieces by postgraduates on our MA, we could say that there are some common threads: there is a zest to experiment and to use both well-worn and unusual literary forms, from genre fiction to the most esoteric devices; there’s a deep commitment to giving both research and learning activities a serious theoretical underpinning; and, above all, there’s a profound commitment to nurturing playfulness around creative writing.

Blog by Dr Francis Gilbert

Michael Rosen on ‘Working in a Variety of Ways’

I work in a variety of ways at the same time. For the Centre, my contribution is to suggest possible talks, public conversations, and conferences and act as interlocutor where appropriate.

In broadcasting, I host a BBC Radio 4 programme about the uses of language, ‘Word of Mouth’ which falls within the old Reithian precept of ‘edutainment’, trying to be informative and entertaining at the same time. It mostly appears to be a conversation but it rests on the knowledge and scholarship of its participants.

With my son, Joseph Steele Rosen, we have created a YouTube Channel, ‘Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen’. This is made up of over 400 videos consisting of poems, stories, jokes, book reviews and interviews with authors about the writing process. It has nearly 570,000 subscribers and over 100 million views. It’s an ongoing piece of work that we add to every fortnight and has a linked Teachers’ Channel. There is a new handbook to go with the channel written by a classroom teacher, Jonny Walker.

This is in addition to the four booklets I’ve written that have arisen out of the Goldsmiths MA in Children’s Literature, on issues such as how literary theory can be used in education, how to write and read for pleasure in schools. These are a continuation of books I’ve written for teachers and school students on writing and creative education such as ‘What is Poetry?‘, ‘Good Ideas’ and ‘Book of Play’.

Prior to the pandemic, an important part of my work has been to visit schools, libraries, book festivals and literary festivals to perform my poems, take part in discussions and run poetry workshops. Since the pandemic, I’ve been carrying on with that in the more limited form of zoom calls into schools. As part of this work, I also do talks for teachers’ INSETs, and teachers’ conferences on e.g., how and why we create a reading for pleasure environment.

I work within the field of Holocaust Education arising out of my own family’s experience, and in conjunction with my books, ‘The Missing’ and ‘On the Move’ (both published by Walker Books). In particular, I’ve worked with History Works doing workshops encouraging middle school groups to respond to Holocaust and genocide testimony, poetry and song on themes of persecution, refugees and resistance.

For children, I am continuing to write poetry, stories and picture book texts.

I’ve ritten books for adults such as ‘Alphabetical‘, ‘The Disappearance of Emile Zola’ and a memoir, ‘So They Call You Pisher!‘. Most recently, I have written a book about my experiences of Covid and recovery, ‘Many Different Kinds of Love’ (Ebury), which has taken me into the field of medicine education, patient testimony and nursing training.

Blog by Michael Rosen