Creative final 6.2 English Literature lesson

By David Anson, Head of Faculty: English

Last Saturday occasioned final lessons with our 6.2 before going on exam leave. In my 6.2 English Literature class we have been revising Keats and Shakespeare in particular and, girded with coffee, orange juice and croissants, we spent the lesson making contextual and critical badges.

Students had to link pictures and criticism in their creations and to establish a clear line of argument to explain their connections. In the Craft of Learning lessons this year, students have been taught the values of interleaving and distilling information and the badges come to symbolise information learnt and knowledge held ready to be used under timed conditions.

If nothing else, it was fun and, hopefully, memorable. Good luck 6.2, you are brilliant, and we wish you all the very best for your final exams. See more photos from the lesson below:

Bedales celebrates World Book Day

By David Anson, Head of Faculty: English

In honour of World Book Day this year, Natasha Ruiz Barrero (Teacher of English, Dunhurst) and David Anson (Head of Faculty, English, Bedales) brought budding authors in Block 2 and Block 4 together to share their own work through readings in the Bedales Library.

We had a fantastic range of narrative forms represented by some really moving Block 2 retrospective pieces and detailed descriptive passages matched by powerful short stories read by the Block 4 who have recently completed their IGCSE imaginative writing coursework. Creative writing in response to works of literature is an incredibly valuable way of accessing not only the challenging themes of some texts but also understanding the many varied methods writers use to communicate.

I have no doubt that our young writers will continue to exercise their art and to feed their imaginations through reading not just on World Book Day but the whole year round and beyond. Let’s also hope we see some first novels published in the not distant future.

With special thanks to the Block 4 students: Iggy Cake, Dexter Mellon, Amelie Knox, Lolo Gaio, Charlie Williams, Olive Festinger and Ella Foster-Hill; and to the Block 2 pupils: Fred Robinson, Felix Cunningham, Marcello Bodrini-Diamond, Annabel Rowell, Rupert Trewby, Alice Rawlence, Tabitha Brighton, Marlowe Smith-Pink and Oscar Heining-Familoe.

By Clemmie Bevan, Margot Paisnor and Tasch Hertwick, 6.2

Thursday marked the 28th year celebrating World Book Day, and to mark the occasion, the English department and a handful of students dressed up to show their appreciation for literature.

Some of the outfits included characters from plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Crucible, and novels such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, Less than Zero and 1984. We, as students, thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this tradition, and were in admiration of the teachers’ fantastic ensembles.

Dressing up for events like World Book Day has brought joy to Bedales students for many years, and we believe taking part in this tradition has provided a small, yet exciting, glimpse of the traditional Bedalian atmosphere that so many remember. We hope that many others will partake in events like these in future.

See more photos from World Book Day below:

Christmas Poetry competition

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

I’m delighted to be able to open up this competition to anyone in the Bedales community. I’ve already launched it with students but I’m sure there are parents, teachers and Old Bedalians who would love to try writing on this subject. The winning poem or poems will be used as readings in the school carol service this year.

During our carol service we use a mixture of Biblical and secular readings to help reflect on the ideas raised by the Christmas story. As we are a non-denominational school, welcoming students of all faiths and none, we try to have inclusive readings which address the themes in a way that is accessible to all. We have used poetry by poets such as Levertov, Yeats, Rossetti, Bridges and Betjeman in the past, as well as poems written by Bedales English teachers.

It would be wonderful to include work by others in the Bedales community and so we invite you to send your own poetry or short-form prose to me, Lucy McIlwraith, at lmcilwraith@bedales.org.uk.

Some ideas to help inspire you:

You can read the Biblical readings here and write something with parallel themes or a modern version. 

You might like to write a meditation about the themes of Christmas in general. 

You might like to focus on one of the following themes: The prophecies: You might like to write about a future we would like to look forward to. You might like to write about a vision of utopia or something our world community should work towards. Hope for the future.

  1. The annunciation: Many parents find this a fruitful subject to write about – the hope, joy, expectancy and uncertainty of a new child. You can read my version of this here. You might like to write from a different point of view.
  2. The birth of Jesus: You might like to re-tell the Bible story or write about the birth of a child of less divine origins. You might like to write about the birth of an idea or new way of seeing the world.
  3. The shepherds and the kings hearing the good news: A more modern version of this might be based on the idea of publicising a great idea or sharing a wonderful piece of news with people from all backgrounds.

I hope to have the readings for this year’s service finalised at the end of November, so please send any entries for the competition before 30 November. However, if you find that you are still crafting an exquisite piece of poetry after that point, do send it once it’s ready and I can consider using it for next year’s service!

If you’d like some poetic inspiration, do book to see Old Bedalian Esme Allman on 25 November in the Olivier Theatre in Bedales – tickets are available here.

You might also like to book tickets for the Carol Service on 13 December as the church is small and tickets sell out fast! Book tickets here.

Learning the ropes of mountaineering

By Julia Bevan, 6.2 Houseparent and Teacher of English

Before half term, British recreational mountaineer David Potter visited Bedales to demonstrate climbing gear for both rock and mountain climbing to my Block 4 English elective group, who have been studying Mountains of the Mind by Robert McFarlane, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

Meeting in the Sam Banks Pavilion, students gathered in a circle and listened as David – who first climbed in South America and whose love of the natural world has led him into work within climate change – spoke about the kit laid out in front of them. They were fascinated as they held crampons and ice axes and learnt when they might need to use a snow anchor, held karabiners and watched how to clip themselves correctly to a rope.

After David’s visit, students reflected on the experience.

Zeb Jay said: “David does mountaineering because he likes being outside, having an amazing experience with his mates. He eats tinned and packaged food, like on Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expeditions. He first climbed a mountain after university and it is an amazing life skill, which his family also profits from. Mountaineering is all about risk – if you have a good sense of risk you are guaranteed to be a good mountaineer.”

Orson Farley said: “I learnt that the big reason for mountaineering is getting into the depths and corners of landscapes. You can look at a mountain and maybe even hike up a bit of it, but to really understand it is to mountaineer. I’ve learnt about food and sources of energy. You have to have a high calorie count in order to function.”

Seb Stewart commented: “I learnt that in life great things take time – you can’t just run head first into climbing K2 or Everest, you start small and work your way to greatness with the support of your friends and people you trust. You don’t need to read The Top of the World just to be a successful climber. The kit used by mountaineers is so small and detailed that one may wonder how such a small thing supports such a massive thing – that being your life, and the wellbeing of your family.”

Margot Gwyer: “I learnt that you have to have masses of trust between you and the person you are climbing with. You have to listen to each other and work as a team always.”

Jack Bowdery: “Safety is the main concern in climbing. I learnt how much kit you need to bring and use. Climbing is always a risk.”

Gordon Thistleton-Smith: “I learnt that walking, hiking, climbing and mountaineering are all different levels of the spectrum of being in the environment.” 

Engaging creative writing trip

By Emily Coleman, Block 4

During the Easter break, I was part of a group of students who – along with Head of English David Anson and Lucy McIlwraith – visited The Hurst, playwright John Osborne’s former home in Shropshire, for a creative writing residential course with Arvon.

The trip was an enjoyable experience for us all. We spent the mornings doing writing workshops with the tutors, writers Chris Wakling and Cecilia Knapp. In the workshops we would do free writes, learn about different styles of poetry and try them, as well as working on short stories with Chris. In Cecilia’s workshops, some of the kinds of poems we tried were poems with stanzas that were haikus and golden shovel poems as well as responding to different prompts that she gave us. For our short stories with Chris, we would write parts of it in workshops, such as introductions and dialogue, with Chris giving us advice along the way. Both the tutors were really encouraging and we all felt increasing confidence during the week to share our work.

We had lots of free time in the afternoons that we spent continuing our work from the mornings and having tutorials with each of the tutors, which was a great opportunity to get feedback on what we had been doing. We all took turns cooking the dinner for everyone and getting slightly competitive about our napkin origami between the groups. For our first evening, we played a variety of games together, such as the hat game and wink murder. The next two evenings were readings from the tutors and then a guest reader, Melody Razak, read from her book Moth. On our final evening we gave a reading of work we had produced on the trip, which we were all nervous about, but we ended up having fun.

The trip gave me a chance to develop my writing skills as well as my confidence when sharing my work. It was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere to learn and grow as writers.  

Novelist inspires creative writing enrichment

By Jemima Corcoran, 6.1

Aspiring writers and journalists in Sixth Form and Block 5 were given the opportunity to hear from Teddy James, author and father of Old Bedalian Emilia Barnsdale-Ward, last Friday as part of our Creative Writing course for the Sixth Form Enrichment programme.

With a clear enthusiasm for history, Teddy spoke to us about his new book Relique of the Sunken Day. His first published novel, it centres around the nuclear testing carried out by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the long-term effects this had on those directly involved. Although the historical accuracy of his fiction is fascinating in itself, Teddy has also managed to intertwine a motif of descriptive imagery that takes inspiration from the great English poets – particularly Coleridge – as well as exploring the ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding communism, authority and patriotism.

Overall, our session with Teddy proved incredibly useful and inspiring, as we learnt all about the world of writing, how to find a publisher, and what can provide us with inspiration – which, for Teddy, ranges from the work of other authors (such as Evelyn Waugh) to real-life scenarios and historical events. Most apparent, however, was his strong passion for reading, and his advice to us about the importance of literature, and how our imagination and creativity can develop by passing our time engrossed in books.

A huge thank you to Teddy James for taking the time to answer our questions, offer professional advice and inspire us all, and to Head of English David Anson for arranging this amazing opportunity that will benefit many of us in our future writing endeavours.

Block 3 English students’ creativity and flair

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

The English department office has recently been awash with truly stunning pieces of work from our Block 3 sets: hand-made, hand-sewn, whimsically decorated with string, ribbon and raffia, the poetry anthologies we asked the students to make over Christmas have been a real antidote to the winter greyness!

Some students chose to include their own poetry as well as analysis of poems they had studied over the term; others added paintings and sketches their work. We also had anthologies presented as meticulously detailed multi-media scrapbooks with layers of newsprint or card or recycled books. Each page in some of them showed a different layout, with fold-out sections or pockets in which a bonus poem nestled. One example even had fairy lights!

We’ve had such a variety of beautiful and imaginative work which shows truly exceptional sensitivity and creativity and we hope you enjoy see a few examples in the pictures below.

Block 3 Fireside Night

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

At the turning of the light in autumn we have many ways to celebrate and to remind ourselves that light will return. From softly glowing candles to brightly coloured fireworks, people have always noted the change in the season with festivals that bring us together. At Bedales we have the Block 3 Fireside Night each year, which brings together students and staff around the fire in the beautiful dining room to tell tall tales, recite poetry and sing songs. We do it all from memory and the focus for all of us is entertainment rather than perfection; having a go is far more important than getting all the words right. This year, Block 3 student Elliot Cundy has written his thoughts about the night.

By Elliot Cundy, Block 3

Lit by the warm glow from the fire and the flicker of candles, the dining room began to fill with eager students, settling into a semi-circle around the hearth for the Block 3 Fireside Night. Crackling flames, an absence of electronics, and performances from memory of literature old and new, created an atmosphere akin to that of many centuries ago. Up until 1930, 50% of the global population was illiterate, so performances were learnt orally and spoken with no written assistance. Reciting a poem in front of many people with no prompts can be very hard, meaning that the priority becomes quality and entertainment over perfection.

As well as students performing a variety of poems, from cheerful ballads to dark quatrains, many teachers took part in the proceedings. Lucy McIlwraith opened by singing ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ with its original lyrics and closed the evening singing lyrics from ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ to the same tune to show how almost any poem written in ballad form fits this tune. Another highlight was Will Goldsmith performing ‘Shall I compare thee to a summers day’ by Shakespeare which provided an unexpected turn to the evening but showed us all how it doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the words right!

Near the end of the night, I performed a poem called Barn Owl by Leslie Norris. It describes the life and death of a beautiful bird. Curiously, it ends with a thought, that the death of ‘Snowy’ the owl might carry a deeper meaning. I learned the poem by practising each verse one at a time, out loud and alternating between reading off the page and speaking from memory. In the English lessons leading up to Fireside Night, we were able to practise in front of just the class to get a feeling for what it would be like, which was something that really helped prepare us for the night ahead. When my time to perform arose, I instantly felt the nerves, but they were soothed by the comforting warmth of the fire behind me. Trying not to rush, I worked my way through the poem, dozens of pairs of eyes looking up at me. On reaching the final verse, the relief arrived, and I comfortably finished the poem.The greatest thing about performing is the small moment of silence between finishing and the audience clapping, when you realise that nothing went wrong, and your practice has paid off. Delicious hot chocolate and cookies were the final reward for our work and ended the evening on a high.   

Exploring John Keats’ Winchester

By Eloise Cooper, 6.2

On a sunny Wednesday, the remainder of the 6.2 English students ventured to Winchester, accompanied by David, Julia and Magnus, to explore the area that influenced so much of Keats’s later poetry, and to follow the walk he took along the River Itchen that inspired him to write his ‘Ode to Autumn’, often described by critics as the perfect poem.

We began in the Winchester College Fellows’ Library where Dr Richard Foster, curator of the college’s collection, showed us a first edition of Keats’s 1820 Poems which included the ‘Ode to Autumn’. We also saw a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. The we had a talk by Dr Gary Farnell from the University of Winchester about Keats’s stay in Winchester in 1820.

We then retraced Keats’s route from the Hospital of St Cross to the cathedral close, and then to Colebrook Street, where Magnus’s friend Amelia Ashton hosted us in her garden for a picnic lunch and another talk by Gary, this time focussing on The Eve of St Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and Ode to Autumn.  We ended the afternoon with a sonnet writing competition.

Not only did this allow us a fresh set of eyes on the texts we had been studying for months, but allowed us to build up a greater picture of the surrounding world of Keats’s poetry. Thank you so much to the English department and Magnus for a wonderful day.

The 1820 Poems in which ‘Ode to Autumn’ first appeared
First folio edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works
Walking along the River Itchen

Turning in ‘Othello’

By David Anson, Head of English

The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s play Othello was on Hallowmas Day, November 1, 1604. James I had been king for just over 18 months and he had very recently overseen the Treaty of London which concluded 19 years of conflict between England and Spain. It was a time of great change, a time of unification and much longed for peace.

On Wednesday, Bedales English Literature A Level students were joined on Microsoft Teams by fellow Bohunt English Literature students to take part in a short lecture programme organised by myself and Deana Buchan, Head of English at Bohunt. We were joined remotely by Dr Kath Diamond, a Renaissance specialist who lectures at Goldsmith’s College and Queen Mary and Westfield, and who delivered a fascinating lecture on ‘Turning in Othello’.

Amongst other things, Kath’s lecture recognises the significance of this period of political and cultural change in Jacobean London and the bearing it has upon the action and motifs to be found within a play which presents a ‘spiralling vortex of change’. The play opens in the turmoil and business of a bustling Venice, centre of trade and commerce and the seat of much public debate and discussion about the ongoing war with the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus. It narrows to the defeat of the Turkish army before narrowing again to the private matters of Othello’s marriage to Desdemona and then ends with yet a further narrowing to the marital bed; site of Desdemona and Othello’s tragic end and loaded with much dramatic symbolism. The play is a play of change and a play of turmoil that leaves both its contemporary and 21st century audience somewhat unsettled (though for different reasons) and yearning for the kind of peace and order that a king like James, Shakespeare’s patron, ought to bring at the start of his reign.

The students then explored the way the masculine and the feminine may be considered in the play through shorter presentations led by myself and Deana; a useful foundation for further classroom discussion. At a time when we can’t take our students to the theatre or to lecture programmes, this was a superb opportunity for both 6.1 and 6.2 to revisit their study of Othello and it ushers in the start of more exciting joint projects between Bohunt and Bedales that Deana and I hope to be able to realise in face to face events next year.