Throughout her professional career, Margaret was an inspirational teacher and scholar and ahead of the game. She gave unforgettable lectures to both the primary and secondary postgraduates at Homerton College, Cambridge and was much loved and respected as the first External Examiner on the Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature Masters course at the Cambridge Faculty of Education. She was in huge demand as a speaker at NATE, UKLA and international conferences and also contributed widely to professional literacy organisations such as CLPE and School Librarian. Margaret was always so generous with her time and wonderful at supporting people at all stages of their career: a true critical friend who saw the best in people, although she was brilliantly insightful and could immediately see the flaws in any argument! She was great friends with other literacy luminaries and educators such as Harold Rosen, Philippa Pearce, Shirley Brice-Heath, Victor Watson and Myra Barrs to name but a few and one can only imagine how wonderful conversations and debates at gatherings in her company must have been.
Margaret’s published contributions include Achieving Literacy (1983) in which, along with other researchers in a longitudinal study, she confronted the issues around delayed literacy acquisition and helped teachers to see, in a considerate and subtle manner, what might be inhibiting young learners. In Learning to Read (1986) she drew on her own experience of teaching and parenting to help parents understand what is happening when a child is taught to read, and explained with great clarity the different stages of learning. On Being Literate (1991) showed how young learners can become strong, confident readers if they are helped to discover early on what reading and writing are for, and Margaret argued powerfully that, whilst literacy might change, it is at the heart of all social concerns and the entitlement of everyone.In possibly her most seminal publication, How Texts Teach what Readers Learn (1988), Margaret paved the way for all the empirical and theoretical work in visual literacy that have followed since by illustrating so concisely and powerfully how children learn about reading through the texts they encounter and the importance of reading for pleasure.
Included here are some thoughts from UKLA colleagues that were shared with and presented to Margaret at the celebration of her contribution to the field:
As a new teacher, I was rather dispirited – like many, probably by thedisconnect between what I encountered in school and what I’d read, thought and believed. Being handed How Texts Teach what Readers Learn was one of the best things that happened to me during that time – a huge comfort and inspiration – a real ‘friend’ of a book – which remains at the heart of so much of my current work (and that of so many of my wonderful colleagues).
Professor Cathy Burnett, Vice President UKLA
Margaret was a major role model for me – a grounded thoughtful scholar whom I was privileged to study under on the MA at the Institute of Education in London. She was also one of my referees when I applied to ITE and so, years later, when she agreed to become our external examiner on the MA at Canterbury Christchurch we were over the moon. She challenged and supported us in turn and always asked tough questions! Amazingly, whenever we met at conferences and meetings she would ask about my family, reflecting her highly personal engagement in others as more than educators. Her sensitive work on children’s literature and redefining reading remains seminal and I often find myself quoting her phrase – applied to children’s voices both oral or written – ‘and what do these fine words mean?’ This typifies her respect for children, her desire to learn from them and her commitment to fostering thoughtful professionals who read the text and context. This lifetime achievement award is richly deserved.
Professor Teresa Cremin, Former President of UKLA
It was a great honour and privilege for me to present on behalf of UKLA the Life Time Achievement Award to Margaret and to be able to pay a personal tribute to the invaluable influence she has had throughout my teaching career.
With many thanks to Morag Styles, Emeritus Professor of Children’s Poetry, for hosting this wonderful celebration.
Mary Anne Wolpert