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About us

About us

The Centre for Research in Language and Literacy promotes research which crosses boundaries – methodological, philosophical and contextual. It is led by co-directors Professor Fiona Maine and Professor Dongbo Zhang.

The Centre draws together many facets of research around the wide fields of Language and Literacy and is organised into different strands. These reflect the interwoven nature of our research interests, collaborations and lines of inquiry, and build on our strong heritage in research in language and education, writing and dialogic education. Through our strands we aim to promote an active research culture through a menu of research events and activities to offer a space for academic thinking.


• Research in Writing – led by Annabel Watson
• Vocabulary Studies – led by Philip Durrant
• Language and Education Network – led by Gabriela Meier
• Literacies, Dialogue and Thinking – led by Fiona Maine 
• Literacies and Digital Contexts – led by Clare Dowdall and Judith Kleine Staarman
• Vocabulary Studies – led by Philip Durrant

The history of research in language and literacy is not characterised by a unified and incremental body of empirical, theoretical and professional knowledge. Rather, it draws variously upon cognitive, social and developmental psychology; sociology; socio-cultural theory; linguistics; literary theory and creativity theory. As a Centre, our interests are in drawing together these different disciplinary perspectives to generate new understandings about language and literacy, within and beyond pedagogical contexts to advance both theoretical and professional understanding.

The aims of the Centre are to:

• Promote research in language and literacy which draws on inter-disciplinarity
• Create an international site for inter-disciplinary research in these areas
• Facilitate research collaboration across disciplinary and national borders
• Build on existing academic networks and relationships to create a hub of research which addresses social and educational needs
• Provide a forum for cross-disciplinary research exchange
• Generate research which has social impact
• Communicate language and literacy research and its applications to user communities

Who we are

Staff affiliated to the Centre for Language and Literacy include some based in University units beyond the Graduate School of Education.  In addition, we have a number of international affiliates working closely with us.

Core members

Professor Fiona Maine (Centre Co-Chair) Fiona’s research investigates children’s dialogue and thinking, particularly in the context of reading and responding to visual and multimodal texts. Her project DIALLS focuses on how children can learn to be tolerant, empathetic and inclusive as they talk and think together.
Professor Dongbo Zhang (Centre Co-Chair)  Dongbo's research interest focus upon: vocabulary knowledge and reading development in second language (L2) or bilingual learners
Dr Esmaeel Abdollazadeh Esmaeel’s research interests focus upon: disciplinary writing, and generic practices across disciplines; contrastive rhetoric, and intercultural communication; metalanguage in spoken and written discourse; corrective feedback and writing performance. 
Dr Nicholas Bremner Nicholas’ research focus is on the conceptualisation and implementation of learner-centred approaches to education, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Dr Clare Dowdall Clare’s current research focuses on children’s writing and text production in a variety of school-based and informal contexts. In March 2022 she was awarded a British Academy/ Leverhulme SR grant to investigate teaching narrative writing with digital resources and apps.
Dr Philip Durrant Phil’s research interests focus upon: the role of language in higher education; the implications of this for university students studying in a second language; variation in language use across academic disciplines; the acquisition, processing and use of vocabulary and formulaic language.
Dr Gabriela Meier Gaby’s work has resulted in theoretical publications on the multilingual turn in education, multilingual socialisation in education and the link between languages and social cohesion more widely. These perspectives have guided her empirical research in primary, tertiary and vocational education in the UK, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany.
Dr Sharon Morgan Sharon’s research interests centre on secondary students’ writing, particularly their use of grammar for meaning-making purposes. She is also interested in disciplinary approaches to writing in the HE context, particularly in the field of education.
Dr Ruth Newman Ruth’s research interests focus upon: the role of talk in teaching and learning; the teaching of collaborative talk; the role of meta-talk and emotional engagement in talk; the potential of dialogic pedagogies for writing
Dr William Pearson Will’s research interests include student engagement with (especially, content-focused) written feedback on second language writing, the washback to students of high-stakes L2 writing assessments, and how second language writers use metadiscourse to guide readers in processing and understanding their intended message in academic writing.
Dr Judith Kleine Staarman Judith’s research focuses on the role of technology in education, looking at technologies from a dialogic perspective. She is interested in the relationship between humans and technologies and how we can use technologies for dialogic teaching and collaborative learning. Recent projects have focused on the role of AI for education, collaborative coding and using technology for writing education.
Dr George Tarling George’s research interests are in critical digital literacies, inclusive digital pedagogy and algorithmic awareness.
Sara Venner Sara has a special interest in children’s writing and developing teachers as writers. She has worked on projects including Grammar for Writing and Arvon Teachers as Writers.
Dr Annabel Watson

Annabel's research interests focus upon: the writing development of secondary school pupils; the role of grammar and metalinguistic understanding in writing; the relationship between metalinguistic understanding and digital writing practices; the relationship between teachers' beliefs and practices in writing instruction.

Anita Wood  
Dr Anthony Wilson Anthony's research interest focus upon: the composition of poetry by children and young people; creative writing pedagogy; assessment of creative writing; creative approaches to the teaching of writing (including writers in schools).
Dr Katie Howard Katie is interested in the interaction between multilingualism, neurodevelopmental difference and mental health and in particular, how families and schools can support children's multilingual development.