IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Q&A with Dr Sinéad Harmey

Dr Sinéad Harmey is Associate Professor in Literacy Education and works with IOE's International Literacy Centre.

Tell us a bit about your role.

My role at the International Literacy Centre (ILC) involves research, teaching, and leadership. I am involved in various research projects focusing on literacy related topics including language and communication, phonics, and Reading Recovery.

I am a programme leader for the Literacy Learning and Literacy Difficulties MA and teach research methods as well as supervise dissertation research. I am also part of the National Leadership team for Reading Recovery which provides me with the opportunity to support the implementation of Reading Recovery in Europe.

What was your route to becoming a lecturer in literacy at UCL?

I started my career as a primary school teacher and very quickly became interested in supporting young children who were experiencing literacy difficulties. This led me to work as a Reading Recovery teacher, and teacher leader in Dublin, Ireland. I was awarded a PhD in Reading and Literacy from the Ohio State University where I also had the opportunity to work as a graduate research assistant for the i3 Reading Recovery grant and the International Data Evaluation Centre.

Prior to working at UCL I was an assistant professor in literacy education at the Queens College, City University of New York where I coordinated courses on literacy and assessment and collaborated with elementary schools in Queens, New York. I was delighted to take up the position as lecturer in literacy at the ILC in 2017.

What research have you been working on recently?

I have worked on a variety of research projects this year. My colleague, Dr Jake Anders and I have just completed an analysis of the performance of Reading Recovery pupils on the Phonics Screening Check in England. I am co-investigator on an Education Endowment Foundation funded project ‘Manor Park Talks’ with Professor Lynn Ang and Dr Julian Grenier (Sheringham Nursery School). This project is based on an early intervention program designed to improve the ways that practitioners support language and communication. 

I was part of the team that reviewed the evidence base on the efficacy of phonics approaches with adults for the Education and Training Foundation (Current practice in using a system of phonics with post-16 learners: final report and research, Moss et al, 2018).

Finally, I have just published findings of research I conducted with Dr Bobbie Kabuto in Research in the Teaching of English, exploring metatheoretical differences between assessments of oral reading behaviour. The International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel has invited my co-author and I to present this research at the 2019 International Literacy Association Conference.

What's the most important thing you've learnt from your students?

I have the opportunity to work with students from across with world with diverse professional backgrounds and experience. In my work with them, I am constantly learning about the challenges they face in trying to bridge the research to practice gap to support children and adults to read and write. This has helped me to see that a key focus in my teaching should be supporting them to translate what they’ve learned into practice, wherever and whatever that might be.

What is your one wish for research in your area of interest?

I am particularly interested in research on early writing development and early literacy interventions. I think, in both areas, there is a great need for researchers from different theoretical perspectives to collaborate on research. I learn so much from colleagues who think about reading and literacy in diverse ways and think that the field can be enriched by greater collaboration across projects.