Associate Professor Jennifer Alford kindly agreed to talk to us about her background, research interests, and her current research project. Jennifer joined Griffith in late 2022, having been at QUT for 22 years and where she is still an Adjunct Assoc. Professor.
Born and raised in SE Queensland, Jen knew she wanted to be a teacher at age five. In a room at the back of her parents’ house, she spent her time teaching other children from her neighbourhood- for fun! By the time she was 21, she was following her dream and teaching in regional North Queensland. When she returned to Brisbane, she worked for 12 years in schools in Brisbanewith high populations of EAL/D learners. She remembers vividly working with students newly arrived from El Salvador, Romania, Nicaragua, former Yugoslavia and other countries experiencing conflict. Her main job was supporting youth in accessing the mainstream curriculum and developing language for success. She loved the work so much that she never left the field. Jen has now 35 years of experience in the education, particularly around literacy teaching.
Jennifer returned to academia to undertake a Masters degree when she realised that she did not know enough about the theory underpinning her teaching practice:
I fell in love with theory and theorising and trying to explain how everything worked in teaching, so I loved the Masters. Then, of course when you love what you are doing and you are doing well, they say, “So, why don’t you do a PhD?”
Jen’s PhD explored curriculum expectations regarding critical literacy, and teacher knowledge and the practice of critical literacy with senior high school EAL/D students. She explained her motivation for her first research project:
I think it’s incredibly important that EAL/D learners have access to academic English so they can succeed in school. They also need to build capacity to read, view and write critically in their additional languages. We need to be cognizant of their own languages, too, and to build knowledge through their own languages in the classroom.
Our latest GIER recruit is very interested in critical literacy and, specifically, how teachers understand and work with critical literacy in classrooms. In her work, she focusses on the assumptions underpinning language use. A particular source of interest lies in the silences and gaps in spoken and written language, in policy, curriculum and in classroom interactions. Understanding what is not said may help to uncover who is privileged/not privileged in a piece of text.
Jen wants to understand how language choices shape the power positioning the reader and the author. She is specifically interested in how people who come to Australia as migrants, refugees or international students engage with these power relationships when learning to be literate in English.
Jennifer is a current ARC DECRA Fellow (2021-2024) exploring critical reading with migrant and refugee-background youth in and out of school. In this project, she has visited schools and interviewed ESL teachers, asking them what they teach around critical literacy and how they enact it. She has observed lessons and talked to teachers and students. Her project aims to give voice and advocacy to youth. So, 15- and 16-year-old students have been collaborating to develop and design critical literacy resources for their peers. The teen collaborators are from refugee backgrounds, and are recent arrivals from places such as Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tanzania. The resources they have co-designed will help teens to read texts critically outside of school, such as Tik Tok videos, websites and social media posts- i.e., not school texts but what they are exposed to/access in their free time. These designs have been taken to LiveWorm, where Griffith media students will work to turn their design ideas into high quality resources. This research project is ongoing, but so far it looks fantastic.
Some of Jennifer’s latest publications include:
Pandya, J.Z., Mora, R.A., Alford, J., Golden, N. & deRoock, R. S. (Eds.) (2022). The Handbook of Critical Literacies. Vol. 1. Routledge.
Alford, J. (2021). Critical literacy with adolescent English language learners: exploring policy and practice in global contexts. Routledge.
Alford, J., Gordon, D., Lennon, S*., (2022). Reshaping English teacher practices: Insights from Queensland state syllabus reform. English in Australia 57 (1) 28-38. (* Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Griffith School of Education and Professional Studies)
Reid, K**., & Alford J., (2023, in press). Empowerment or holding the child responsible? an Australian recovery-oriented mental health policy analysis. British Journal of Social Work. (**Lecturer, Griffith School of Health Sciences and Social Work)