Helen Harper

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Helen Harper
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  • Bachelor of Arts
  • PhD
Alma materUniversity of Queensland
  • Linguist
  • Lecturer
OrganizationSchool of Education, University of New England

Helen Harper is an Australian linguist. She is a senior lecturer in the School of Education, University of New England. Her main specialisation is in English language & literacy education. Harper's major research contributions relate to classroom operation, how children use language, the structure of education systems as a whole, and the role of research in changing educational settings. Her work has had a significant impact within academia and for educators outside of academia.[1]


Harper studied a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Queensland, graduating in 1983 with First Class Honours in French and Applied Linguistics.[2] She then trained and worked as an English as a Second Language teacher for adults in France.[3] She later moved back to Australia and taught academic English at Bond University.[4] Harper completed her doctorate in anthropological linguistics at the University of Queensland.[5] The focus of her doctorate was language shift in the Northern Cape York Peninsula.[5] During her doctorate studies, Harper was the recipient of an MAK Halliday scholarship.[6]

From 1995 to 1999 Harper worked as a lecturer at the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics at Batchelor College.[7] In this role, she worked with adult students who were mainly speakers of traditional languages from remote communities.[7] She also completed contractual work for the Batchelor College and Northern Territory Department of Education, that included mentoring Indigenous staff, writing the Northern Territory Curriculum Framework for Indigenous Languages and Culture, and the development of the Yolngu language literacy profiles at Milingimbi.[7]

In order to develop her expertise in literacy, Harper completed a Graduate Diploma of Primary Education at Charles Darwin University and lectured at Charles Darwin University in the School of Education from 2003 - 2005.[6] It was during this time that Harper worked with Brian Gray and with teachers who used a scaffolding theory for teaching literacy. This was Harper's first real interaction with Systemic Functional Linguistics. Harper continued working at Charles Darwin University as a Research Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Social and Policy Research from 2006 - 2011.[8]

From 2011 - 2017 Harper was a Senior Research Officer at the Centre for Child Development and Education at the Menzies School of Health Research.[9] From 2018 onwards Harper has held the role of Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, University of New England.[10]

Major Contributions

Major research contributions by Harper include work on language and literacy instruction across curriculum, educational linguistics, and adult literacy in Indigenous contexts.

Language and Literacy Teaching Research

Harper's research has focused on language and literacy teaching, particularly working with teachers of marginalised students. She has drawn on Systemic Functional Linguistics theory to understand how consciousness can be brought to knowledge about text and language, and how this consciousness can be shared with students. In 2016, Harper won the PETAA Research Grant with colleague Bronwyn Parkin.[11] Harper and Parkin worked with teachers in a remote Aboriginal school and a school in Adelaide that caters for children from diverse backgrounds such as English as a Second Language.[12] These experiences informed the book by Parkin and Harper Teaching with Intent that developed a teaching sequence for working in the curriculum area of science.[13] Harper and Parkin later published another book Teaching with Intent 2, that built on the work by Brian Gray and Wendy Cowey in developing Accelerated Literacy and recontextualising the teaching sequence for teachers using the Australian curriculum.[14] Teaching with Intent 2 won the Educational Publishing Australia Outstanding Award for Reference Resource (Primary), an award highlighting the significance of this work to educators outside of academia.[15]

Research in Different Educational Settings

From 2018 - 2019, Harper worked on a project entitled English Language Provision for Refugees in Armidale with colleagues Associate Professor Susan Feez, Professor Elizabeth Ellis and Dr Isabel Tasker.[16] This project focused on the provision of English language services for groups of refugees, notably the Ezidi.[17]

Recently, Harper has joined the University of New England team evaluating the 'Yes I Can!' model of adult literacy education,[18] as part of the UNE-Literacy for Life Foundation Literacy campaign.[19] Harper was also one of the founding members of ALPAA (Accelerated Literacy Practitioners' Association of Australia) and has served the organisation as Deputy Chair.[20]

Selected Publications

  • Parkin, B., & Harper, H. (2019). Teaching with intent 2: literature-based literacy teaching and learning. Newtown, Australia
  • Rennie, J., & Harper, H. (2019). Literacy Education and Indigenous Australians: Theory, Research and Practice. Singapore: Springer.
  • Harper, H., & Parkin, B. (2019). Talking and Writing to Develop Mathematical Meanings in a Remote Indigenous Context. In Literacy Education and Indigenous Australians (pp. 109-125). Springer, Singapore.
  • Parkin, B., & Harper, H. (2019). Scaffolding alphabetic knowledge when teaching and learning about texts. In R.Cox, S. Feez, & L. Beveridge (Eds.). The alphabetic principle and beyond: Surveying the landscape.
  • Harper, H., Lotherington, M., & Parkin, B. (2018). Carrying the conversation in our heads: dialogue in a remote Aboriginal setting. In P. Jones, A. Simpson, & A. Thwaite (Eds.), Talking the talk: Snapshots from Australian classrooms.


  1. "Educational Publishing Awards 2020 winners announced". Books and Publishing. Educational Publishing Awards Australia.
  2. "Helen Harper". www.menzies.edu.au. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  3. "Helen Harper". www.menzies.edu.au. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  4. "The ARCH Magazine | Issue 18 | 2017 Semester 1 Bond University".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harper, Helen. "The gun and the trousers spoke English : language shift on Northern Cape York Peninsula".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 England, University of New. "hharper2". www.une.edu.au. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Harper, Helen (1997). "Linguistics just means 'talking about language' but what does talking about language mean for Batchelor College". Ngoonjook: A Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues. 13.
  8. Spiers, Helen. "Inquiry into Teacher Education: STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. "Helen Harper". www.menzies.edu.au.
  10. "Helen Harper". www.une.edu.au. University of New England.
  11. "RTW-participants". www.petaa.edu.au.
  12. "Final report for PETAA research project now complete | ALPAA". www.alpaa.com.au.
  13. Parkin, B; Harper, H (2018). Teaching with intent: Scaffolding academic language with marginalised students. Newtown, Australia: Primary English Teaching Association of Australia.
  14. Parkin, B; Harper, H (2019). Teaching with intent 2: literature-based literacy teaching and learning. Newtown, Australia: Primary English Teaching Association of Australia.
  15. "Educational Publishing Awards 2020 winners announced". Books and Publishing. Educational Publishing Awards Australia.
  16. "UNE School of Education". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  17. "Why I love language education: Associate Professor Susan Feez | Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education". blog.une.edu.au. Retrieved 2020-08-02.
  18. "'A Strong Belief in the Possibility of a Better Life': The Pedagogy of Contingency and the Ethic of Solidarity in the Yes, I Can! Aboriginal Adult Literacy Campaign".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. "Indigenous Evaluation – Productivity Commission Literacy for Life Foundation Submission" (PDF). August 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. "Our committee ALPAA". www.alpaa.com.au.

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