Research Staff Interests

Dr Steph  Ainsworth


I became a lecturer after finishing my PhD, which involved researching children's phonological development. Before this, I worked as a primary school teacher for seven years, while also studying psychology part time. Going even further back, my first degree was in Physics with Astrophysics. As a child I wanted to be an astronaut - but I abandoned this idea when I realised how bad I was at parallel parking! I enjoy walking (especially in the Lake District), camping, watching films, anything to do with interior design and of course, reading.

Research Interests

The key focus of my current research is on children's phonologcial development. I recently completed a research project invloving 90 children in nursery and reception classes. This project involved the development of novel measures designed to probe the way that children store the sounds in words. The measures were used with children alongside traditional measures of phonological awareness, vocabulary and letter sound knowledge. This study allowed us to test competing theories of phonological development. The new measures also have the potential to allow us to measure children's phonological representations (the structures that children use to store the sounds in words) earlier than has benn previously possible. This has implications for the early identification of children at risk of later reading problems. The project also involved the simulation of phonological development using a neural network.

In future work I am interested in pursuing the idea of early identification of phonological difficulties further. I would also like to apply the computational modelling techniques used above to other areas of learning. Other more general interests include the teaching of early reading ad writing, teacher stress and any other areas where the domains of education and psychology overlap.

Research Projects

I successfully bidded for an ESRC studentship which provided funding for my PhD project investigating phonological development in young children. Grant number: [ES/J500094/1].

Refereed Journal Articles

AINSWORTH S., WELBOURNE S. & HESKETH A. (2016) Lexical restructuring in preliterate children: Evidence from novel measures of phonological representation. Applied Psycholinguistics 37(04) pp 997-1023

Research-based Contributions to Practitioner and Academic Conferences

Child Language Symposium, University of Warwick, July, 2015. Oral presentation: The development of global and phonemic sensitivity in young children.

IASCL, University of Amsterdam, July, 2014. Poster presentation: Development of phonological representations in young children.

Expert Reviewer for Journals and Publishers

I have reviewed articles for Applied Psycholinguistics and American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.


Child Language Seminar, University of Manchester, July, 2013. Oral presentation: Measurement of phonological representations in young children using similarity judgement tasks.

Taught Courses

I use a range of teaching styles in my sessions. Although my sessions are often accompanied by a powerpoint presentation to provide you with a record of the key points, the seminars are very interactive and I try to make them as fun as possible! It is important that students have lots of opportunities to discuss how the new learning within sessions fits with their experiences in school. I will encourage you to critically reflect on your own practice as well as the practice of others, with the aim of supporting you to become reflective practitioners. I will model the kinds of styles, techniques and activities that you might use within school, while encouraging you to engage in a critical commentary about why I am teaching things in a particular way. I will also provide opportunities for you to develop your academic skills more generally, by engaging in critical reading of recent journal articles, reporting on cutting edge educational research. My sessions are very informal, moving away from the traditional model of the teacher as expert. I try to create a supportive environment where students feel relaxed and are not afraid to make mistakes. After all, mistakes are where the best learning happens!


Position/Post: Senior Lecturer
Tel: 0161-247-2344
Location: 2.64, Brooks Building