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Remembering Jeanne Chall

September 3, 2014

Jeanne_Chall_smallTeacher. Researcher. Phonics Champion.

As the new school year begins, and my kids head back to the classroom, I find myself thinking about my own education and some of the teachers who had an impact in my life or work. I was lucky; there were a number of them. Most are not well-known, but they were great influencers nonetheless. And I owe them a lot.

Today, I’d like to pass along a brief bio of Jeanne Chall, taken from the history page of the Jeanne Chall Reading Laboratory at Harvard. I was fortunate to have spent many quality hours under her tutelage, in the classroom and at the lab, and was among the last of her students at the Ed School. She retired the year after I earned my degree. She died in 1999.

Jeanne was smart, no-nonsense, and very astute about… well, about most things. She drove some of the students mad with her intolerance of the whole-language vs. phonics approach debate. She firmly believed in the power of systematic phonics instruction and early intervention for basic skills; that decoding facility is what allows readers to develop higher level strategies to read for meaning — a natural next-step for fluent decoders, which relies strongly on vocabulary knowledge. She was not a fan of trends or anecdotal evidence and expected us to base our practice methodologies on proven approaches.

She was, however, a proponent of television and other media as a tool to teach skills and expand word knowledge, which I appreciated. She was an advocate for educationally underserved populations and the potential that technology has to reach them. And she was considerate and patient with her students (although you were smart to leave the methods war outside the door), and said nice things about my writing, too, which I also appreciated. 🙂 I think she would have been very excited to see how far interactive technologies have come, as teaching tools.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Chall, you can start here.

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