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Back to Feb. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 169 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 2000

Education World Loses Phonics Champion
CAMBRIDGE, MA - Supporters of the phonics method of reading instruction lost a champion last November with the death of reading expert Jeanne S. Chall, who died of heart failure at age 78.

Born in Poland, Dr. Chall's family emigrated to the United States when she was seven. She attended City College of New York, then earned both her master's degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, where she also taught. She later joined the faculty at Harvard's Graduate School of Education where she was a professor for 26 years until her retirement in 1991. Dr. Chall spent her entire academic life investigating how children learn to read.

As a result of her studies, she became a tireless proponent of phonics and a vigorous opponent of Whole Language. According to the New York Times (12-12-99), she attacked the view of reading specialists during the 1970s who claimed that, if children were given difficult reading assignments, "they would become frustrated and give up trying to master [them]." She supported challenging reading primers that teach children to decode words by learning the sounds of the alphabet.

In 1967, Harcourt Brace published Dr. Chall's notable work, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, which is still considered the "definitive analysis of reading research." The book was the result of a three-year research project she conducted while at City College. She analyzed nearly 70 studies comparing various beginning reading approaches and methods. She also personally observed how reading was taught in classrooms across the U.S. and in the United Kingdom and talked with teachers and administrators.

Learning to Read is a synopsis of the facts Chall uncovered, along with her analysis of the research that existed at the time. She concluded that "a code-emphasis method," i.e., "one that emphasizes learning the printed code for the spoken language" (phonics), is the better method for beginning reading.



 
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