Language & Literacy

Language & Literacy

Jeanne Chall Reading Lab

The Jeanne Chall Reading Lab (JCRL) was founded in 1966 for the purposes of training teachers and reading specialists, conducting research in reading, and serving the local community.  Over the years it has become the nexus of the Language and Literacy (L&L) Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).  Located in the basement of Larsen Hall, the JCRL houses an impressive collection of children's books and magazines, instructional programs, literacy assessments, reading and writing manipulatives, and reference resources on the research and practice of reading instruction.  Also available in the lab are technology tools including video capturing and editing equipment and video footage of reading and writing instruction that can be used as resources to enhance students' professional development. 

The JCRL is more than a library, though.  The JCRL provides a place for master's students and doctoral students to collaborate in planning for their practicum courses, prepare for group projects and presentations, and conduct research of their own or for their professors' research projects.  In fact, in previous years, students have organized a Language and Literacy Club in order to network and socialize with students across Harvard who share an interest in teaching reading and writing. Just as the Language and Literacy club's reach extends from the JCRL into the community, so have most of the activities that are concentrated in the lab.  Students' practicum courses and research projects bring them into the local community to share resources, to serve the children, adolescents, and adults in the local community, and to learn from those in the area who are working with children in schools and other educational settings.
Reading Frog and Toad
As the JCRL grows, it is now transforming to include the JCRL website, which will eventually become a virtual reading lab for students and community members to access information and resources on reading research and view examples of literacy instruction online.  So welcome to the JCRL website!  We are excited to have you become part of our community of reading educators.  It is the knowledge and experience of JCRL affiliates that make it the dynamic center it is. Visit the JCRL website.

Jeanne S. Chall (1921-1999)

Jeanne Sternlicht Chall was a psychologist, a leading expert in reading research and instruction for over 50 years, a teacher, a writer, and professor emerita at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Jeanne S. Chall steadfastly held her position on the importance of direct, systematic instruction in reading in spite of other reading trends throughout her career. She was deeply committed to teaching, to the importance of children's successful reading acquisition and the need to address failing readers, to the power of research to answer practical questions, and to the merit of understanding the historical background of research questions.

Born in Poland, Chall emigrated at seven years old with her family to New York City. She attended New York City public schools, quickly learning English at a time when no bilingual programs existed. Chall was the first person in her family to go to college, graduating cum laude from New York’s City College with a B.S. in 1941. She became an assistant to Irving Lorge, who directed educational research at Teachers College, Columbia University. She then served as research assistant to Edgar Dale at the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University where she received an M.A in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1952. Her review of the existing research on readability for Dale led to her publication, Readability: An appraisal of research and application (1958) and a keen appreciation for the value of historical synthesis. Dale's and Chall's collaboration culminated in their publication, Dale-Chall Formula for Predicting Readability (1948), which combined vocabulary complexity with sentence length to evaluate text readability. Chall later updated this piece in 1995. Between 1950 and 1965, Chall rose from lecturer to professor at City College of New York. These years brought a lifelong collaboration with Florence Roswell on the diagnosis and treatment of reading difficulties and led Chall to question whether some methods were superior to others in preventing reading failure.

In 1965, Chall moved to Harvard University to create and direct master’s and doctoral graduate reading programs. An excellent clinician herself, she founded the Harvard Reading Laboratory in 1966, directing it until her retirement in 1991. The lab is now named after her. Chall trained legions of researchers, reading teachers, and policy experts. She was a member of numerous scholarly organizations, editorial boards, policymaking committees, and state and national commissions. Chall was called upon by a succession of U.S. presidents and secretaries of education to bring her wisdom to national literacy efforts. She served on the board of directors of the International Reading Association (1961-1964) and on the National Academy of Education's Commission on Reading that resulted in the report, Becoming a Nation of Readers (1985). She received many professional awards, the last given by the International Dyslexia Association in 1996.

One of Chall's most important professional contributions was a byproduct of the professional furor over Rudolf Flesch's Why Johnny Can't Read–and What You Can Do About It (1955). Flesch attacked the prevailing sight word methodology of teaching reading, claiming that reading professionals had ignored their own research. With beginning reading instruction now on the national agenda, the Carnegie Corporation funded a study that Chall conducted from 1962 to 1965. She reviewed the existing research, described methods of instruction, interviewed leading proponents of various methods, and analyzed two leading reading series of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The results appeared in her publication, Learning to read: The great debate (1967).

Chall identified what she called "the conventional wisdom" of reading instruction: that children should read for meaning from the start, use context and picture clues to identify words after learning about fifty words as sight words, and induce letter–sound correspondences from these words. Like Flesch, she concluded that this conventional wisdom was not supported by the research, which found phonics superior to whole word instruction and "systematic" phonics superior to "intrinsic" phonics instruction. She also found that beginning reading was different from mature reading–a conclusion that she reaffirmed in Stages of Reading Development (1983), which found that children first learn to read and then read to learn. She recommended in 1967 that publishers switch to a code-emphasis approach in children's readers, which would lead to better results without compromising children's comprehension.

Chall was engaged in both practice and research, often at the same time. For more than fifty years she taught students of all ages, including remedial ones, and advised schools. She was a consultant for children's encyclopedias, an educational comic book, educational software, and educational television, including the children's literacy programs Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Between the Lions. A prolific writer, Chall often said that her books were her children. Although she formally retired in 1991, she continued to conduct and publish research and mentor reading professionals well into her retirement.

Here is a link for "READ" - The Jeanne Chall Dedication Rap by HGSE alumni Arnie Warmbrand.

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