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Jeanne Sternlicht Chall was a psychologist, a leading expert in reading research and instruction for over 50 years, and professor emerita at the Graduate School of Education (GSE).
Chall’s work influenced scholarship on reading and the teaching of reading in schools and universities throughout the country. She was among the first to describe learning to read as a developmental process and to advocate for the use of both phonics and exposure to challenging literature as the best method of teaching young children to read. She produced the definitive study of reading instruction in her 1967 book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate.
Chall was born in Poland on January 1, 1921, and moved to New York at age 7 with her family. Speaking Yiddish when she arrived, she attended New York City public schools, quickly learning English at a time when no bilingual programs existed. Chall was the first person from her family to go to college, graduating cum laude from New York’s City College with a B.S. in 1941. She received both her M.A. (1947) and her Ph.D (1952) from Ohio State University. She served on the faculty at Ohio State, Columbia’s Teachers College, and at City College of New York before joining the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a full professor in 1965.
At Harvard, she founded the Harvard Reading Laboratory in 1966 and directed the lab for more than 20 years. She trained legions of researchers, reading teachers, and policy experts. Chall was called upon by a succession of U.S. presidents and secretaries of education to bring her wisdom to national literacy efforts.
A prolific writer, Chall often said that her books were her children.