In just the last few years, the number of people becoming familiar with findings from the science of reading has skyrocketed, which is encouraging to say the least. But how many are familiar with the reading scientists? Who were the trailblazing pioneers who conducted the early research on some of the key understandings within the vast body of scientifically-based reading research? What inspired them? And who are their proteges and what aspects of reading are they investigating now?
We can assume that when they were children, these legendary experts did not dream of growing up to become reading scientists. During The Reading League’s upcoming Virtual Lecture Series, we will learn that instead, something happened in their lives or work to fascinate or frustrate them. They became compelled to make a career out of finding answers to critical questions related to reading. They didn’t intend to become rich or famous. They worked behind the scenes, invisible to the people for whom they were doing the research–the teachers who are responsible for ensuring children learn to read.
Their stories are fascinating and largely unknown. In fact, of the thousands of proponents of the science of reading (SoR), only a small percentage have had the opportunity to actually work alongside a reading scientist and experience how a research lab functions. (Note: it’s not white lab coats, it’s lots and lots of grant writing, budget planning, spreadsheeting, participant testing, school relating, data analyzing, and manuscript writing.)
I was lucky to have such an opportunity for about 18 years, starting when I began my master’s degree in special education with a concentration in learning disabilities. I was advised, mentored, and inspired by Dr. Benita Blachman, a trailblazer in the areas of phonological awareness and the prevention and remediation of reading difficulties. Whether my role was student or coordinator of her research studies, these were the years I came to know many of the founding members of The Reading League (TRL), who also took classes from her or worked in her labs. Interestingly, I never really knew why she became a reading scientist. I knew she’d learned alongside such reading science pioneers as Isabelle Liberman, Jeanne Chall, and Donald Shankweiler – legends who I frequently imagine to be my “grand advisors.” I also frequently hoped to find a way to have people come to know and appreciate their contributions and the contributions of other trailblazers in the science of reading.