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Investing in tomorrow's colleagues: Professor emeritus Richard Anderson continues to influence Chinese reading research

by The College of Education / Aug 1, 2013

As a testament to the life-long work of Dr. Richard Anderson, the editors of the forthcoming book, "Reading Development of Monolingual and Bilingual Chinese Children," have dedicated their work to him.

Professor emeritus in Educational Psychology and founder of the Center for the Study of Reading at the College of Education at Illinois, Anderson has authored more than 200 books and articles on reading, comprehension, thinking, and education. His seminal book, "Becoming a Nation of Readers," is one of the most widely read books of all time in the field of literacy.

In the preface to their book, Becky Xi Chen '04 Ph.D., Lydia Qiuying Wang '05 Ph.D., and Yang Cathy Luo thank Anderson for his work and his influence as a mentor and friend.

"I studied with Dick at Illinois for six years for my Ph.D., and that shaped me as a researcher," said Chen. "My current work on bilingual and biliteracy development is an extension to what Dick and I did on learning to read Chinese."

Dr. Anderson started as a faculty member at the College of Education in 1963 and at the Department of Psychology in 1967. His influence in the study of reading has been felt across the globe, and he continues to be one of the most oft-cited researchers in the field. He also serves as professor of psychology at Beijing Normal University and as president of China Children’s Books.

Chen shares memories of her work with Anderson and the impact he had on his students:

As I am writing this introduction, Dick’s words come into my mind. “I invest in my students”, I remember him saying, “They are not slave labour. They are tomorrow’s colleagues”. Not until I became a professor myself, did I begin to fully understand the meaning of these words. … In his office in the reading center hangs a “family tree” that he is proud of. The chart delineates his academic heritage, the giants that came before him, B. F. Skinner, Wilhelm Wundt, and his academic children (students) and grandchildren (students’ students). A lot of “children”, such as John Guthrie and Ian Wilkinson have long been leaders in the field of reading themselves. Remarkably, as his research in reading Chinese expands, Dick has more and more Chinese academic “children” and “grandchildren”.

About his influence in literacy and reading in China:

Together with his students and colleagues, Dick has established a comprehensive framework of research in reading Chinese. His early work in this area demonstrated that Chinese children learned new characters “incidentally” simply from reading. … Dick pioneered the study of compound words, showing that Chinese students had greater compound awareness than American students, and that morphological productivity was an important factor in insight into the structure of compounds. Another line of research focused on visual orthographic analysis of Chinese. … Dick also studied bilingual Chinese children, contributing important empirical findings and theoretical ideas to the comparison of reading between monolinguals and bilinguals and cross-language transfer of cognitive and linguistics skills, notably the structural sensitivity theory. In sum, Dick’s research has examined the development of metalinguistic, language, and print-based skills in both monolingual and bilingual Chinese children, providing a full understanding of the cognitive processes involved in Chinese reading.

More on Reading Development of Monolingual and Bilingual Chinese Children (Springer, 2014)