Anderson, Richard C(hase) 1934-
Richard Chase Anderson is an American educational psychologist and reading educator. He has strongly influenced educational theory and practice through his own research as well as through a teaching career in which he has mentored many leading researchers in educational psychology and reading education. To date, he has written two books, edited or co-edited another six books, and written about 200 articles and book chapters.
Born in 1934, Anderson grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin. He received a bachelor's degree, cum laude, in American history in 1956 and a master's degree in social science education in 1957 from Harvard University. He earned a doctorate of education at Harvard University in 1960, working with John Carroll, a pioneer in psycholinguistics. He worked as an assistant superintendent in East Brunswick, New Jersey, for three years, and then accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he has remained throughout his career.
Anderson has received numerous awards, including several of the most prestigious awards in education. In 1997 Anderson won the American Psychological Association Edward Thorndike Award for distinguished career-long contributions to the psychological study of education. In 2006 he was honored by the American Educational Research Association with the Sylvia Scriber Award for his research on learning and instruction.
Anderson was at various times director or co-director of one of the most prolific and influential research centers in U.S. educational history, the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many eminent researchers participated in the work of the Center during its 15 years of federal funding. These included senior scientists as well as visiting scholars and graduate students who trained at the center before moving on to positions of scholarship and leadership throughout the world.
Anderson's research has encompassed many topics of great relevance to educators. Among these are schema theory, vocabulary development, learning to read, cross-cultural analyses of learning to read, and collaborative reasoning. Several of his key contributions are summarized below.
Anderson was among the leaders in developing schema theory and applying it to reading education. According to schema theory, when readers read texts, they use their prior knowledge to help them make sense of these texts. Hence, reading comprehension is facilitated when readers have relevant organized knowledge packets, called schemas, that they can use to interpret the information. When reading a narrative of a wedding, for example, readers apply their schema of typical wedding events (prior knowledge of the processional, the vows, the reception, and so on) and fill the slots in the schema with the details of the particular wedding described in the narrative (e.g., the details of this particular processional, vow, reception, and so on). When readers lack relevant schemas, or when they fail to activate their schemas, they understand and recall less of the new material. Schema theory can help teachers understand some of the difficulties that students have while reading, and it suggests that building relevant schemas and activating them can enhance reading comprehension.
Anderson and his colleagues also conducted a variety of studies of vocabulary acquisition. One finding emphasized that most words are learned not from explicit study but by incidental learning of word meanings from reading texts. An instructional implication of this finding is that encouraging students to read widely is important in vocabulary development.
Another line of Anderson's work focused on processes of learning to read in elementary school. A particularly important achievement was the 1985 book Becoming a Nation of Readers. Anderson was the lead author of this book, which arose from the work of the Commission on Reading, sponsored by the National Academy of Education. The book synthesized a broad array of research on learning to read. The authors presented this research in a way that was at once a scholarly review of the literature and a report that was highly accessible to teachers.
Anderson's later work had two tracks. In one track, he teamed with Chinese scholars to investigate learning to read Chinese. The research not only laid the foundation for building the essential literacy skills of Chinese children but also impacted the way Chinese children learn to read—with an emphasis on reading more and reading for pleasure.
In the other track, beginning in the early 1990s, he and his research team developed an approach to classroom discussions called Collaborative Reasoning. In Collaborative Reasoning, students engage in constructive argumentation in which they give reasons and evidence for positions they take. The argumentation centers around a central question relating to material students have read. For example, after reading material relating to wolves and wolf re-introduction and management policies, students discuss whether a town should be allowed to hire professional hunters to kill the wolves that wander near the town. Anderson and his collaborators found that Collaborative Reasoning has very positive effects on classroom discourse and also improves students' reasoning and argumentation.
In his career, Anderson forged new ways of thinking about reading, learning, and classroom discussions. He conducted rigorous studies in both the laboratory and in the complexities of the classroom, and he trained new generations of educational researchers, to whom he was a great mentor and friend.
Anderson, R. C. (1959). Learning in discussions: A resume of the authoritarian-democratic studies. Harvard Educational Review, 29, 201–215.
Anderson, R. C. (1977). The notion of schemata and the educational enterprise. In R. C. Anderson, R. J. Spiro, and W. E. Montague (Eds.), Schooling and the acquisition of knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 415–431.
Anderson, R. C. (1994). Role of reader's schema in comprehension, learning, and memory. In R. Ruddell and M. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (pp. 469–482). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Anderson, R. C., Chinn, C., Chang, J., Waggoner, M., & Yi, H. (1997) On the logical integrity of children's arguments. Cognition and Instruction, 15(2), 135–167.
Anderson, R. C., Hiebert, E. H., Scott, J. A., Wilkinson, I. G. (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers. Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading.
Anderson, R. C., & Li, W. (2005). A cross-language perspective on learning to read. In A. McKeough, J. L. Lupart, L. Phillips, and V. Timmons (Eds.), Understanding Literacy Development: A Global View (pp. 65–91). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Anderson, R. C., Nguyen-Jahiel, K., McNurlen, B., Archodidou, A., Kim, S.-Y., Reznitskaya, A., et al. (2001). The snowball phenomenon: Spread of ways of talking and ways of thinking across groups of children. Cognition and Instruction, 19, 1–46.
Chinn, C., Anderson, R. C., Waggoner, M. (2001). Patterns of discourse during two kinds of literature discussion. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 378–411.
Kim, I., Anderson R. C., Nguyen-Jahiel, K., & Archodidiou, A. (2007). Discourse patterns in children's collaborative online discussions. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16, 333–370.
Kuo, L.-J., & Anderson, R. C. (2006). Morphological awareness and learning to read: A cross-language perspective. Educational Psychologist, 41, 161–180.
Reznitskaya, A., Anderson, R. C., & Kuo, L.-J. (2007). Teaching and learning argumentation. Elementary School Journal, 107, 449–472.
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