Frank Smith (psycholinguist)
Frank Smith is a contemporary psycholinguist recognized for his contributions in linguistics and cognitive psychology, both nationally and internationally, over the past 35 years. He is regarded as an essential contributor to research on the nature of the reading process together with researchers such as George Armitage Miller, Kenneth S. Goodman (see Ken Goodman), Paul A. Kolers, Jane W. Torrey, Jane Mackworth, Richard Venezky, Robert Calfee, and Julian Hochberg. Smith and Goodman are founders of whole-language approach for reading instruction. He is the author of numerous books and his books have been republished through several editions.
Life, career and education
Frank Smith was born in England and currently lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. He started out as reporter and editor for several media publications in Europe and Australia before commencing undergraduate studies at the University of Western Australia. He received a PhD in Psycholinguistics from Harvard University in 1967.
Smith held positions as professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education for twelve years, professor of Language in Education at the University of Victoria, British Columbia as well as professor and department-head of Applied English Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Before taking the position at the Ontario Institute, Smith briefly worked at the Southwest Regional Laboratory in Los Alamitos, California.
Research and work
Frank Smith's research made important contributions to the development of reading theory. His book Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read is regarded as a fundamental text in the development of the whole language movement. Amongst others, Smith's research and writings in psycholinguistics inspired cognitive psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West's research into the role of context in reading.
Smith's work, in particular Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read, can be described as a synthesis of psycholinguistic and cognitive psychology research applied to reading. Working from diverse perspectives, Frank Smith and Kenneth S. Goodman developed the theory of a unified single reading process that comprises an interaction between reader, text and language. On the whole, Smith's writing challenges conventional teaching and diverts from popular assumptions about reading.
Apart from his research in language, his current research interests include the psychological, social and cultural consequences of human technology.
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He was against the 1970s idea that children should first learn the letters and letter combinations that convey the English language's forty-four sounds (Clymer's 45 phonic generalizations) and then they can read whole words by decoding them from their component phonemes. This "sounding out" words is a phonics, rather than a whole-language, technique which is rooted in intellectual independence. The whole-language theory explained reading as a "language experience," where the reader interacts with the text/content and this in turn facilitates the link - "knowledge" - between the text and meaning. The emphasis is on the process or comprehension of the text.
After disrupted schooling and evacuation from London to the countryside in the Second World War in Europe, Frank Smith learned to be a newspaper reporter on several suburban London newspapers, and the Evening Standard of Fleet Street fame. He also wrote freelance articles which appeared in popular magazines.
A couple of years of travel saw him serve in the British Royal Navy where he fudged his age upwards to enable him to join. Naval travel took him to Canada, the United States and Bermuda. He did not fulfill his ambition to captain a destroyer, rather he was confined to a desk and given the title of "writer."
A stint of play-writing in France followed. Frank later travelled to Australia to work as a journalist. He also drove a tram in Sydney for a brief period, painted corrugated iron roofs (a warm job in the summer time), and later worked as a jackaroo on a sheep station in Western Australia, where he rode a horse for a living. He obtained some journalistic work but not enough to sustain him so decided to return to England. He was able to get his seaman’s ticket by working on a Danish freighter, plying between Fremantle and Christmas Island, thus becoming eligible to work his passage on a cruise liner sailing to England where he again took up journalism.
Frank subsequently served with international organizations as a publications officer in Belgium and the Netherlands, producing magazines in several languages. He became more interested in the academic nature of language and began serious research in the subject. This led to formal study at the University of Western Australia and an Honours B. A., earned while he was working full-time at night as a sub-editor on the West Australian newspaper in Perth. He was the first student to win both top prizes in the Psychology department in one year, an event that caused the rules to be changed to allow only one prize per student.
An interest in adult education found Frank leaving his newspaper work and taking charge of adult education in Western Australia, while still continuing his full-time studies. Upon graduation, he was urged by faculty at the university to apply to Harvard to continue his studies in the cognitive psychology of language. After taking the requisite examinations, he was accepted into the Centre for Cognitive Studies at Harvard where he was to work with George A. Miller and Noam Chomsky. Others on the faculty included B. F. Skinner and Jerome Bruner. Frank graduated with a Ph.D in cognitive psychology.
As a research assistant, Frank was asked to write a history of the Cognitive Centre along with a report on its current activities. He also edited the proceedings of a conference on language development with his supervisor, George Miller, published by MIT Press with the title The Genesis of Language.
Frank’s novel Brothers' Keepers was published just before he left Perth for Harvard by Hamish Hamilton in the UK, Simon and Schuster in New York, and subsequently in paperback by Penguin. The book was twice optioned for a movie.
He has since written over 20 books on such topics as language, reading, writing, thinking and teaching. He was featured by the BBC in a program titled "How Do You Read?" And was also a featured speaker in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ideas program on language. His most recent prize was awarded by the National Council of Teachers of English which cites Frank "for his transforming influence and lasting intellectual contribution to the English profession." He is the first Canadian to receive this prestigious award.
His book on Africa, Whose Language? What Power? was short-listed as the best book on Africa for 2005. Many of his books have been translated, the latest being The Book of Learning and Forgetting into Japanese.
An abiding interest in education has followed Frank throughout his academic life. He claims not to tell teachers how to teach, only to show them how language and the brain interact to make reading take place. His hope has always been that teachers will think for themselves and, armed with the theoretical knowledge of what helps and what hinders, come up with the best results for the children in their classroom.
Always an avid and analytical reader who does not take accepted wisdom for granted, Frank pursues many intellectual interests including technology, history, music, astronomy, and evolution. His book currently in preparation is entitled Made to Measure. It examines how evolution has shaped the various features – and the mind – of human beings.
- Smith, Frank (1973). Psycholinguistics and Reading. Thomson Learning. ISBN 978-0-03-091451-5.
- Smith, Frank (1975). Comprehension and Learning: A Conceptual Framework for Teachers. Holt McDougal. ISBN 978-0-03-011011-5.
- Smith, Frank (1985). Reading. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31285-1.
- Smith, Frank (1986). Insult to Intelligence: The Bureaucratic Invasion of Our Classroom. Arbor House. ISBN 978-0-87795-827-7.
- Smith, Frank (1991). To Think. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-3057-7.
- Smith, Frank (1993). Whose Language? What Power?: A Universal Conflict in a South African Setting. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-3281-6.
- Smith, Frank (1994). Writing and the Writer. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8058-1421-7.
- Smith, Frank (1994). Understanding Reading (5th edition). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-1419-1.
- Smith, Frank (1998). The Book of Learning and Forgetting. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-3750-7.
- Smith, Frank (2002). The Glass Wall: Why Mathematics Can Seem Difficult. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-4241-9.
- Smith, Frank (2003). Unspeakable Acts, Unnatural Practices: Flaws and Fallacies in Scientific Reading Instruction. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-325-00619-2.
- Smith, Frank (2005). Reading Without Nonsense. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-4686-8.
- Smith, Frank (2006). Ourselves: Why We Are Who We Are. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 978-0-8058-5955-3.
- Smith, Frank (2007). Reading: FAQ. Teachers College Press. ISBN 978-0-8077-4785-8.
- Smith, Frank; Miller, George A (1968). The Genesis of Language: A Psycholinguistic Approach. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-69022-5.
- Oberg, Antoinette; Goelman, Hillel; Smith, Frank (1984). Awakening to Literacy. Heinnemann Educational Books. ISBN 978-0-435-08207-9.
- Smith, Frank (1983). Essays into Literacy: Selected Papers and Some Afterthoughts. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-08205-5.
- Smith, Frank (1987). Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays into Education. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-08456-1.
- Smith, Frank (1995). Between Hope and Havoc: Essays into Human Learning and Education. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-08857-6.
- Smith, Frank (2004). Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8058-4712-3.
- Smith, Frank (1989). "Overselling Literacy". The Phi Delta Kappan. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa International. 70 (5): 352–359.
- Smith, Frank (1992). "Learning to Read: The Never-Ending Debate". The Phi Delta Kappan. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa International. 73 (6): 432–441.
- Smith, Frank (1995). "Let's Declare Education a Disaster and Get in with Our Lives". The Phi Delta Kappan. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa International. 76 (8): 584–590.
- Smith, Frank (2001). "Just a Matter of Time". The Phi Delta Kappan. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa International. 82 (8): 572–576.
- Smith, Frank; Lott, Deborah; Cronnell, Bruce (1969). "The Effect of Type Size and Case Alternation on Word Identification". The American Journal of Psychology. Illinois: University of Illinois Press. 82 (2): 248–253. doi:10.2307/1421250.
- Cooper, CR and Petrosky, AR. "A Psycholinguistic View of the Fluent Reading Process". Journal of Reading, 20(3):185
- Stager, Gary S. "Meet Frank Smith". . Retrieved 27 November 2010
- Walker, L. "Networks and Paradigms in English Language Arts in Canadian Faculties of Education". Canadian Journal of Education, 15(2):128
- Cooper, CR and Petrosky, AR. "A Psycholinguistic View of the Fluent Reading Process". Journal of Reading, 20(3):186
- Groff, Patrick. "Research versus the Psycholinguistic Approach to Beginning Reading". The Elementary School Journal, 81(1):53
- Smith, F. et al. "The Effect of Type Size and Case Alternation of Word Identification". Journal of Psychology, 82(2):248
- Smith, F. "Ourselves: Why We Are Who We Are". 2006, p. xiii
- Stager, Gary S. "Meet Frank Smith". . Retrieved 27 November 2010
- Nystrand, M and Duffy, John. "Towards a Rhetoric of Everyday Life: New Directions on Research in Writing, Text, and Discourse". 2003. p.142
- Pettegrew, Barbara. "Untitled Review". The English Journal, 70(7):88
- Groff, P. "Guided Reading, Whole Language Style". . Retrieved 28 November 2010
- Stanovich, KE. "Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations and New Frontiers". 2000. p. 5;45
- Nystrand, M and Duffy, John. "Towards a Rhetoric of Everyday Life: New Directions on Research in Writing, Text, and Discourse". 2003. p.123-124
- Goodman, Yetta M. "Roots of the Whole-Language Movement". The Elementary School Journal, (90):2117
- Reinking, David. "Untitled Review". Journal of Reading, 35(2):174
- Smith, F. "Ourselves: Why We Are Who We Are". 2006, p. xiv