Martha King Center History

by Martha L. King

The Martha L. King Center for Language and Literacy has its roots deeply embedded in programs – programs in teaching and learning, research, development, and service that were being forged by the College of Education faculty members, students, collaborating teachers, and other educators.

In 1967, Charlotte Huck and Martha King were awarded a U.S. Office of Education (USOE) grant to support students in a year’s study of “new knowledge” pertaining to language learning and reading. A requirement of the grant was that “a classroom and separate reading room” should be provided for the members of the Reading Fellowship Program. Fortunately, a second institutional grant for $56,000 to support the program through additional faculty, library and materials was awarded to Huck and King at the same time. Since the University School had recently closed, there was wonderful space available in the oak paneled, well-fitted library. A “temporary” partition was installed to create a separate classroom and allow space for a variety of reading and research resources. The place was called the “Reading Center.” It is now called the Martha King Center (abbreviated as MKC) seminar room.

Two Reading Fellowship Grants (1967-68; 1968-69) brought students from all parts of the United States and significantly contributed to the establishment of the new Program of Graduate Studies in Reading, developed under the leadership of the then associate dean, Ted Cyphert, and approved in 1966. Prior to that time those wanting to study and research in the field pursued individualized programs under the direction of professors, such as Francis Robinson and Charles Huelsman in Psychology or Edgar Dale, then in the Bureau of Educational Research. Jeanne Chall is probably the best known of Dr. Dale’s students. Those students who were interested in problems related to early literacy, literature, and effective teaching methods worked with professors in Elementary Education.

From the beginning, the Graduate Program was conceived as interdepartmental and firmly based in language and literature. Links were made with University departments (e.g., English, Linguistics and Anthropology), as well as, with various faculties within the College itself. These interdepartmental relationships continue to exist today. The graduate program has focused, not so much on teaching, as on learning – especially on how children learn to read by reading materials and stories they can understand and enjoy. The program has emphasized learning to read within the whole context of language learning and has supported an enduring view that literature is the most satisfying content for reading

In 1970, a USOE grant enabled faculty members to extend the Center’s work to include inservice education for practicing teachers and to initiate a new preservice program for undergraduates. The major goal of the Office of Education at the beginning of the 70s was to improve the quality of elementary education by supporting projects that encouraged classroom and college teachers to work together, with their interest in children as a common focus. In the OSU project faculty, graduate students, and the teaching staffs of three Columbus schools (Kent, Moler, and Indianola) worked together formally for two years, and informally for a much longer time. The tradition of OSU faculty and local teachers working together collaboratively continues today with such projects in a large number of elementary, middle, and secondary schools.

The flood of research and theory in oral language had just begun to make an impact on reading programs in the late 60s and early 70s. Language researchers were invited to campus to contribute to the program: Kenneth Goodman and Carolyn Burke flew down from Detroit to teach a course in psycholinguistics and reading in 1969-70; Frank Smith, Richard Hodges, Roger Shuy, and Courtney Cazden, each representing different aspects of language and literacy, and Eleanor Duckworth, a Piagetian scholar, came during those early years. Marie Clay introduced her Concepts of Print to OSU in 1975. Always there were authors, illustrators, and poets. Among the first were author/ illustrators Marcia Brown and Maurice Sendak. Madeleine L’Engle (author/lecturer) was an early guest, who returned several times through the years, once for an extended period to teach a seminar for Reading Fellowship students. Thus, the central themes of language learning and literature as foundations for literacy learning were established and received continuing support.

Related to children’s language learning, another USOE grant focused on producing learning materials for teachers and students. Beginning in 1970 and continuing through 1976, six faculty members and several graduate students collaborated with media specialists, classroom teachers, and children to develop Oral Language Protocols (audio tapes, slides, films, and videos to help teachers understand aspects of language learning and language use that had been identified in the prolific research of the 60s and 70s). Donald Cruickshank, Carol Fisher and Frank Zidonis were directors of those projects; Johanna DeStefano, Sharon Fox, Victor Rentel, and Martha King were faculty involved throughout this extensive effort to produce and evaluate the effectiveness of those protocols.

Interest in children’s literature mushroomed during the 70s with increasing numbers of students seeking graduate study in the field. As a result of this coursework, teachers’ rich and creative work with students in their classrooms led, eventually, to the first regular publication of the Center. In 1976 six teachers, with Charlotte Huck and Janet Hickman serving as editors, produced the first edition of The WEB, Wonderfully Exciting Books. The circulation in the first year reached 350 and eventually reached over 3500! The Center has produced several other publications including The Newsletter, Literacy Matters, handbooks describing work displayed in the Center, and an educational reports series.

Several people have served as coordinator of the MKC: Martha King, 1968-76; Sharon Fox, 1976-1980; Frank Zidonis, 1980-86; Diane DeFord, 1986-1987. In 1987, Carol Lyons was appointed to assume direct responsibility for the Center’s activities. The Center houses, supports, hosts, or has initiated the following:

  • The Eminent Scholar Program, a graduate-level series of seminars, by internationally known scholars, exploring current language research and implications for educational policy
  • Collections of current research materials recommended by scholars participating in the Eminent Scholar Program
  • Meetings of interdepartmental organizations such as the Language, Culture, and Society Study Group; Research presentations by faculty and graduate students
  • Meetings of the Early Literacy Study Group, comprised of classroom teachers who are implementing an integrated language arts program with at-risk children
  • Displays of work by students and teachers in elementary and secondary schools
  • Workshops for professional organizations such as the Literacy Connection
  • Reading Recovery Teacher Leader Classes
  • Awareness sessions, and teaching demonstrations for visitors to OSU

Two concepts, the power of language in learning and the importance of teachers as decision-makers, remain constant; these concepts are the threads that bind the Center’s earliest initiatives to present and future efforts.

In 2007, under the leadership of Rebecca Kantor, Director for the School of Teaching and Learning, and the co-directors of the MKC Mollie Blackburn, David Bloome, and Brian Edmiston, the MKC seminar room was renovated. The renovations included new tables and chairs, rug, credenza, and painting of walls and ceilings. Technology was incorporated into the room consisting of an overhead lcd projector, computer, and a multi-media cabinet, electronic screen, and other high-tech features. The renovated MKC seminar room was officially reopened on January 31, 2008.