Pioneering UC Berkeley educator, Ann L. Brown, dies from sudden illness at age 56

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Ann Lesley Brown, a leading educational theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, known for her pioneering, real-life experiments in the classroom, died Friday evening, June 4, after a brief illness. She was 56.

A professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education since 1988, Brown held the Evelyn Lois Corey Chair. She was at the peak of her career when she became critically ill and was hospitalized at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.

She recently had co-edited a major synthesis of research in the field of learning, titled "How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School," published in April by the National Research Council.

She also recently served as president of the National Academy of Education and, in the past eight years, had won three major career awards from national associations in psychology and education.

Brown was in the midst of compiling results on her efforts to improve the learning of some 400 elementary students in Oakland and Alameda when she died. Early results indicated significant gains in reading comprehension and critical analysis. Brown's husband and close collaborator on the project, Joseph C. Campione, is also a UC Berkeley professor at the Graduate School of Education.

"She was a tremendous leader," said Eugene Garcia, dean of UC Berkeley's education school. "She won acclaim at both ends, from those who do research on teaching and from those who teach.

She was dedicated, not just to research, but to making that pay off for kids, particularly poor children. We feel a deep sense of loss."

Brown's theories about how children learn, and how they should be taught in the classroom, have spread throughout the world of educational scholarship, primarily because she did what few others have done. She tested her ideas, using rigorous research methods, in the difficult classroom environment.

"Among psychologists who have entered the classroom, Ann Brown stood out for the originality of her approach, the depth of her dedication and the significance of the results she achieved," said Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor of education.

"She was a warm and talented colleague who will be missed by many hundreds of people in the world of education," he said.

Born in an air raid shelter in Portsmouth, England, during World War II, Brown was the first in her family to attend college. She did not learn to read until she was 13 years old. But once she mastered that skill, she began to soar academically. She graduated with honors from the University of London in 1964, receiving her PhD in psychology from that university in 1967.

Brown came to the United States in 1970 for a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Connecticut where she met Campione, her future husband and collaborator for nearly three decades in studies of how children learn.

She pioneered the field of metacognition, the study of how people observe and take responsibility for their own learning, according to UC Berkeley professor of education, Marcia Linn, who said, "I am deeply saddened to lose her wise leadership in this area."

Good students, Brown observed, naturally raise questions about the material they are reading. They make predictions, reflect on whether a story makes sense, question what is happening. Students who have difficulty learning, however, don't apply these strategies. It's not that poorer students lack intelligence; rather, they just don't spontaneously question or reflect on the material, she discovered.

Convinced that these insights could be used to improve classroom teaching, not just in reading but in math and science as well, Brown embarked on a program to create new teaching methods in elementary school.

The result was a wholesale change in educational approach, from a focus on individual learners to a group process called reciprocal teaching, in which students learn from each other. People learn best as members of a "community of learners," Brown proposed. With Campione, she devised methods for creating small intellectual communities in each classroom.

In the Brown/Campione program, called Fostering Communities of Learners (FCL), students create their own research projects and work in groups together. They divide up tasks and act as experts for each other.

Experimental evidence from their early reading experiments revealed massive gains as students learned to be more critical thinkers. Half the students in a second grade Oakland class, tested in 1994, were reading at fifth grade level by the end of the program.

"Ann and Joe built upon their work with reciprocal learning to create a model program that prepared students to be active learners throughout their lives," said Marty Rutherford, who taught with Brown and Campione in the Oakland schools and is part of the Bay Area School Reform Project. "The students called themselves 'intelligent novices' - we turned them into active, aggressive scholars. These classrooms are the most dynamic learning situation I've ever encountered."

FCL has been implemented in three Bay Area schools and has spread to several collateral programs, one of which reaches more than 1,000 students in Oakland through a National Science Foundation-funded program at the Chabot Observatory and Science Center.

Brown was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1982-83 and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1984-85 and again in 1992-93.

She received three distinguished service awards from national organizations. In 1991, she was given the American Educational Research Association's (AERA) Distinguished Contributions to Educational Research Award. Only 48 years old at the time, Brown was among the youngest educators to receive the AERA's lifetime career award. She also served as president of AERA in 1993-94, and has received the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Applications of Psychology in 1995 and the American Psychological Society's James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award in 1997.

She is survived by her husband, Joseph C. Campione of San Francisco; a son, Richard Campione; a daughter-in-law, Mary; and a granddaughter, Sofia Ann, of Mountain View. Two brothers, Peter and Michael Taylor, live in England.

A scholarship fund named the "Brown/Campione Teacher Research Fund" has been established in her honor. Donations can be sent to Michael D. Reynolds, executive director, Chabot Observatory and Science Center, 10902 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, CA 94619.


This server has been established by the University of California at Berkeley Public Information Office. Copyright for all items on this server held by The Regents of the University of California. Thanks for your interest in UC Berkeley.
More Press Releases | More Campus News and Events | UC Berkeley Home Page


Send comments to: