Obituary: Jess Reid, 97

Jess Reid's studies advanced understanding of dyslexia. Picture: contributed
Jess Reid's studies advanced understanding of dyslexia. Picture: contributed
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A SENIOR research fellow from Edinburgh University who pioneered methods of teaching children has died at the age of 97.

Jess Reid, who was born in Newmills, Fife, in 1916, carved out a distinguished career as a school teacher, educational psychologist and university teacher.

Her studies in education and psychology brought her to the Capital, and the degree of Master of Education with distinction in 1952.

With the qualification under her belt, she started working in a clinic at the Sick Kids hospital, caring for young people with educational as well as emotional problems.

The experience built on her earlier studies, with her concerns about children who were educational failures because they had not learned to read in the first years at school to play a central part in her career.

Jess observed children during her stint at the Edinburgh hospital whose reading and writing problems were severe.

It prompted her to start her first research programme alongside Dr Tom Ingram, a paediatric neurologist.

The pair studied a group of children with reading disabilities, but no obvious neurological damage or serious pre-existing emotional problems.

The findings provided a better understanding of the condition known as dyslexia. For the first time, there was evidence of more than one type of the condition, suggesting the need to develop more than one kind of remedial teaching.

Jess used the findings to set up the Scottish Centre for the Study of Dyslexia during the 1960s.

However, her appointment as a senior research fellow in the department of education at Edinburgh University in 1956 had set her on the path of her next research project, which involved looking at the very early stages of school learning.

Her original investigations showed children’s own notions about reading had been neglected.

The technique of semi-structured interviewing was used for pioneering work on what could be discovered by talking to the novice readers themselves.

It became clear that children often came to school with little or no understanding of the nature of written language. The meaning of terms such as “word”, “letter” or “number” could easily be muddled.
Jess used the research to create a reading programme known as Link-Up. The programme used environmental print such as street signs to make a connection between real-life settings and the pages of a book.

Sentence patterns were then gradually introduced to help ease kids into the language of books.

Outside of work, Jess’s deepest passion was music. She played the piano, with a career as a concert pianist at one time billed as a genuine possibility.