Arthur N. Applebee

Arthur N. Applebee

NEW SCOTLAND — Arthur N. Applebee, a husband, father, and grandfather, was a leading scholar of literacy and language learning and earned international renown for his seminal work on how students become literate thinkers. He died on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in New York. He was 69.

“He was the happiest and most positive person I have ever met,” said his wife, Judith Langer. “He always had a wonderful and engaging smile. He loved the work that he did at the University at Albany.”

Dr. Applebee was a distinguished professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University at Albany; chairman of its Department of Educational Theory and Practice; and, since 1984, co-director of the Center on English Learning and Achievement, a federally funded research institute focused on how students best learn the language skills they need to succeed in school, work, and life.

Dr. Applebee, who lived in New York City and New Scotland, shared his life’s work with his wife and research partner, Dr. Langer; the pair were the first husband and wife to hold the position of distinguished professor, the highest rank in the state university system.

“He truly loved his research, and he truly loved his students,” Dr. Langer said.

Dr. Applebee’s work deeply influenced the teaching of English and language arts. He was called on by policymakers at the national, state, and district levels to advise on effective approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. He was a long-time advisor to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and co-authored 14 of its “Reading Report Cards” on student achievement in American schools.

Dr. Applebee was lead author of a series of English literature textbooks for grades 6 through 12 that have been widely adopted by school districts across the United States since 1992. Millions of students have learned literate thinking through “Responding to Literature,” “Literature Language,” and “The Language of Literature,” among other titles in the series.

Born in Sherbrooke, Canada, Dr. Applebee earned degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the University of London. His work focused on how children and adults achieve literacy – the interconnections between reading, writing, discussing, thinking, and learning across subjects and topics. His research reframed the ways in which both scholars and practitioners think about critical issues in language learning.

The first of his 24 books and monographs, “Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English,” became a classic in its field and remains in print more than 40 years after its publication in 1974. His most influential work also includes “The Child’s Concept of Story” (1978), “Writing in the Secondary School” (1981), “How Writing Shapes Thinking” (1987), “Literature in the Secondary School” (1993), and “Curriculum as Conversation” (1996). His last book, “Writing Instruction that Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms,” was published in 2013.

Dr. Applebee also produced more than 100 reports, articles, and book chapters, becoming the most frequently cited author in the research handbooks in English language arts.

Among other professional activities, Dr. Applebee served as editor of the academic journal “Research in the Teaching of English,” as president of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy and as a member of the Validation Committee for the Common Core State Standards. He was recognized for the cumulative contribution of his work by election to the International Reading Hall of Fame, the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English, and his appointment as a fellow of the American Educational Research Association. He was a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, and received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence.

“He truly loved living on New Salem South Road,” Dr. Langer said. “He loved our house. We lived there for 28 years. They were the happiest memories that he ever had. He wanted so much for our family to visit — our children, and our grandchildren. He had such a happy life in New Scotland — in particular, on New Salem South Road — that it filled his life dramatically. I know that he, wherever he is, will always have images of that life.”

Dr. Applebee died of complications from Lewy Body Dementia, a form of Parkinsonism.

“As he was failing,” Dr. Langer continued, “he would keep talking about going upstairs, looking at the views. ‘Where were the deer?’ It was a big part of his life.”


Arthur N. Applebee is survived by his wife, Judith Langer; two stepsons; four step-granddaughters; and four brothers.

A memorial service will be announced.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Arthur N. Applebee Memorial Fund at the University at Albany School of Education at, or the Lewy Body Dementia Association at
— Jo E. Prout

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