BSc Victoria University of Wellington, Dip Teaching Dunedin Teachers' College, MA/Dip Ed University of Otago, PhD University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Dr. Johnston joined the Literacy Teaching and Learning Department when it was the Reading Department in 1981 and was chair 1999-2001 and 2009–2013. He retired in 2014. His research and writing spring from his fascination with children's learning and, no less, teachers' teaching. His research explores the relationships among classroom talk, engagement, and children’s social, emotional and literate development. This focus is reflected in his books, Opening Minds: Using language to change lives and Choice Words: How our language affects children's learning. Perversely, he believes that education is not simply about delivering information to children. He thinks it is as much about building a just, caring society as growing intellectually, socially and emotionally healthy human beings and that attending to this larger goal will not detract from more pragmatic academic goals. Quite the reverse in fact, he believes that intellectually healthy classrooms cannot be achieved without their also being socially and emotionally healthy. His newest book, coauthored with six remarkable classroom teachers - Engaging Literate Minds, K-3: Literacy Teaching That Grows Children’s Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Lives - reflects this conviction. Dr. Johnston’s recent publications also address Dyslexia Research and Instruction and the development and consequences of engaged reading in young adults. The latter topic is the subject of a soon-to-be new book with Gay Ivey, entitled, Booking a life: Teens reading their way to social, emotional, moral and intellectual growth.
Dr. Johnston has published over 80 scholarly articles and a dozen books, some published in multiple languages. Recognition for his work includes the Albert J. Harris Award from the International Literacy Association for contributions to the understanding of reading disability and the State University of New York, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. Most recently, the Literacy Research Association honored him with the Oscar Causey Award for outstanding contributions to reading research and the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award, citing his book Choice Words as having “demonstrably and positively influenced literacy teaching in classrooms and districts nationally.” Other recognition for his writing includes an Educational Press Association award for “Learned Article,” for the paper “Voices we want to hear and voices we don't” with John Nicholls. His most recent book, co-authored with six classroom teachers, Engaging Literate Minds: Developing children’s social, emotional, and intellectual lives, K-3, received an honorable mention for the Ed Fry Book Award from the Literacy Research Association. He is an elected member of the Reading Hall of Fame.