John Manning, a hands-on reading expert

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2010 - 9:24 PM

The U professor went into grade schools to teach and was widely known as a lecturer and consultant.

Prof. John C. Manning was a world-renowned literacy expert at the University of Minnesota who worked in elementary classrooms to improve reading instruction in Minneapolis and other inner- city schools.

He was a visiting professor or lecturer at more than 300 colleges and universities and served as a consultant to more than 500 national agencies, state departments of education and school districts, the university said.

Manning also cared about the kids in his own New Brighton neighborhood. He talked to them on his daily walks, said neighbor Val Rohrer. "He had a lot of presence," she said. "He was like a walking Webster's dictionary, but was very kind, especially to children. He was always interested in what books they were reading and what they liked about school."

Manning, 80, died Sept. 6 of prostate and bone cancer at his home, said his fiancée and longtime friend Verla Klassen. She was a Minneapolis literacy teacher and coordinated Manning's work when he brought graduate students to elementary schools for hands-on instruction in the 1970s.

Manning was a past president of the International Reading Association and was recognized as its outstanding teacher educator in reading in 1989. He also received the agency's lifetime achievement award in April, said Alan Farstrup, a retired leader of the association in Newark, N.J. Farstrup was one of Manning's graduate students who learned by watching him teach Minneapolis students.

"He was the first professor I ran into who taught children as a way of demonstrating what he meant by good reading instruction," Farstrup said.

He said Manning would hold graduate classes in a grade-school classroom. "Then we'd troop down the hall for a teaching demonstration with children," Farstrup said. "He put himself on the line when he sat with six children in front of a room of teachers and graduate students. He dealt with whatever came up. Some of the kids were not too easy to handle, but that didn't ever faze him. ... He was a great teacher."

A key Manning technique was ensuring that every student responded to material the class was reading. He would have the same material and write answers to the same questions as students to keep them engaged, said Kris Warren Samsel, who worked with him in the Eagan-Rosemount-Apple Valley School District. "If a child got behind, he'd exchange his paper with the student and say, 'You take mine, and we'll go on to number two,'" she said. "He teased the kids. He'd get them to laugh and could establish relationships with them very quickly."

Daughter Lisa Manning said her father "thrived on helping people." He also was proud of his underwater demolition work as a U.S. Marine in the Korean War.

Besides Lisa, of Fall River, Mass., Manning is survived by children Katharine, of Boston, and Jay, of Centreville, Va.; three grandchildren, and siblings Mary, of Fall River; Wendy King of Falmouth, Mass.; Connie Arnoe of Westport, Mass., and James, of Tiverton, R.I.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church & Newman Center, 1203 SE. 5th St., Minneapolis.

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