One of her works has 400,000 units worldwide and become a standard tool for teaching children English as a second language.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Author, The Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids
Favorite Adelphi professor: Dr. Boner
Job during college: Page-girl for CBS, where she occasionally bumped into Edward R. Murrow, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, and ate ice cream with Mitch Miller from “Sing Along with Mitch”
First job after Adelphi: Copy reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Member of: Kappa Alpha Theta
Most surprising Adelphi moment: Being chosen May Queen in 1945
Proving That Pictures Can Teach 1,000 Words
At a graduation reception in 1945, Joan Ross Rafter Keyes remembers being approached by her favorite English professor, Dr. Boner, who remarked that he eagerly anticipated reading her first published work.
She laughed at his compliment, never thinking that one of her works would sell over 400,000 units worldwide and become a standard tool for teaching children English as a second language.
Ms. Keyes began teaching English as a second language (ESL) classes in 1970, when ESL was just beginning to be seen as a separate educational area. She traveled back and forth across Port Washington, NY, every day, teaching pre-kindergarten through adult students in public school day and evening classes. Frustrated with a lack of appropriate materials for her students, Ms. Keyes began producing displays and writing exercises to teach English through visual media.
Over the years, she experimented with video productions and designed language lessons around the analysis of popular television commercials and science programs. In 1983, she wrote a rap album, “Beats,” for all levels of speaking and reading practice. In 1985, sponsored by the Port Washington Public Library, she wrote “You Say It,” an ESL short video about going to the doctor.
In 1987 she published “Now You’re Talking,” a multi-media video program that focuses on communication skills. She has also contributed articles to educational magazines, among them Teacher Magazine and the TESOL Newsletter.
She has facilitated ESL workshops around the country and was an adjunct professor at Long Island University for many years. In 1992 she received a grant to visit Australia and New Zealand as an ESL consultant. When she retired from teaching in 1994, she began working in earnest on a unique picture dictionary for children.
In 1998, Oxford University Press, the world’s largest university publisher, introduced The Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids. An instant success, the dictionary has been sold around the world, translated into Spanish and Japanese bilingual editions, and has become a staple of schools and learning centers nationwide.
Always an advocate of multi-media methods, Ms. Keyes’ dictionary includes audio CDs. “It’s so important that the children can hear the characters speak and watch the pictures come to life,” she says. She is currently working on a “Kid’s Plays” component for the program.
Ms. Keyes chose Adelphi at the request of her mother, Hermia Ross, a 1914 graduate of Adelphi College in Brooklyn. Ms. Keyes was the president of her class for all four years. She also wrote songs for the glee club, her classmates, and special occasions. She vividly remembers her proudest college moment, when, dressed as brooms, her sorority won first prize for the song and dance number she wrote and they performed at the Spring Crafts Fair. Adelphi has since become a family tradition; Ms. Keyes’ daughter, Kenzie, attended as a transfer student and received her B.S. in 1984.
Today, Ms. Keyes continues to write children’s books and educational materials from her home in Port Washington, New York. She enjoys playing piano and guitar, and spending time with her four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. But Adelphi is still important to her, and when she and her classmates gather for reunions, they sing the class song Ms. Keyes wrote for commencement:
We are Adelphi,
In all we do
In every action
Loyal and true.
And when they ask us
We’ll say with pride
We are Adelphi…
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