by Jack Cassidy, Evan Ortlieb, and Jennifer Shettel
The older reader is definitely coming into greater focus in 2011, according to our annual survey of hot and not-so-hot topics in reading education. There is also a corresponding decrease in attention to topics often associated with early reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. The “What’s Hot” column, which is marking its 15th anniversary, recognizes the hottest topics in the field and is published in the December/January issue of the International Reading Association’s membership newspaper, Reading Today.
Adolescent literacy, one of this year’s “very hot” topics, first appeared on the survey in 2001 and in 2006 attained “very hot” status and has remained so ever since, according to an analysis of “What’s Hot” topics in the March 2010 issue of IRA’s Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. A number of recent reports have pointed out the disparity in funding between early reading education and funding for older students. The additional funding targeted to early readers resulted in improved scores on national tests, while scores for secondary students remained flat.
Many educational organizations, experts, and policymakers agree that more emphasis should be placed on pushing secondary students to greater achievement—especially because of the current high school dropout rates and also because of the poor showing on international assessments by students in the United States. Others of the “very hot” topics in this year’s survey also pertain to adolescent learners.
“Extremely hot” topics are those that all respondents agree are receiving a great deal of attention. This year, however, no topic received the “extremely hot” designation (unanimous agreement). But, of the four “very hot” topics—adolescent literacy, comprehension, Response to Intervention, and core learning/literacy standards (those which at least 75% of respondents agree are receiving a great deal of attention), three topics were “very hot” in 2010 as well. Core learning/literacy standards is new to the list of the “very hot.”
Of the topics losing heat, four are of particular significance. Besides the early reading topics—phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency—literacy coaches/reading coaches is also slipping into cooler climes. Most of our respondents agreed that too much attention had been paid to these topics in the past. Also, literacy coaches were often funded with monies from the Reading First legislation of the Bush era. Our respondents did feel, however, that literacy coaches should be receiving attention.
Some Topics with Heat
Core learning/literacy standards was not only a new topic to the list this year, but also was considered “very hot.” Core learning describes what K–12 pupils in the United States should be achieving each year in English language arts, as well as literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Grade-level standards for literacy include varied topics such as comprehension, creating texts, drama, fluency, listening, phonemic awareness, phonics, speaking, vocabulary, and writing.
As part of a state-led initiative to prepare America’s students for college and future careers, the National Governors Association for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in June 2010 released a set of English language arts standards called the Common Core State Standards. This release marked the beginning of the adoption and implementation process by the participating 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia of the United States.
The purpose of common standards is to ensure that all students are proficient language users so they may succeed in school, contribute to society, and pursue their own goals.
These standards were designed to provide clear and consistent expectations as well as rigorous content and application opportunities. The finalized standards were also informed by top performing countries so students can succeed in the global economy. To read more about the core learning standards and to find out which states have adopted them, visit www.corestandards.org.
Response to Intervention (RTI) seems to be a term that is unique to the United States, and even some of our U.S. respondents were unsure of its definition. Like many topics on the list, this term originated with U.S. legislative action.
In order to curtail the number of referrals for special education, recent legislation allows for a percentage of the money normally allocated for special education to be used for preventive measures. The most popular framework for this prevention is often called the three-tier RTI model.
Tier One encompasses quality in-class instruction, often called “core” instruction. If that intervention does not work, Tier Two, or short-term, small-group or individual intervention may be initiated, possibly by a reading specialist. If that is not effective, Tier Three, more long-term in nature, may be initiated, and could eventually involve referral to a special education class.
It should be noted that this is one example of numerous RTI models. For more about RTI, see the RTI page on IRA’s website.
Disciplinary/content area literacy means using specific literacy strategies within content-area classes such as math, science, and social studies. This year, respondents thought the topic, new to the list, was not hot but should be hot. Disciplinary literacy skills and routines have not been of particular interest historically; however, increased attention has resulted from the repeated cross-curricular struggles of adolescent readers.
As a result, professional communities based on shared values such as collaboration, reflective dialogue, and student learning have flourished. Workshops and Web seminars for professional development are also available from some of the leading literacy associations, including IRA.
Specific standards designed to integrate literacy into content-area classes in grades 6–12 are included in the Common Core State Standards. Content-area literacy strategies are often particular to a specific discipline, unlike highly generalizable skills such as decoding, fluency, and comprehension.
IRA has a special interest group, Content Area Reading, focused on content-area literacy. For information about the group, contact Mary Spor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Besides disciplinary/content area literacy, other topics respondents thought “should be hot” included English as a second language/English language learners, informational/nonfiction texts, and writing.
In conclusion, one would hope that this increase of interest in the more mature reader will result in a decrease in the high school dropout rate and a more productive and literate adult population. Educators can take advantage of the attention focused on some of these issues and make needed changes in their schools.
Thus, because in 2011 adolescent literacy, comprehension, core learning/literacy standards, and RTI are “very hot,” now seems the ideal time to involve literacy coaches, offer professional development, and facilitate learning communities in secondary schools to train classroom teachers in the use of content area literacy strategies and Response to Intervention.
IRA members can login to view the full "What's Hot" chart online. (Click here to learn about joining IRA.)
What’s Hot: The Making of the List and About the Survey
Fifteen years ago, the original authors of “What’s Hot,” Jack Cassidy and Judith K. Wenrich, did not envision that the list would become a yearly event. They had no idea that “What’s Hot” would become a buzzword among reading professionals. And they certainly never anticipated that this work would be replicated by individual states and even other countries.
The annual list has been cited in countless book chapters, journal articles, and conference presentations. It has been translated into Spanish and has been summarized and highlighted in newspapers such as Education Week and online literacy newsletters such as Florida Online Reading Professional Development. It is also mentioned on independent blogs such as Literacy Solutions and Reading Rockets. Longer discussions on topics from the list have appeared in journals and book chapters, including two this year, one of which will look at the fluctuation of “hot” and “not hot” topics spanning the last 15 years.
Constructing the Survey
Each year, since 1996, the 25 literacy leaders who responded to the list of topics the previous year are sent that year’s list and asked to make modifications, additions, and deletions. For the 2010 survey, 21 of the 2009 leaders provided suggestions for additions, modifications, and deletions.
Respondents are selected based on a number of criteria:
- The first and most important criterion is that they must have a national or international perspective on literacy. Thus, we often select those who serve on the boards of prominent literacy organizations or as editors of major journals in the field.
- Respondents come from various geographical areas in the United States, from Canada, and from outside North America. The percentage of IRA members in a given area determines the number of literacy leaders we interview from that area.
- Different job categories are represented (such as teachers, college professors, and administrators), and the respondents are ethnically diverse. However, the main criterion for inclusion is that a literacy leader has knowledge of trends and issues at the national or international level.
During the months of April through September, 25 literacy leaders are interviewed either in person or by phone. All are read a standard 178–word paragraph defining “hot” and “not hot.” It is also explained to respondents that their ratings of “hot” and “not hot” do not necessarily reflect their personal interest, or lack thereof, in a given topic. Rather, the ratings refer to the level of attention that a given topic is currently receiving.
After hearing the introductory paragraph, each respondent is asked to rate a given topic as “hot” or “not hot.” Each respondent is then asked if the topic “should be hot” or “should not be hot.” However, even the reasons for the “should be hot” and “should not be hot” responses are varied. Sometimes respondents will say a topic “should be hot” not because they are advocates of the practice but because they believe more research needs to be done on that topic.
The purpose of the survey has always been to acquaint readers with those issues that are receiving attention, thus perhaps encouraging them to investigate these topics in more depth. We also hope that the discrepancies between the “hot” list and the “what should be hot” list will encourage our readers to be more active advocates for the best literacy practices in their own schools and political arenas.
Also, educators can take advantage of the attention focused on some of these issues and make needed changes in their schools.
Participants in this year’s survey were Richard Allington, University of Tennessee; Donna Alvermann, University of Georgia; Kathryn H. Au, School Rise Inc., Hawaii; Thomas Bean, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Heather Bell, Rosebank School, New Zealand; David Bloome, Ohio State University; Karen Bromley, Binghamton University, SUNY, New York; William G. Brozo, George Mason University, Virginia;Robert Cooter, Bellarmine University, Kentucky; Patricia A. Edwards, Michigan State University; Joyce Hinman, Bismarck Schools, North Dakota; James V. Hoffman, University of Texas; Lori Jamison, Toronto, Canada; Barbara Kapinus, National Education Association, Washington, DC; Donald J. Leu, University of Connecticut; Marsha Lewis, Duplin Schools, North Carolina; P. David Pearson, University of California at Berkeley; Taffy Raphael, University of Illinois, Chicago; Timothy Rasinski, Kent State University, Ohio; D. Ray Reutzel, Utah State University; Victoria J. Risko, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee; Misty Sailors, University of Texas-San Antonio; Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois, Chicago; Dorothy Strickland, Rutgers University, New Jersey; and Linda Young, Hans Herr Elementary School, Pennsylvania.
Denmark Feels the Heat, Too
In Denmark, the National Centre for Reading and The Association of Teachers of Danish have conducted a similar survey, asking 25 respondents what they think is “hot” and what they think “should be hot” in reading education—and to explain it in their own words.
The Danish survey shows that the hottest topics in 2010 are reading tests, reading comprehension, and content-area reading.
Next on the list are writing and reading in the kindergarten class, the role of literacy coaches, and reading difficulties, followed by reading and information technology and reading motivation.
The complete study is available at www.videnomlaesning.dk/388/1085.aspx.
Jack Cassidy, a former president of IRA, is the associate dean and director of the Center for Educational Development, Evaluation, and Research at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. Evan Ortlieb is an assistant professor at the same institution. Jennifer Shettel is an assistant professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.