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Education Talk Radio Unpacks ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report

By Alina O'Donnell
 | Jan 11, 2018

whats-hot-2018-infographicYesterday ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post and Vice President of the Board Bernadette Dwyer joined Education Talk Radio host Larry Jacobs on air to discuss some of the major takeaways from ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report.

Released Monday, the report provides a snapshot of what 2,097 literacy professionals, representing 91 countries and territories, are “talking about, thinking about, and worrying about.”

While the topics and responses change each year, one conclusion remains: the conversations happening in the teacher’s lounge, on Facebook, and yes—even around the policymaking table—are not necessarily the ones that matter most.

“We take a look at what’s hot and at what’s important,” said Post. “One of the most fascinating elements of the report is that those things don’t always match up.”

Promoting teacher professionalism

“When I read the [What’s Hot in Literacy Report] I thought of the McKinsey report back in 2007, which looked at the best performing schools, and asked, what were they doing?," said Dwyer. “One of the quotes in that report was ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teacher.’ I think that’s crucially important.”

85% of this year’s respondents agree with Dwyer. Teacher Preparation—ranking No. 12 among hot topics but No. 3 among important ones—represents the largest gap in the report. 

Dwyer attributes this gap to differences in cultural values and attitudes around the profession of teaching. Nations where the profession of teaching has a positive image, such as Dwyer’s home country of Ireland, tend to rank higher on The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). She said Irela attract teachers from the top 10% of graduating classes.

“We attract really highly intelligent, highly creative students into the course [The Institute of Education],” she said. “It’s a four-year course, and across the course there’s a focus on literacy.”

Post said that the countries that have made the greatest leaps in the PIRLS have all made deliberate policy choices to make high-quality teachers the foundation for their education systems. To attract, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers, she said, we need to give them the respect and recognition they deserve—these values translate into better funding, more government support, and ultimately, more robust professional learning,

“Where that shift has taken place in nations—where leaders in the country have embraced the notion that we are going to ensure that our teachers are well paid, are highly valued as a profession, and we’re going to put money into the preparation and the leadership in schools—those are the nations that have made the leap in their performance on PIRLS," said Post.

Retiring English Language Learners and welcoming Mother Tongue Literacy

Jacobs noted that English language learners was no longer in this year’s report. In its place, Mother Tongue Literacy emerged from the survey as an area in need of greater attention overall, but particularly in the United States. The topic is among those with the greatest gaps, but U.S. survey takers rate it 23% extremely or very hot (compared with 41%) and 62% extremely or very important (compared with 71%).

Post said ILA made this change to reflect the global nature of the issue captures the challenges that teachers face in a diverse classroom. Mother Tongue Literacy encapsulates all second language learning as well a related issue of growing importance—the preservation of students’ indigenous and native languages.

“There are so many tensions around this issue worldwide,” said Post. “There’s rarely a developing country that I go to where this isn’t an issue.”

What is digital literacy?

“What is a digital literacy skill?” asked Jacobs. “When we say that phrase, what do we mean?”

Even Dwyer, 2017 recipient of the ILA TILE-SIG Technology in Reading Research Award, doesn’t have a concrete answer to his questions. Dwyer said there’s no clear definition to account for the depth and breadth of issues within digital literacy—which rose to the No. 1 hottest topic in literacy, but fell to No. 13 in terms of importance.  

Post believes that many respondents conflate digital literacy with media literacy—a key concern in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Digital literacy and media literacy are two different things, in many ways,” said Post. “I think that a lot of the respondents were talking about the use of digital tools and the literacies of learning.”

Whether this is true, Post touches on another important observation— that lack of agreement on what digital literacy comprises is impeding the development of adequate policies and programs.  

“We need to have more explicit discussions about what those skills are and how teachers can support them in the classroom,” said Post.

Compounding the need for a shared definition, Dwyer believes this gap highlights an important disconnect between access and skills—just because young people are steeped in technology, doesn’t mean they know how to use it meaningfully.

“Our young people are growing up in a digital world, but that does not mean they have the skills or the strategies or the dispositions to engage on the internet, or to use technology for literacy and learning," she said.

If you build a good foundation, you build a good house

Retaining its spot as the No. 1 most important topic in literacy instruction, Post said she will be surprised if Early Literacy ever comes off the list.

“We’re continuously looking at new generations of parents who need and want that information about how to support their child’s literacy," she said.

As research continues to underline the connection between early reading ability and lifelong success, policymakers and community leaders are becoming more aware of the importance of early literacy. Looking ahead, Post expects to see more financial and regulatory support for early literacy programs.

In Ireland, said Dwyer, the early childhood curriculum framework is called Aistear—the Irish word for “journey.” One of the four major themes of Aistear, Identity and Belonging, promotes effective partnerships between parents, practitioners, and the community.

“I think of it as a stool with three legs—you’ve got the parents, the nurturing adults, you’ve got the school, and you’ve got the community,” said Dwyer. “It’s really important to get the three working in tandem.”

What’s ahead for ILA

When asked how ILA will use the report’s findings, Post said the organization will plan future activities, materials, and research around these insights.

For starters, the inaugural ILA West 2018, with the theme “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the ILA 2018 Conference, Standards 2017, and Literacy Research Panel’s upcoming briefs, will explore some of these critical areas, such as teacher preparation, administrators as literacy leaders, and equity in education. ILA will also use its communications platforms, including its member magazine (Literacy Today), blog (Literacy Daily), and social media accounts, to shine a light on these topics and to spark overdue conversations.

Download the full ILA 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report here.

Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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