Literacy Glossary


Because this is a glossary of terms, I thought I would start with a definition. When I looked up the word profession in the online dictionary, the definition was "a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification." And the example was "his chosen profession of teaching." As I read more about the indicators that were required to identify a field of work as a profession, I learned:

  • The work has to become a full-time occupation. Teaching sure is a full-time role! Anyone who has ever ventured into the classroom knows just how full time the work really is.
  • There has to be a preparation program school or university program associated with the role. There are colleges of education all over the world, and these programs focus specifically on the education of professionals across their career span.
  • That there are membership organizations devoted to the field of study. The International Literacy Association (ILA) is an excellent example of a membership organization devoted to the profession of literacy education.
  • There is a shared vocabulary that members of the profession use. As many have noted, our field does not use terms consistently. There are many definitions, for example, of a shared reading lesson. We need a common set of terms so that we can have professional conversations with each other and know what we mean when we use a word.

As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." My hope for this glossary is that it helps our profession identify and use the right word on a regular basis.

My desire to have a resource of terms dates back many years, but it was rekindled when I attended the European Literacy Conference and was introduced to the European Literacy Policy Network ELINET glossary that was intended to clarify the meaning of key early literacy teaching terms. I remembered the two volumes edited by Theodore L. Harris and Richard E. Hodges and published by the International Reading Association (now ILA) titled A Dictionary of Reading and Related Terms (1981) and The Literacy Dictionary: The Vocabulary of Reading and Writing (1995). It seemed to me that it was time to update these volumes and make them more accessible to the membership of ILA and literacy educators worldwide.

I knew that the right group to take on this charge was ILA's Literacy Research Panel (LRP), chaired by Diane Lapp. I tasked the LRP to develop a glossary that reflected the shared language of literacy educators. And I asked them to do it quickly. I hoped that the glossary would be ready for the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX. And, because I know that language evolves as we use it, I asked ILA to establish a webpage where term words could be added.

The LRP exceeded my expectations. This glossary represents 300 of the most common words that represent a smattering of possibilities in the following categories:

  • Forms and Functions
  • Practices, Skills, and Competencies Across Human Abilities
  • Literary, Linguistic, and Rhetorical Devices and Concepts
  • Looking Across Difference and in Sociopolitical Contexts
  • Instructional Concepts and Approaches

This version is just a start. I invite all users of this resource to contribute to the glossary by sending word and phrase recommendations to the LRP for review and consideration. I also encourage all of us to use the terms as they are defined by our profession. And when we take issues with a term, I hope that we will note the definition as agreed upon by ILA's panel of experts (who also had this vetted and reviewed by numerous others) and then explain any variation or difference of opinion that we have. In doing so, we can create a common vocabulary for our profession and increase the productive interactions we have with one another as we understand the words each of us are using. I hope you enjoy reading through the definitions of the first 300 words as much as I did. Much like The Literacy Dictionary, this new glossary aims "to provide a resource to help educational practitioners, researchers, and other interested persons in the national and international community to understand terms used in contemporary and historical writings about literacy." And I believe it does a fine job in meeting that aim.

—Douglas Fisher
ILA President of the Board