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The recent International Literacy Association (ILA) 2015 one-day research institute gave me a valuable opportunity to hear several leading researchers describe cutting-edge issues in literacy and to interact with fellow literacy professionals in small discussions. The presenters and their hot topics are noted here:

  • Douglas Fisher of San Diego State University presented his research team’s latest findings and discussed some wide-spread teacher misunderstandings about the process and outcomes for close reading of informational texts.
  • Claude Goldenberg of Stanford University found a receptive audience as he advocated reviving “an American tradition” of bilingual education and presented research noting the advantages for all
  • Timothy Rasinski of Kent State University got the literacy educators in attendance singing along, à la Pete Seeger, as he demonstrated the value of poetry and song in providing struggling readers with stronger foundations in literacy.
  • William Teale of the University of Illinois at Chicago provided us with an informative overview of key findings from the past decade in early childhood research and literacy, and posed intriguing questions for research in the next decade.
  • John Guthrie of the University of Maryland kept us involved as he discussed literacy engagement gaps and research on teacher strategies for successfully motivating students to read and write.
  • Nell Duke of the University of Michigan included winsome videos of successful writing projects undertaken by kindergarteners as she discussed how pre-service teachers are being taught to incorporate literacy research findings into project-based pedagogy.
  • Patricia Cunningham of Wake Forest University had the audience laughing and nodding their heads with an instant understanding of her made-up word “morphophobia” to introduce research that shows the value of teaching morphology, or the study of the forms of words, to students. Several tried-and-true strategies that help students decode, spell, and build meanings were presented that can help students overcome their phobias about “Big Words” and thereby increase their reading comprehension.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened, we eagerly awaited the last presentation by popular literacy expert, P. David Pearson, University of California, Berkeley. Well known for his ability to incorporate, on the fly, what he has just heard and learned, Dr. Pearson did not disappoint. He summarized “Fifty Years of Reading Comprehension Theory and Practice” and left us feeling intellectually saturated, yet renewed in our enthusiasm for literacy as the wellspring of educational success. The institute’s co-chairs, Maureen McLaughlin of East Stroudsburg University of PA and Kathy Headley of Clemson University, should be congratulated on a fruitful day for all.

Watch for future blogs in which I will discuss certain of these hot literacy topics in greater detail, during the coming months.

P.S. I stated in an earlier blog that a preliminary report from the ILA Task Force on Teacher Preparation for Literacy Instruction was forthcoming. An ILA press release on August 18, 2015 announced that the task force has issued the first of a two-part report, and gave a brief overview of the findings and implications.