Panel members at the 2013 IRA Annual Conference
Under the leadership of Dr. P. David Pearson, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley, the International Reading Association (IRA) created the Literacy Research Panel (LRP) to respond to critical literacy issues facing policymakers, school administrators, teacher educators, classroom teachers, parents and the general public.
In a series of conference calls and meetings, four issues quickly came to the forefront of discussion:
The Achievement Gap. The racial gap has been narrowed (a little), but the socioeconomic status (SES) gap has actually increased. Moreover, the gap between the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile is continually widening.
Motivation and Engagement. Though the high school dropout rate has been incrementally decreasing in recent years, an alarming 28 percent of students still do not graduate on time. Many students simply aren't being motivated or engaged in a way that will lead to increased retention at either the high school or college levels.
Standards and Assessments. The new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts present many challenges, including classroom implementation and professional development. Text difficulty is a concern, especially for beginning readers. Moreover the associated assessment issues are likely to be complex.
Teacher Education. The ability to assess student literacy progress toward curricular goals and to lead effective classroom conversations are vital skills in need of systematic development. We need better methods of teacher evaluation and a way to counter the implicit assumption in policy circles that there's no payoff for teacher education or professional development.
The panel divided into four working subgroups to focus on various initiatives suggested in their ongoing discussions:
Group 1 - Vision Statement. This subgroup led discussions of various statements that describe current literacy challenges and a vision for improving literacy education. A copy of the vision statement is available here. The panel is seeking comments on this document from IRA members and related stakeholders. If you wish to provide comments, questions, or suggestions, please send an e-mail message to LRP@reading.org with "vision statement" in the subject line.
Group 2 - Panel Presentation at IRA Conference. This subgroup is planning presentations and media opportunities for the LRP. The session usually offers a moderated discussion of critical issues surrounding literacy education and research-based frameworks for addressing the policy questions.
Group 3 - Professional Resources and PD Syllabus. This subgroup is working to construct a model of advanced reading and literacy engagement that characterizes learners, relates to classrooms, and is research-based. The group is interested in designing and implementing resources and a set of professional materials for classroom instruction that intentionally fosters advanced reading and engagement.
Group 4 – Research Policy. In collaboration with the IRA Board of Directors, this subgroup is working on the development of a more formalized "policy response capability" for IRA, enabling the Association to prepare and disseminate research framed comments and responses to research and policy issues in real time, enhancing IRA's stature as a go-to source for professional guidance on policy matters.
These initiatives are works in progress. Some will require approval from and collaboration with the IRA Board of Directors, especially where resources must be committed to commission certain types of work. The Panel will work very closely with the Board on such matters.
The LRP intends to engage with policy circles at the national and state level. However, the LRP aims to do more than affect policy change; it aims to enhance effective literacy instruction across the country and around the world by introducing constructive initiatives to change policy and practices where it matters—in districts and schools.
2014-2015 IRA Literacy Research Panel Members
The list of members and photos will be available soon.
(We encourage comments on the Vision Statement. Please send an e-mail message to LRP@reading.org with "vision statement" in the title.)
Students in kindergarten today will live with a level of complexity that those of us who are adults now can barely imagine. They are destined to live in a globalized society, facing literacy demands that are increasingly varied and consequential, and that change rapidly. Active, successful participation in personal, civic, academic and work life will demand that all young people master complex individual and collaborative literate practices and develop dispositions that ensure continued learning beyond the school years. Yet, educational policies and practices have produced broad disengagement among our youth and have become a major obstacle to achieving this goal. Inequities in educational attainment, including high dropout rates for some groups and income-related achievement gaps, in many ways reflect insufficient opportunities to pursue personally and socially meaningful questions in school. These inequities, which particularly beset poor youth, deprive them of access not only to further education, rewarding careers, and other societal opportunities, but also to fulfilling lives in school.
IRA's goal is to ensure that the next generation is prepared for fulfilling personal, civic, academic and work lives. IRA's vision for achieving this goal is that schools must be transformed into places where students at all levels of schooling are actively engaged in personally and socially meaningful learning and inquiry. If students are to acquire the knowledge and tools that allow full participation in society, they must have opportunities to be both cognitively and affectively engaged in learning. It is through asking and answering personally and socially relevant questions that students learn content, practice skills, and learn to act strategically to accomplish goals. Engagement and initiative are natural consequences of such practices. So too, are critical thinking, argumentation, weighing multiple sources of evidence, managing productive discussions, and other competencies including those advocated in the Common Core Standards.
IRA's vision can be accomplished by focusing on practices and contexts that foster engagement such as: (a) involving students in recognizing and responding to actual problems in their lives or in society, (b) teaching reading and writing as integrated tools for learning and for crafting solutions to important, meaningful problems, (c) helping students to take individual and collaborative control of, and responsibility for, their learning, (d) recognizing that cognitive challenge, in the context of engagement, is a source of motivation, and (e) making engagement, relevance, and initiative central pillars of teaching and learning. A shift in assessment is also necessary to capitalize on and enhance engagement. Classroom assessment should provide instructionally useful indicators of extended engagements with literacy and learning. Because assessments are always limited reflections of learning, if they are used in ways that make them the goal of instruction, they will undermine student learning.
Creating the contexts necessary for realizing IRA's vision requires preparing highly skilled teachers who know how to generate active student engagement, redesigning curricula and content standards to focus on big, relevant ideas, and reallocating school time so that pacing guides, 'coverage,' test preparation, and assessment do not interfere with learning. This in turn demands extensive, evidence-based professional development for district and school leaders as well as teachers, based on the same principles as those for student learning.
Resources From the Literacy Research Panel
Literacy Research on Reading Today Online
Literacy Research Panel in the News
For more information about the Literacy Research Panel, please e-mail LRP@reading.org.