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International Reading Association (IRA)

Survey reveals a focus beyond primary grades

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 Whats
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 Associations membership
newspaper, Reading Today.

Adolescent literacy, one of this years 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 Whats
Hot topics in the March 2010 issue of IRAs 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 achievementespecially 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 years survey also pertain to adolescent

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 topicsadolescent 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 fluencyliteracy 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.

What's Hot and What's Not? 2011 Results (View the PDF)

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 K12 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 Americas 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

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
following page or IRAs 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 612 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

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.

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 UniversityCorpus Christi. Evan
Ortlieb is an assistant professor at the same institution. Jennifer Shettel is an assistant professor at
Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Questions
Whats Hot: The making of the list
By Jack Cassidy, Evan Ortlieb, and Jennifer Shettel

About the survey

Fifteen years ago, the original authors of Whats Hot, Jack Cassidy and Judith K. Wenrich, did not
envision that the list would become a yearly event. They had no idea that Whats 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 years 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.
Leaders queried
During the months of April through September, 25 literacy leaders are interviewed either in person or
by phone. All are read a standard 178word 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.

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 UniversityCorpus Christi. Evan
Ortlieb is an assistant professor at the same institution. Jennifer Shettel is an assistant professor at
Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Questions or comments about this survey can be directed to
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 educationand 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

Survey respondents
Participants in this years 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.

What's hot for 2011 (December 2010/January 2011). Reading Today, 28(3), 1, 6, 7, 8.