That’s Hot! But is it Important?

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Each year* since 1997, the International Literacy Association (ILA) has conducted a survey of teachers, school and program administrators, and practicing academics and researchers to consider the values and activities that best describe literacy education’s trends and practices. The survey queried nearly 2,100 individuals from 91 countries and territories and the results are reported from open-ended responses to a survey.

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Written for consumption by parents, professionals and policymakers, the survey results are available as a free download at https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/resource-documents/whats-hot-2018-report.pdf.

I encourage teachers and parents who have not seen the short, 24-page report full of easy to follow info-graphics and brief commentary to click the link and download it to consider its implication for their children. By that I mean, that each of the categories that has been surveyed was identified as something that was judged by experts and practitioners as important in literacy and worthy of attention in 2018.

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I think that the most interesting findings in the report are the gaps between the surveyed value/importance of a topic and the prominence/energy that same topic has garnered in literacy work. In other words, some topics that are labeled “HOT” (i.e., they get a lot of attention and investment in the field), are not considered nearly as “IMPORTANT” as other topics, which receive less relative attention.

A few of the findings were head-scratchers. For example, of the 16 issues that were surveyed, in only one was the HOT score higher than the IMPORTANT score. This suggests that at least for the topics surveyed, what is important based upon the opinions of experts and those with broad experience from around the world and what is getting the most attention in schools and research projects is NOT what is considered most important in practice.

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Early Literacy was the topic that garnered the highest Importance scores (87 percent of respondents) while Digital Literacy received the Hottest attention (63 percent). In only one case, Summative Assessments (evaluations of children’s progress throughout the academic year) did the Hot-ness of a category exceed its Important-ness. That was actually also the category with the lowest overall Importance score. Hmmm.

It is not common for huge organizations with representation from across the world to seek to guide its members by holding up a large mirror for them to see who they are, what they are doing and how well what they do meets the expectations of those with the highest expertise. There is much here to be considered by parents, individual teachers, faculties, administrators, supervisory personnel, education experts and elected officials.  It’s absolutely worth your time.

Note: The ILA is to be congratulated and thanked for providing the world with this peek into the very most important focus in education—literacy.

*Starting in 2020, the International Literacy Association will be surveying practitioners and experts twice a year.

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