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School & District Management

Experts, Policymakers at Odds Over Reading

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — January 31, 2006 1 min read

It will be no surprise to reading teachers and academic experts in the subject that adolescent literacy, comprehension, phonics, preschool literacy, and research-based instruction are predicted again to be the field’s hot topics. But an annual survey of influential reading researchers suggests that some topics that have consumed policy debates and reading initiatives, such as phonemic awareness, are losing their luster.

And topics like writing, gender differences, family literacy, and student motivation have not earned the attention the respondents say they deserve.

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Table: What’s Hot, What’s Not

The “What’s Hot, What’s Not” list in Reading Today, a publication of the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association, outlines 27 topics or issues identified in a survey of two dozen researchers. The list has followed trends in reading instruction over the past decade.

Phonics, the teaching of letter sounds, and phonemic awareness, the understanding that words are made up of sounds, first appeared on the list in 1997. They have both remained “hot” or “very hot,” although the latter topic seems to have cooled this year—and justifiably so, in the view of most respondents.

“It’s not that the research is faulty in saying that phonemic awareness is needed,” said the report’s author, Jack Cassidy, the director of the Center for Development, Evaluation, and Research at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “It’s just that in the whole scheme of things, we’ve put too much emphasis on this very narrow concept.”

Some hot topics from the past? Whole language—a literature-based instructional approach that de-emphasizes basic skills—dropped off the list five or six years ago, as did “constructivism” and “process writing.”

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