Families & the Community

Previewing the 2015 AERA Conference, in Plain English

By Benjamin Herold — April 15, 2015 2 min read
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This post, except for the titles of AERA sessions, is written at a 5th-grade reading level, according to a prominent online readability calculator.

Last month, I promised to write a blog post at a 5th-grade reading level. I was inspired by Christina Samuels. She wrote this piece for Education Week. It is about how special-education papers are getting too complex for many parents to read.

I had to decide on a topic for this assignment. I chose my preview of the conference of the American Educational Research Association. It begins this Thursday. It is in Chicago.

AERA will have more than 2,600 sessions.

Many have names that give me a headache.

Here is one example:

The Impact of Multimodal Composing on Youth Transformative Disciplinary Identity Work Across Settings.

I don’t have any idea what that means. I have a Master’s degree in education.

Each year, the AERA conference has a theme. This year’s theme is “Toward Justice: Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis.”

‘Justice’ seems like a good theme. Trying to fix injustices seems like a good goal.

But I wonder what to make of the fact that most of this conference will be too hard for most people to understand.

Here’s another example. AERA President Joyce E. King wrote a letter about the conference’s theme.

I put that letter into an online tool that calculates reading levels. The tool said it was written at a college level. That means it was written for people who are 21 or 22 years old. The list of “hard words” was really long. It included words such as “democratizing,” “conundrum,” “theorizing,” and “marginalized.”

Maybe that is OK. After all, this is a conference for researchers. And that letter is easier to understand than things like: “Epistemic and Self-Efficacy Beliefs for Personalized Learning With Technology.”

Also, who am I to talk? Most of the stories I write for Education Week are written at an 11th or 12th grade level. They use big words, too. They have sentences with lots of confusing clauses, too.

Take this story I wrote last month about a fancy private school. The average sentence was 21 words long.

Most Americans read at 7th or 8th grade level. That means they feel most comfortable with sentences that are about 15 words long.

Maybe the way I usually write is OK, too. After all, my audience is mostly adults who work in schools.

But it seems not very self-aware to talk about justice in a way that many people who are harmed by injustice won’t understand.

Don’t get me wrong. I am really looking forward to going to AERA. Many people who will be there are doing fascinating work.

I am eager to learn more about how technology changes the way teachers do their jobs. And how it gets kids working together to help them learn science. And how technology is changing school libraries.

This week, you will see lots of posts about AERA on this blog. You will also see posts from AERA on another Education Week blog. It is called Inside School Research.

All of them will probably be written at an 11th grade level or above.

That’s because writing about education in a way that most Americans can understand is pretty hard.

At least, it is for researchers and reporters.

And that’s a big problem.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.