To effectively advance literacy instruction, it is important to understand what professionals in the field need. The International Literacy Association (ILA) regularly polls them on issues deemed critical and relevant. The ILA survey notes trends in literacy education and identifies topics of the most interest to literacy professionals. The 2020 report, created with the survey platform YouGov, asked literacy professionals to offer their insights into the experiences and challenges of contemporary literacy education.
Here are the five topics in literacy education identified as most important by survey respondents.
- Build early literacy skills by implementing a balanced approach that combines foundational instruction with language comprehension instruction
Literacy professionals almost unanimously agree that literacy development should begin in preschool. According to 96% of respondents to the survey, all children need preschool education that lays the groundwork for literacy development. To reach that goal, literacy professionals advocate high-quality preschool education that is both affordable and accessible for all children. However, 39% of respondents feel they need more professional development support in understanding the balanced approach, as many teacher preparation programs focus on either a whole-language approach or an explicit phonics approach, rather than a balanced blend of the two.
- Determine effective instructional strategies for struggling readers
The greatest challenge reported by literacy professionals is the need to address disconnects between schools’ literacy curricula and students’ actual needs. Even well-planned differentiated instruction poses concerns, including the design of differentiated literacy instruction that does not meet the unique needs of each student; fair, consistent and comprehensive management of small group instruction; and lack of support for students struggling with social-emotional challenges and reading below grade level. Literacy professionals clearly feel the need for greater focus on assessing and addressing the different needs of individual students at all levels to achieve literacy goals.
- Increase equity and opportunity for all learners
Literacy professionals want more support in addressing inequity in schools. In fact, this is the number one area in which respondents reported wanting more support. Almost half (49%) of respondents feel that literacy professionals are capable of addressing the needs of a whole child, and more than 60% believe literacy educators are responsible for doing so. Literacy professionals believe they can and should be creating culturally responsive environments for students, accounting for their social-emotional needs, addressing inequity, and ensuring family engagement. However, they are not sure they have enough support to do so effectively.
- Increase professional learning and development opportunities for practicing educators
According to respondents, the greatest barrier to equitable literacy education is the lack of consistency and support in teachers’ professional development. Teacher preparation and support for ongoing professional development varies widely from school to school, and the majority of literacy professionals do not feel that teacher preparation programs are equipping them with the skills required to foster literacy. They feel teachers need more time to collaborate with colleagues, increased access to and training in the use of digital resources to support literacy instruction, and more support in identifying and pursuing professional development activities.
- Provide access to high-quality materials
Literacy professionals cite inadequate access to books as the second greatest barrier to equity. For example, 57% of respondents indicated that their students do not have sufficient access to books at home, and 70% believe there is not enough classroom time set aside for independent reading. ILA’s Advocating for Children’s Rights to Read manual asserts children should not only have equitable access to books and reading time, but that reading resources should be high-quality and learning environments should be supportive. This means students should have access, both at home and in the classroom, to reading materials that reflect and honor their diverse experiences and cultural identities.
Based on their experiences and research, literacy professionals have identified the most pressing needs of their field, suggesting mostly that they need more support. While students benefit from access to diverse and quality resources, they also need teachers who feel prepared to create and use these resources in a way that best supports learning.