June 11, 2016

Top Ten Themes of IRA Convention 2013

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We are both home after a joyful trip to San Antonio where we facilitated an institute and a session, attended several sessions, scouted the exhibit hall, and biked through the city. After presenting and attending, we found ourselves saying, “Everyone is basically saying the same thing, including us.” So, here are the Top 10 themes, and related questions, that emerged at the 2013 International Reading Association Convention.

10. The texts we select for our instruction are of critical importance. How do we find them?

9. We need to scaffold students less and let students do more of the work. What does this really look like?

8. It is okay to let students struggle … some. How much is too much and how much is not enough?

7. Non-fiction is still king. Where do we get good non-fiction and what do we do with it once we find it?

6. Whole group instruction is critical. How do we take care of individual learners when we are teaching in whole group?

5. Fluency. Fluency. Fluency. What is the relationship between close readings, rereading, and fluency?

4. Kids won’t make progress if they aren’t motivated. How do we motivate students to read? (Hint: Pick great books.)

3. Students need to learn to stick with things and work harder, i.e. they need to develop stamina. How do we help kids learn stick-to-it-iveness?

2. Quality instruction is the key to helping kids become better readers and writers. What are you doing to improve your craft?

1. The best readers and writers are the ones who have had the most practice. How much time do your students spend actually reading and writing?



  1. Love this list! It captures it all! And love getting to meet you in person, too!

  2. Beth Burke says:

    This definitely captures IRA. I would add that several speakers talked about the importance of student choice in reading materials…some even said that they didn’t read the books assigned in class and were unmotivated readers until they found the right book. This has huge implications for how much students read inside or outside of class.

  3. I appreciate your top 10 B&Y and agree those were the resounding themes. But I must agree with some up above. When will IRA get serious about what we must to do to get our students reading first? Why do we never never see Moats & Shayowitz’s thinking present at these. That absense makes it a bit frustrating.

  4. John Alexander says:

    It’s more of the same. Blame the kids if they aren’t reading proficiently. They aren’t working hard enough; they aren’t motivated enough; they don’t have enough “stick-to-itness;” they aren’t reading the right books. IRA is nothing more than whole language repackaged. It’s the wolf in a sheepskin disguise.

    We wouldn’t have the problem we have with teaching reading if we really taught it correctly from kindergarten through third grade. Our country is filled with kids who aren’t reading proficiently. They are not dyslexic. They are instructional casualties. IRA is great about staying away from the “PH” word. Without it, many, many kids will not become fluent. What about teaching structures of language? Do you know what that means?

    • Dick Allington says:

      Dyslexics are mostly created by teachers who decide to “teach the structures of language” rather than teaching children to read. As Arthur Gates noted back in the 1930s, neither Orton nor Gillingham seemed to realize that kids taught by the O-G method learned to read just as dyslexics read — word by word, dragging out pronunciation effortfully with no attention to comprehension or self-regulation. One would think that after nearly a century of failure O-G disciples would see the truth, it is the O-G method that is creating dyslexics (including Wilson, Language!, Voyageur, and Reading Mastery). You can continue to generate illiterates or you might consider a more balanced approach, as suggested by the NRP. But stop suggesting it is everyone else who is in the wrong!

      • Michael Minsky says:

        Poor readers are caused by poor teachers, misinformed professors of educators, mediocre parenting, shabby schools and a consumerist society which thrives on class distinctions …to name a few causes. Dyslexia is a neurological brain difference.The abysmal state of education is due to the way teachers are educated.

        • Deborah Goff says:

          The abysmal state of education is due in no small measure to the prevailing belief that teachers don’t know how to teach, and that political leaders – many of whom do not have an education background – know better. The majority of teachers KNOW what to do, but are often hamstrung by state and national mandates that limit what and how they can teach. I agree that our teacher education system can always be improved, and no teacher should ever stop learning, but the biggest hurdle we face is that education – and teachers – are a political football. Teachers are not in private practice. They are required to support state and district mandates. If these mandates are well thought out and based on sound research – great! But often the only “research” that is consulted is that done by the company or program that the state or district buys/adopts.

  5. Your “Top Ten” list matches my experience at the San Antonio conference, and I like your questions. A BIG take away from San Antonio for me was that we (teachers) need to be much more knowledgeable about children’s literature in order to address many of the items on this list. An over -reliance on reading levels and texts to use in service of strategy lessons for teaching has relegated literature study to the back burner, but in fact, teachers need to be voracious, critical readers of children’s lit. I loved Frank Serafini’s presentation, and he really hit some home runs as far as this issue is concerned. Nice post, B&Y!

  6. I wasn’t able to go to the convention, so this list helps me see some of what the rest of the field is thinking about. Love the way you posed these as questions, too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if individual, team, system-wide conversations happened around some of these questions? Many thanks.

  7. Jean Harrison says:

    Where is the role of Phonics? Still missing in action I see. The old biased approach lives on to the detriment of our children. Foreign countries teach English better than we do. Unimpressed.

    • Dick Allington says:


      Get over it! What we’ve known forever is that virtually every teacher knows how to teach phonics and that virtually everyone has been teaching phonics for decades. NCLB produced NO benefits when compared to schools not receiving Reading first monies. Why? Not because phonics is unimportant but because NCLB added no value to primary grade reading lessons because everyone already knew how to teach phonics. In addition, NCLB offered a corrupt, entrepreneurial model for reading lessons that distorted phonics instruction way beyond the 10 minutes a day in K and 1st that the NRP recommended. It pushed phonics into grades 2-8 where the NRP noted there was no research supporting doing phonics with kids including struggling readers. Hopefully, schools and teachers learned a lesson from NCLB/ReadingFirst: Do explicit phonics in K and 1st and then get on with teaching kids to read. As the NRP noted, when phonics takes up more than 10 minutes a day something else critical to learning to read is being shortchanged.

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