Saturday, December 5th
9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Central Time


An Examination of Dyslexia Research with Policy Implications



There is no doubt that some children experience more difficulty than others becoming literate, at great personal and social cost. The causes of their difficulties, and what to do about them, have been the source of vast research and sometimes heated disagreement among researchers and educators going back over a century. The currently popular, and long standing, explanation is that the primary source of difficulty is dyslexia, the idea that children’s difficulties becoming literate are caused by a difference in their brains, a difference that also confers a range of positive benefits along with the necessity for intensive phonics instruction. Recently, advocates of this narrative have merged with those who argue that intensive phonics is actually the solution to all literacy problems, asserting that science has spoken and that legislators should enforce “the science of reading.” This review examines the bases for these arguments, concluding that, among things; a) there is no consistent, diagnostically useful definition of dyslexia, affecting not only practical use of the construct, but also interpretation of any related research, and b) advocacy arguments for intensive phonics instruction, both associated with dyslexia and not, are not reflective of the available research.

In an effort to facilitate maximum participation, the presenters ask that you review the following literacy research report and complete the following form with questions/comments to be addressed during this session.  Submissions will be accepted until Friday, November 20th. 

Peter Johnston



Peter Johnston is Professor Emeritus at the University at Albany. His research explores relationships among children’s engagement, their literate, social and emotional development, and classroom talk.  He has published many scholarly articles and books. Recognition for his work includes the Albert J. Harris Award from the International Literacy Association, and the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. Most recently, the Literacy Research Association honored him with the Oscar Causey Award for outstanding contributions to reading research and the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award for his book Choice Words. He is a member of the Reading Hall of Fame.

Donna Scanlon


Donna M. Scanlon, PhD, is Professor Emerita in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She has spent most of her career studying children’s reading difficulties. Her studies have focused on the relationships between instructional characteristics and success in learning to read and on developing and evaluating approaches to preventing and remediating reading difficulties. Findings from studies that she and her colleagues conducted contributed to the emergence of response to intervention as a process for preventing reading difficulties and avoiding inappropriate and inaccurate learning disability classifications. Most recently, Dr. Scanlon’s work has focused on the development of teacher knowledge and teaching skill among both preservice and in-service teachers for the purpose of helping teachers to prevent reading difficulties in young children and remediate reading difficulties among older children. Her work has been supported by several federal grants including grants from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and from the U.S. Department of Education through the Institute of Education Sciences and the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. She has published several research articles and book chapters on the causes and correlates of reading difficulty and on ways to prevent and remediate reading difficulties.  With co-authors Kimberly Anderson and Joan Sweeney, she is the author of Early Intervention for Reading Difficulties: The Interactive Strategies Approach which now in its second edition. Her most recent book is Comprehensive reading intervention in grades 3-8: Fostering word learning, comprehension, and motivation (Gelzheiser, Scanlon, Hallgren-Flynn, & Connors, 2019).


The State of Black Boys in Literacy Research


In this session, the presenters will discuss the dynamic State of Black Male literacy education and the methodological challenges to capture the complexities of their literacy education because of a wide range of historical and contemporary factors that impact language, reading, and writing development. Defining literacy, literacy development, literacy education, and literacy research and their shifts across multiple contexts (e.g., in-school, out of school), multiple locations (e.g., urban, rural, and suburban), and school types (traditional public, private, catholic, charter, home, boarding) presented additional challenges. The session will focus on five areas: Mapping the state of research on Black male literacy education; discussing conceptual and theoretical shifts and their impact or non-impact on Black male literacy education in grades preK-12; discussing empirical gaps in the research literature within and outside the field of literacy education; discussing policies and practices over the past two decades that have focused on literacy education of Black males in grades preK-12; and discussing the need to nurture a scientific culture of Black male literacy education.

In an effort to facilitate maximum participation, the presenters ask that you complete the following form with questions/comments to be addressed during this session.  Submissions will be accepted until Friday, November 20th. 

Aaron Johnson


Dr. Aaron Johnson is a teacher, administrator, higher education faculty, and author working as an equity leadership coach. Aaron has twenty years of experience as a teacher, principal, director of instruction, and assistant superintendent with a commitment to equity in public school environments. He most recently served as the assistant superintendent for diversity, equity, and inclusion in a public school district. Aaron has presented at several local, regional, and national conferences with an emphasis on developing literacy for African American students in schools. He is the author of the Teachers College Press book, A Walk in Their Kicks: Literacy, Identity, and the Schooling of Young Black Males. Aaron is also the creator of the Black Male Literacy Paradigm which is a framework used by schools to engage Black youth in school literacy practices. He is active in the Detroit area and started the non-profit, The American Literacy Society, whose vision is to engage citizens in literacy to participate in the democratic process.


David B. McMillon



David McMillon is a doctoral candidate and a Spencer Dissertation Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He holds Master’s degrees from the University of Michigan in Applied Mathematics and in Industrial and Operations Engineering. The goal of his work can be summarized as reducing systemic disadvantage with systems thinking. He draws on his training in complex systems theory, econometrics, and mathematics to simulate alternative interventions to combat the school-to-prison pipeline by explicitly accounting for its interconnected complexities. This allows for strategic targeting of “tipping points,” through which appropriately timed and targeted policy changes can lead to persistent effects, particularly for disadvantaged groups.  It may also help explain the prevalence of the negative unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies and the mixed results of similar interventions in different contexts. He is currently designing a research program to apply these notions to policy-relevant complex systems models of systemic racism, including but not limited to the reinforcing, dynamic interplay between the intergenerational racial gaps in education, wealth, and income mobility.  He is currently on the academic job market for assistant professor and postdoctoral positions. 

Alfred Tatum


Alfred W. Tatum is a Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Advancing Anti-Racism in Literacy Research



Our presentation reflects the work of several LRA scholars who participated in addressing the charge from the Executive Board (2015 -2019) to examine Race, Equity, and Literacy Research. As such, our report is informed by a history of scholarship conducted by Scholars of Color with a focus on research within the U. S. This collective body of scholarship guides our articulation and reconceptualization of literacy research rooted in anti-racism and social justice. We believe it is time to move beyond “starting conversations about racism,” to concrete steps that will dismantle the institutional and systemic racism that underpins the field and moves the field toward anti-racism.  

In an effort to facilitate maximum participation, the presenters ask that you complete the following form with questions/comments to be addressed during this session.  Submissions will be accepted until Friday, November 20th.  

Patriann Smith


Patriann Smith is an assistant professor of literacy studies in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include Black immigrant literacies, Black immigrant Englishes, standardized and non-standardized English ideologies, transcultural teacher education, international literacy assessment, and cross-cultural and cross-linguistic literacy practices. Her recent publications include “Characterizing competing tensions in Black immigrant literacies: Beyond partial representations of success” in the Reading Research Quarterly and “How does a Black person speak English? Beyond American language norms” in the American Educational Research Journal.

Arlette Willis



Arlette Ingram Willis received her Ph. D. from The Ohio State University. She is currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the division of Language and Literacy. Her scholarship consists of interrogating how conceptions of race are framed in reading research, examining secondary pre-service English teacher education, and applying critical theories to literacy policy and research. Willis also has on-going research collaborations work with colleagues in Brazil, Columbia, and New Zealand who examine the influence of Paulo Freire’s theorizing and instruction. Her publications include numerous books, book chapters, co-edited books, and refereed journal articles. She also has presented her research at international and national conferences since 1990 (Brazil, England, New Zealand). Willis is a past Fulbright Scholar (2013-2014), conducting research in Brazil on the life and critical scholarship of Paulo Freire. She is a past president of the Literacy Research Association (2014) and the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy (2007-2008). Willis has received numerous awards for her scholarship at the University of Illinois (University Scholar Award, 2000; Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research, 2001; and University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar, 2002-2003) as well as several College of Education awards (Distinguished Scholar Award, 1999; Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, 1998, 2000; and Distinguished Teaching Career Award, 2010). Willis is a 2020 recipient of the Reading Hall of Fame Award, and a past recipient of the John J. Gumperz Award (2019, the Language and Social Processes SIG at AERA), and the Outstanding Researcher Award (1998, the Black SIG).