The temperature was hot, but the market wasn’t, in Orlando last week at the International Reading Association’s annual conference. About 8800 attendees despite the pull of Disney World, about the same as last year in Chicago, and barely more than the math conference managed to attract to Indianapolis (Indianapolis!) last month. Even though the exhibit floor occupied one of the smaller halls of the sprawling Orlando convention center, there was still an expanse of concrete the size of a little-league field between the last exhibitor and the concessions on the far wall. Ghosts of companies past – or yet to come.
And ed tech was conspicuous by its absence. Not total, but nowhere near the virtual tech saturation at NCTM, where practically every booth had something digital. Most of the tech applications were assessment or intervention; very little mainstream. Not even many Interactive Whiteboard vendors or applications. New programs, yes, including several new writing curricula – but all print. (Even though nobody writes with a pen or pencil anymore!)
I have nothing against print. I practically grew up in print shops, learned keyline/pasteup with a T-square, triangle, and frisket knife, and still don’t even own a Kindle (though I’m tempted every time I try to find a place to store the latest books I’ve bought). But technology really can help teachers in so many ways. Teaching elementary reading is not that different from teaching elementary math – why the gap?
Or is the tech gap related to the attendance gap? With respect to budget dollars, reading is about 50% bigger than math, and the same ratio probably applies to teaching staff. So when a reading conference in Orlando fails to outdraw a math conference in Indianapolis, and also fails to draw educational technology – are these both symptoms of the same malady, or malaise? After so many years in the national limelight, is reading just tired, and taking a back seat to the fuss over STEM?
If so, it would be a great pity. Just as in business “nothing happens till someone sells something,” in education, nothing happens till someone reads something. Maybe it’s time for a tech revolution in reading and language arts. Maybe that will inspire the new generation of reading and English teachers. How about writing – kids are writing all the time on their cellphones and blogs, why should we struggle to make them write on paper in school? What about some reading fun that isn’t just phonics games?
Maybe there will be more at SIIA in San Francisco – I can’t make that this year. Have to wait till ISTE…
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