„Rising awareness for the importance of critical reading“

Professor Dominique Lafontaine is an associate and regular visitor to DIPF. Since a sabbatical in 2012, the expert for reading literacy, comparative studies, teaching and learning processes, quantitative methods, development of cognitive and non-cognitive instruments has kept close ties with the institute. During a stay in Frankfurt earlier this year, she talked to dipfblog.com about the cooperation of her research center – the aSPe (Analysis of Systems and Practices in Education) – and the German PISA team at DIPF.

What is your relation with DIPF? How did you get in contact?

Lafontaine: “In 2012, I made a sabbatical six months stay at DIPF. I had met Eckhard Klieme a couple of times in PISA and EARLI biannual meetings, and I appreciated a lot his expertise about comparative international studies. During my stay, I was mainly involved in the PISA 2015 contextual questionnaires development, collaborating with Nina Jude, Susanne Kuger, Sonja Bayer and Svenja Vieluf. I was also involved in different activities such as the PHDipf Academy, the DFG research group… It was very fruitful to discover the DIPF – this famous research center, and to notice the amount of permanent resources dedicated to research in education in Germany.  Obviously, I had some goals for my research stay, but the benefits were beyond my expectations. The main and unexpected benefit was reminding me the importance of theoretical foundations. I had been involved in international studies since the early nineties as a national project manager in IEA studies and then in PISA, I was also a member of the PISA reading expert group since the beginning of PISA 2000, so I had a long experience in the development of questionnaires. At DIPF, I learned how paramount it is to be rigorous at the conceptual level, how to articulate constructs and empirical data, and became more aware about methodological issues such as response styles and cross-cultural biases. In addition, before coming at DIPF, I did not know that one of Klieme’s main interests was teaching processes, which is also a subject I teach at the Université de Liège. I also observed how Professor Klieme supervises and supports the researchers and especially the Ph-D students. I was really impressed by his capacity to support the scholars‘ own thinking and development, and I learned from him. After six months, I felt quite a strong sense of belonging to the DIPF, and beyond professional relationships, I have some strong bonds of friendships with several people here. Individual collaborations are still going on (joint communications and papers), and I am still involved in some activities such as the PHDipf-academy. I am an associate partner of the DIPF. In 2014, Professor Klieme was made docteur Honoris causa of University of Liège, so the links are strong and in both directions.”

How has the cooperation between your team at Université de Liège evolved?

Lafontaine: “Right after my stay, even if PISA 2015 data had not been collected yet, discussions about PISA 2018 were already on going at the OECD.  In PISA 2018, reading literacy will again be the major domain.  I had the great pleasure to be invited by Eckhard Klieme and Nina Jude to join the consortium of research centers which would put a bid to the OECD Call for tender for PISA 2018. My research center – aSPe (Analysis of Systems and Practices in Education)– is then a subcontractor of the DIPF, mainly in charge of the development of all the new items regarding reading in the Contextual Questionnaire.  In addition, both Pearson (in charge of the frameworks), ETS (in charge of the development of the cognitive items and the DIPF (in charge of the questionnaire development) agreed to reinforce the connection between cognitive and non-cognitive aspects for PISA 2018, and consequently nominated ‘liaison members’. For PISA 2018, I am the liaison member between the REG (reading expert group) and the QEG (questionnaire expert group). To me, this is a consecration of the role I have been playing since a long time. This is demanding, but extremely interesting.“

„Some aspects are more important when it comes to digital reading. Especially the question of evaluating or assessing the quality of the text makes a difference.“

What are the major challenges for PISA 2018 regarding reading literacy?

Lafontaine: “PISA 2018 is the third cycle in which reading literacy is the major domain of assessment. For the first time, digital reading becomes an integral and central part of the reading framework. It means on the one hand that PISA reading material encompasses not only print texts, but also digital texts, including hypertext and links, on the other hand, PISA assesses a broader range of reading processes. Basically, most of the reading processes are the same in print and digital reading. However, some aspects are more important when it comes to digital reading. Especially the question of evaluating or assessing the quality of the text makes a difference. How can you rate the credibility of a source on the internet? This question has more importance when it comes to reading in a digital world. Another major difference is that when you read a print text, the text is given. When you read online, there is a navigation component, you have to assess the most relevant links, to select and click on links.  Doing that, you build your own text. In PISA 2018, it is considered as very important to assess 15 year-olds knowledge and skills because we live in a digital world and those skills are critical today.”

What are the implications for the contextual questionnaires?

Lafontaine: “First of all, there are several questionnaires: to the students and to the principals, and also optional ones to the teachers and to the parents. In PISA 2015, the DIPF has developed a conceptual framework for the contextual cuestionnaires. In this framework, some constructs are general (for instance Sense of belonging to the school) and some other ones are specific to the major domain. I am in charge of the latter ones related to reading.

Obviously in PISA 2000 and 2009, when reading was the major domain, a bunch of questions had already been developed mainly about reading practices, reading motivation, metacognitive strategies, reading opportunities-to-learn and so on. The major challenge for PISA 2018 is to build as much consistency as possible between the questions asked in the background questionnaires and the new reading framework driving the cognitive assessment, in particular the broader definition of reading now involving digital reading. Consequently, all the constructs and the existing material in the questionnaires had to be revisited and aligned with this new perspective; new material had also to be developed, reflecting the recent evolution of reading itself. With the apparition of new digital devices such as tablets, e-books, smartphones, reading habits are quickly changing, so do motivation and engagement in reading. Similarly, effective strategies to detect spams in your mailbox or to assess the most reliable websites are specific and new questions have to be developed. It also raises new challenges in terms of teaching reading strategies and resources for the teachers.”

„Being able to read critically what is on the internet is relevant not only for education but for a general understanding of politics, society or even religious issues.“

That leads up to the last question: What are your personal expectations regarding the benefits of PISA – especially if you look at literacy development?

Lafontaine: “Beyond the usual expectations for PISA, the very notion of digital reading could be used as leverage for raising awareness. I think at least in my country and some other countries, the importance of critical reading is underestimated in classrooms. Being able to read critically what is on the internet is relevant not only for education but for a general understanding of politics, society or even religious issues. Also, the OECD, which stands behind PISA, has the power to send out strong messages. Not because their assessments are intrinsically better than the ones led by I.E.A. for instance, but because policy-makers listen more to messages from the OECD than the ones just coming from scholars or the universities, or other organizations. Many people think that because teenagers are ‘digital natives’, they have the skills and knowledge necessary to face the challenges of digital reading. Making a distinction between information and propaganda on the internet, discriminating reliable and suspicious sources is highly complex, much more complex than it used to be in the past, when the editing process sorted, filtered information and explicit cues were provided about the source of information.”

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