IRA Member Interview

Name: Lisa Burnham

Location: Campus Community Schools in Dover, DE

Subject: Reading

Organization: International Reading Association (IRA)

Where will the International Reading Association (IRA) hold its next World Congress? If you guessed perennial conference favorites, such as Orlando or Seattle, guess again. Would you believe Auckland, New Zealand?

"The IRA is a truly international organization," says Lisa Burnham, a first-grade teacher from Dover, Delaware, and a member of the IRA since 1977. "I’ve met reading teachers and literacy advocates from Guatemala, Sweden, Estonia, and the Netherlands," she says, adding that she could name a lot more.

An eighteen-year teaching veteran, Lisa is on the board of her state IRA affiliate and is chairperson of its international projects committee. She talked to Family Education Network about this unique organization.

Family Education Network (LN): Are all IRA conferences held in places like New Zealand?

Lisa: There are different levels of conferences and conventions. The World Congress takes place every two years and has been held all over the world. There are also regional and state level conferences. So if you live in Dover or Seattle or Beijing or Cameroon, you don’t have to travel long distances to attend. But even at these conferences, you meet people from all over the world. By sponsoring attendees from poorer countries, the IRA does a great job of ensuring diversity in conference attendance. The organization has so much to share about literacy efforts and reading instruction.

LN: Describe some of the international projects sponsored by the IRA.

Lisa: We run many mentorship and exchange programs. For example, the Reading for All project is a Pan-African program that aims to influence the ongoing reform of literacy education in that region. The Reading Center in Moscow aims to introduce authentic assessment to reading teachers in Russia. Also, we sponsor a recruitment program for certified teachers whose native language is English to teach in South Korea. Finally, we donate a lot of books to places like refugee camps, homeless shelters, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

LN: What are the benefits of being an IRA member?

Lisa: I think networking with other colleagues is one of the biggest benefits. The local affiliates offer many workshops and professional development activities, as well as author readings and other speakers.

In addition, the publications are an excellent resource. I mainly read Reading Teacher, which is aimed at primary reading education. It has booklists and reviews and includes hot topics of research, such as the ongoing debate about phonics vs. whole language, standards, Title 1, and reading assessment. It also features research-based methods of instruction that offer practical kinds of information, such as vocabulary development, for the classroom teacher.

Other publications include an Argentinean published journal about teaching reading in the Spanish language and Reading Research Quarterly, which addresses current research on reading instruction and literacy.

LN: What would you tell teachers who may be considering membership in the IRA?

Lisa: I’m always out there recruiting people. I usually invite interested teachers to a local function. Joining the IRA is a great way to keep up with all the research and legislation on reading and literacy. It prevents you from becoming a dinosaur, and it’s a great way to meet people and exchange ideas.

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