- What is Certification?
- What’s it like to teach reading?
- Why Reading Specialists Are Important
- The Many Hats of a Reading Specialist
- Promoting Literacy At All Grade Levels
- Becoming Certified As A Reading Specialist
Being able to read is one of life’s most important skills. People who cannot read or do not read well are marginalized and suffer consequences in every aspect of their lives. Learning to read and developing life long reading skills begins in the classroom at an early age.
Students with strong reading skills are able to communicate better both in and out of the classroom. They can develop and express their thoughts and feelings. They are equipped to analyze and absorb the work of others. Students that read well have the tools necessary to engage with the ideas that surround them, and make a contribution of their own. Strong literacy skills are vital for both academic and social success.
Central to the mission of making all kids strong readers are Reading Specialists, dedicated educators who have specialized training in reading and literacy skills. They work with students, teachers, parents, and even administrators to advance reading proficiency and promote a life long love of reading.
Teachers have many duties and it is easy for a specialized focus on reading to get neglected. Reading Specialists fill in this gap by providing specific instruction to help young and struggling readers. They work with individual students while also developing school wide reading programs to improve literacy skills and promote reading.
What is Certification?
The challenges of educating children are many and a basic teacher certification may not equip all teachers to respond to the needs of all students. That is why teachers can choose to specialize in reading education. This extra level of certification signifies that the educator has special training in literacy development and classroom experience working with struggling readers. They can respond to issues that regular teachers cannot.
The certification process varies by state, but in almost all cases a Reading Specialist will be required to have a teaching certificate in addition to graduate level course work focused on reading education and the promotion of literacy. Beyond this, it may also be necessary to pass a state level exam in order to gain certification.
Why Reading Specialists Are Important
Literacy is a crucial skill for success in the world. Adults who cannot read or who fail to read proficiently will struggle finding jobs, securing housing, accessing health care, and engaging with others. It is a handicap that the literate cannot begin to imagine.
The job of a Reading Specialists is to ensure that all students in school are reading at or above their grade level. Their ultimate goal is for every graduating student to have all the literacy skills they need to thrive in the world.
Literacy is more complicated than simply being able to read and write. It references all aspects of communication, from understanding jokes to recognizing biblical imagery. Reading Specialists work with students to improve their ability to interpret the barrage of signs and symbols they encounter in their daily lives.
Developing strong literacy skills at an early age is crucial for success in school and in life. Students who struggle to read will not be able to understand the textbooks they are given in other classes. They will have difficulty composing essays and putting their thoughts into words. Poor readers struggle not only with the humanities, but also science and math. Problems with reading early in life can handicap a student for the remainder of their academic career.
Additionally, reading skills are a prominent feature of many standardized tests. The results of these tests are used to track the performance of students, teachers, schools, and whole districts. Reading Specialists play a crucial role in preparing students for important standardized tests which can have real consequences for their future.
The Reading Specialist is a crucial part of the teaching team in any school. Students who read well and who enjoy reading have a much greater chance of succeeding in school and beyond.
The Many Hats of a Reading Specialist
The duties of a Reading Specialist will vary depending on the kind of environment they are teaching in. In some cases, they will have their own classroom and will teach dedicated sections to students on a daily basis. In other cases, they will travel between classrooms, working cooperatively with teachers to carry out reading based programs.
The specific duties of the reading specialist will depend largely on the educational, physical, and emotional needs of the student body. Reading Specialists must be flexible to work in a number of different classroom settings with a wide range of students, many with special needs.
Common Characteristics of Dyslexia
- Students appear intelligent but struggle to read and write at their grade level
- Exhibits signs of a high IQ but consistently tests poorly
- Uses compensatory strategies to hide their struggles with reading and writing
- Is either hyperactive or a day dreamer
- Complains of physical sickness while reading
- Exhibits problems with vision even when eye exams reveal no problems
- Spells phonetically and inconsistently
The certification process ensures that Reading Specialists have the education and experience they need to respond to a wide range of situations. They can develop school wide reading programs to improve literacy skills and raise standardized test scores. Examples of programs include hosting an author visit, sponsoring a creative writing contest or organizing a spelling bee.
Reading is a crucial skill for social as well as academic reasons. Students who read well communicate well, not just with their teachers but also with their friends and family. Reading specialists approach literacy not only as the ability to read, but as the ability to communicate in a variety of mediums directed at a range of audiences.
A Reading Specialist must focus on all aspects of literacy. Students will learn to read analytically and write clearly. They will be educated in the tropes or western culture, from Greek mythology to the rules of baseball. The goal of the reading specialist is to make students fluent in the culture that surrounds them.
Promoting Literacy At All Grade Levels
The responsibilities of a Reading Specialist will vary depending on the age and ability of the students they work with. The challenges facing younger readers are drastically different from those facing adolescent readers. A Reading Specialist must cultivate strategies tailored for each group of students.
Preschool and Kindergarten
At this age students are first learning to read. Reading Specialists will emphasize the identification of letters and words, the cultivation of vocabulary, and the basics of writing. It is important for pre-readers to be introduced to the foundations of literacy as early as possible. The Reading Specialist will work collaboratively with other teachers to introduce and encourage reading. They must also identify students who may face unusual obstacles to literacy.
Reading Specialists receive special training in identifying and overcoming learning disabilities like dyslexia and dysphasia. The initial symptoms of these disorders can manifest themselves in preschool students. They may struggle to learn the alphabet, identify colors and rhyme words. The Reading Specialist will assess the student’s condition and then provide research based curriculum to help that student get back on track before the consequences grow.
At this point, most students will be able to read at a basic level and the job of the Reading Specialist will be to promote reading, work with struggling students, and advance the goals of classroom teachers.
Reading specialists will work with individual students and small groups to help struggling writers and readers. Typically, the focus of their lessons will correspond with the curriculum being taught by the student’s classroom teacher. If the students are learning about the pilgrims, reading lessons will also focus on the pilgrims. In this way, the Reading Specialist serves as a partner teacher.
They will also be responsible for creating school wide reading programs to improve literacy and promote a love of reading. They will identify entertaining and exciting texts appropriate for each grade level. The Reading Specialist will develop fun activities like summer reading programs and poetry performances to get kids thinking about reading outside of school. The goal is to get students to think of reading as more than just a chore.
Students who have not developed strong reading skills at this point face serious challenges to their academic success moving forward. They will struggle to comprehend information in all subjects and their formal and informal communication skills will suffer. At the middle school level, the job of the Reading Specialist will primarily be to work with struggling students.
This may take the form of in-class instruction or after school tutoring. The Reading Specialist will tailor a curriculum to respond to the student’s specific disability. Reading proficiency at this level is crucial, yet many students do not receive the focused attention they need to overcome the challenges they face. The Reading Specialist is there to serve these students.
The Reading Specialist will be responsible for developing advanced literacy skills and continue to work with struggling students. At this level, students are expected to think analytically and abstractly. Literacy becomes about more than just reading. It requires students to synthesize disparate sources of information and to craft complex arguments of their own. Reading Specialists will work with students to develop critical reading skills and to apply these skills to essays and other pieces of analytic writing.
It is also incumbent on the Reading Specialist to identify sources of help and therapy as struggling readers can access as they transition out of school. Learning disabilities can be a life long struggle yet there are fewer resources available to students after they leave school. The Reading Specialist will identify sources of ongoing therapy and work with students to develop personal strategies for compensating.
Becoming Certified As A Reading Specialist
Reading Specialists are skilled and dedicated individuals with a love of reading and a passion for teaching others. Their job is one of the most important in the entire school and they must be flexible and adaptive.
If you are interested in becoming a Reading Specialist, find your state’s teaching certification requirements here.