If a student struggles with reading and comprehension, it can hinder the rest of their education. Not every child learns at the same pace, and even some of the brightest pupils in a classroom may fall behind if they are struggling to read or suffering from a learning disability like dyslexia.
This is where reading specialists come in. According to the International Reading Association, "The reading specialist is a professional with advanced preparation and experience in reading who has responsibility for the literacy performance of readers in general and of struggling readers in particular." Reading specialists help develop an auxiliary curriculum for students who are falling behind in reading. Through this curriculum, they give struggling students the opportunity to address their individual issues with reading and catch up to their peers.
For teachers interested in becoming a reading specialist, further education may be required. Understood contributor Kate Kelly writes, "Most [reading specialists] have a master of education degree. Some have additional training for teaching students with dyslexia."
According to the Texas Education Agency, prospective reading specialists must have a valid Texas teaching certificate, have three years of classroom experience, complete an EPP (Educator Preparation Program), and complete a reading specialist test.
While the specific requirements for reading specialists can vary from state to state, most states and districts base their criteria on the International Reading Association Standards. According to Teaching-Certification.com, "Programs and classes leading to licensure as a reading specialist may be part of a specialized master's degree, or taken after completion of a master's degree."
After you have completed the specialized master's degree program and obtained a reading specialist certification, you must pass a formal exam. These exams vary by state, but serve the same purpose — making sure you are prepared for the challenges of being a reading specialist.
What Reading Specialists Do
Effective reading specialists must be able to work with other teachers, students and parents to help identify students who are falling behind in reading, help diagnose the cause and develop a specialized program to bring the student's reading skills up to grade level.
This process involves keeping detailed documentation of individual student progress, developing unique lesson plans depending on the needs of the student, and keeping the parents and teachers up to date on the progress being made. A reading specialist may provide instruction in a classroom setting with small groups of students or outside the classroom in one-on-one sessions, depending on the students' needs.
The International Reading Association points to the document Standards for Reading Professionals as the gold standard for outlining a reading specialist's job. The document requires that reading specialists "have proficiency in three broad categories: knowledge and beliefs about reading, instruction and assessment, and organizing and enhancing a reading program."
Reading specialists work in tandem with classroom teachers to ensure that students receive the best education possible. Aside from providing instruction to struggling students, reading specialists also work with other teachers to help provide continuity between their auxiliary curriculum and the curriculum of the classroom.
Taking the Lead
While the majority of reading specialists work with primary school students, some specialists work with middle school and high school pupils. This responsibility means taking on a leadership role within a school or district, both with the students and the teachers.
According to Standards for Reading Professionals, "[Reading specialists] play an essential role in supporting individual teachers — especially new teachers — and administrators in becoming more knowledgeable about the teaching of reading." This means that reading specialists must also be able to coach other professionals on different approaches to reading curriculum.
Reading specialists focus primarily on children, but they must also understand how to teach adult learners. They may need to develop or strengthen a schoolwide reading program, which means coaching adults on how best to improve and implement the curriculum to suit students at all levels of proficiency.
According to Teaching-Certification.com, "School districts with reading specialists tend to have higher student achievement in reading, as well as higher graduation rates." Reading specialists relieve some of the burden placed on teachers, allowing them the space to focus on the classroom as a whole. This is an integral part of an effective school that takes individual student needs into account.
Reading specialists play an important role in the ecosystem of a school. They can make the difference between a student falling behind or excelling, and they can help improve the overall reading proficiency of a school by improving the curriculum. By spotting the symptoms of struggling students, reading specialists can nip developmental problems in the bud instead of allowing them to compound over time. This can have a profound impact on the academic future of an individual student as well as the overall efficacy of a school.
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