What does a reading specialist do?

At a glance

  • Reading specialists are teachers with special training on how to teach reading.

  • They may work with struggling readers one-on-one or in small groups.

  • They also determine which kids need help with reading.

When kids struggle with reading, there are lots of ways to help them improve. Classroom teachers play a big role in this. But the school’s reading specialists are also key players.

So what is a reading specialist? And what does a reading specialist do?

Reading specialists are teachers who have specialized training in helping struggling readers. Most have a master’s degree in education. Some have additional training for teaching students with . Here’s what you need to know about school reading specialists.

Reading specialists in grade school

Reading specialists are most common in grade schools. Their role can vary by district and even within schools. Typically they work with students who are in a regular education classroom but who are struggling. Reading specialists don’t usually work with kids in .

If your child is in general education but reading below grade level, a reading specialist might:

  • Work directly with your child, either individually or in a small group.

  • Train and oversee the teacher’s aides.

  • Work with the classroom teacher to come up with strategies to help your child get better at reading.

In grade school, reading specialists work with kids on specific skills like decoding (sounding out words), fluency, and . They might start by slowing down the pace of what’s being taught in the classroom.

Many reading programs offer supplemental instruction that moves more slowly. These help reinforce important skills for kids who need extra practice. Specialists can also use a program that isn’t tied to the one used in the general classroom.

Reading specialists and RTI

Reading specialists have another role besides working with students. They do assessments and analyze data from them. The results help them spot students who could benefit from focused instruction.

Many schools have a formal process to identify and help students called (RTI). This can be part of a bigger process called a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Reading specialists play a key role in RTI as kids move through the three tiers of support.

A reading specialist may choose the intervention strategy to use with a child. They might also monitor progress and decide what to try next if the strategy isn’t working. The specialist may also meet with a team of teachers and administrators to talk about concerns. And at some point, they may suggest that a child be evaluated for special education.

Reading specialists in middle school and high school

Reading specialists aren’t as common in the upper grades as they are in grade school. A middle school may have just one specialist. The specialist might teach small groups of kids in specific skills to help them get better at reading.

In some middle schools, reading specialists work with the classroom teacher to co-teach struggling readers. They may also assist small groups of students inside the classroom.

Many high schools don’t have a reading specialist. But in those that do, the specialist usually plays a similar role as a middle school specialist. The high school reading specialist may also focus on helping students strengthen their skills to pass state tests required for graduation. And the specialist may work with other teachers on how to meet the needs of struggling readers.

If your child struggles with reading, it’s important to know why. Find out why some kids struggle with reading. You can also help your child build reading skills at home.

Key takeaways

  • Reading specialists are more common in grade school than they are in upper grades.

  • They play a key role in response to intervention (RTI).

  • Reading specialists aren’t usually involved in special education.


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