If your child struggles with reading, there are many strategies schools can use to help her improve. Classroom teachers play a large role in this. But the school’s reading specialists are also key players.
Reading specialists are teachers who have specialized training in helping struggling readers. Most have a master of education degree. Some have additional training for teaching students with dyslexia. The coursework they take can vary, however. 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 students who have been placed in special education.
If your child is in general education but reading below grade level, the reading specialist may:
- Work directly with her, either individually or in a small group.
- Train and oversee the teacher’s aides who provide direct instruction.
- Consult with her classroom teacher to develop strategies to help your child get better at reading.
In grade school, reading specialists work with kids on decoding skills, fluency and reading comprehension. 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.
They may work with small groups of students on specific areas of weakness. Interventions might focus on decoding, fluency, comprehension or even writing skills.
Reading specialists don’t only work with struggling readers. They also help coach teachers and aides to help improve reading instruction throughout the school.
Reading Specialists and RTI
Reading specialists have another role besides working with students. They perform assessments and analyze data from them. The results help them spot students who could benefit from more-focused instruction.
Many schools have a formal process to identify and help at-risk students called response to intervention (RTI). This can be part of a bigger process called multi-tier system of supports (MTSS). Reading specialists play a central 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. She may also monitor his 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 discuss any concerns. And at some point she may suggest that the 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 improve their reading ability.
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 consult with other teachers about how to meet the needs of struggling readers.
If your child struggles with reading, it’s important to know why. Having your child evaluated can help you know what type of support she needs. If she’s eligible for special education, there are accommodations that can help. You can also help your child build reading skills at home.