What Is a Reading Specialist?

A reading specialist working one-on-one with a student

Elementary school teachers understand better than most how reading impacts learning in every subject area. Teachers who wish to improve overall student achievement may wonder how to incorporate more targeted literacy instruction into their classroom activities.

If this subject interests you, you’re in luck! There are school-based roles and education degree programs designed to support student’s reading development. As you explore the question “What is a reading specialist?” you may find yourself drawn to a specialized teaching role that can fulfill your dreams of teaching, making a difference and sharing a love of reading with children all at the same time.

What Does a Reading Specialist Do?

A reading specialist is a teacher who has a specialized education degree allowing them to work with students to improve literacy skills. A reading specialist may also work with other teachers in a professional development capacity. 

These education professionals take on many responsibilities that support students who need help improving their reading. They might: 

  • Work one-on-one with students to practice reading comprehension and word skills 
  • Conduct small group lessons with students who have similar needs 
  • Support Response to Intervention (RTI) needs by conducting individual or small group intervention lessons 
  • Administer specific research-based literacy programs to students with dyslexia 
  • Assess literacy curricula alongside classroom teachers to ensure necessary supports are built in 
  • Co-teach with general education teachers and conduct small group lessons in the classroom 
  • Attend Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 meetings for students needing additional literacy support

5 Roles Reading Specialists Play

Receiving training as a reading specialist or earning a specialized education degree allows teachers to play many different roles in their schools or districts.

1. Specialist

A reading specialist may work alongside or as a part of the special education department at a school as the resident expert for all literacy-related issues on campus. When a student needs personalized literacy instruction, they will be assigned to work with a reading specialist. This work may be conducted in an academic resource center or in the specialist’s own classroom or office.

2. Interventionist

Many reading specialists work in classrooms with groups of students during work time or pull students from the classroom to conduct reading-specific programs. This helps students develop their literacy skills using the same materials that other students in the classroom are using. The interventionist considers what small steps the students need to progress from their current literacy levels to completing grade-level work without assistance.

3. Coach

Trained literacy specialists may act as coaches or mentors for other teachers. Reading specialists working as coaches often sit in the classroom and observe how teachers conduct reading and writing lessons. They then debrief with the teacher, share their observations and make suggestions for strategies that will better support students.

4. Professional Developer

When a reading specialist hosts a professional development session, they can target information to the specific needs of the school. Their goal is to drive student achievement across all grade levels, or sometimes within a specific grade-level. For example, if a school is hoping to improve student comprehension of nonfiction texts, a reading specialist can help teachers determine which reading strategies to focus on and how each strategy should be introduced to students at different grade levels.

5. Curriculum Reviewer

Schools adopt new curricula every few years. The textbook review process can be lengthy and involves many school or district stakeholders. Reading specialists often sit on curriculum committees even when the subject area is not literacy-specific to ensure that the curriculum supports the literacy habits of the school by analyzing it from the point of view of a reader.

Why Become a Reading Specialist?

Reading specialists are experts in adapting literacy curricula to individual students’ needs. They can give assessments and analyze data to determine what type of support and instruction students need to be successful readers and writers. Teachers who understand the direct connection between successful reading and academic preparedness may be drawn to earning a reading specialist certificate or completing an education degree that specializes in reading.

These education professionals wish to help schools improve student academic achievement. A reading specialist likely enjoys reading themselves and hopes to pass that interest on to students, helping students enjoy what they read. Reading specialists may work in a variety of settings, including: 

  • Schools, supporting classroom teachers 
  • The private sector in jobs like consulting and tutoring, setting their own pay rates 
  • Businesses like literacy-based nonprofit organizations, possibly applying their skills to adult learners
  • School boards or local government, developing school curricula 
  • Educational publishing companies, creating standards-based content and textbooks

Teachers who wish to improve their own pedagogy may also consider becoming reading specialists. Most certification programs focus on aspects of literacy that can improve student achievement in areas beyond a foundational knowledge of language, including: 

  • Phonemes 
  • Phonics 
  • Comprehension 
  • Instructional strategies 
  • Assessment 
  • Educating diverse students and nonstandard English speakers 
  • Creating a supportive literacy environment 
  • School leadership skills

How To Become a Reading Specialist

Becoming a reading specialist starts with becoming a teacher. You may be able to specialize in reading as part of your education degree or you may earn a general education degree and add a reading certificate to your coursework. The process of becoming a reading specialist often looks something like this:

  1. Earn your bachelor’s degree in education and complete a teacher preparation program.
  2. Participate in a student teaching experience.
  3. Pass the state teacher certification tests and apply for your teaching license. 
  4. Find a job as a classroom teacher while completing a reading specialist certificate program. 
  5. Pass the licensing test for reading specialists. 
  6. Add your reading specialist certificate to your teaching license. 
  7. Apply for reading specialist jobs.

Your path may differ in several ways. For example, you might choose to pursue an advanced degree in reading rather than a reading specialist certificate. In addition, you might choose not to leave your teaching job and instead use your reading specialist knowledge with your own students in the classroom. You might also be asked by your administrators to take on roles associated with a reading specialist, such as coaching or professional development, while remaining a classroom teacher. However, no matter the path you take to becoming a reading specialist, you will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the students you work with. 

Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s education programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Education with an Emphasis in Teaching Reading, visit GCU’s College of Education or click on the Request More Information button at the top of this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.