Debra Mercora is a Superintendent in the New Jersey school system. In the following article, Debra discusses the varied roles of elementary school reading specialists, and why they are an integral part of early learning.
Teaching children to read in a full classroom can be challenging. Many students need a more individualized approach to learning that cannot be met by a single teacher responsible for so many students all at once. This is where a reading specialist comes into play says Debra Mercora, Superintendent in NJ. What are the roles of a reading specialist?
The roles of a reading specialist include individualized reading instruction (one-on-one or in small groups), assessment to identify students who need extra support, leadership in developing school-wide literacy programs, working with classroom teachers to develop strategies for teaching reading, training teacher’s aides, and being part of the individualized education plan (IEP) team.
Because of their advanced degrees and specialty along with the high importance of early literacy, the role of the elementary school reading specialist is crucial. Debra Mercora discusses more about what each of these roles entail in the article below.
One-On-One and Small Group Instruction for Reading in Elementary Schools
Debra Mercora of NJ says that reading specialists often utilize both a push-in and pull-out model. They may work side-by-side with the classroom teacher observing students and offering specialized attention as needed. They may pull a small group of students aside for an intensive skills practice session while the teacher leads the rest of the class in a different activity.
Reading specialists may also excuse a student out of the classroom for more focused one-on-one practice or assessment. Generally, it is considered best practice for students to remain in the general education classroom for as much time as possible, but many students benefit from individual instruction greatly, making it worthwhile for them to be out of the classroom for short periods according to Debra Mercora, Superintendent.
A Reading Specialist’s Role in Assessment
Ongoing assessment in the classroom is critical for understanding how students are progressing and for recognizing students who need extra support. A reading specialist has many tools available to assess students’ performance and growth over time.
While most reading assessments can be done by the teacher and teacher’s aides in the classroom, a reading specialist generally steps in when a student has been recognized as struggling to meet grade level standards.
Debra Mercora of NJ explains that a reading specialist uses a variety of assessments to determine the exact area(s) in which the student needs special attention to thrive. Multiple assessments, including observations, and DIBELS score help identify an area of focus for the struggling reader and a more targeted intervention plan created by the reading specialist.
How Reading Specialists Serve as Leaders at Their Schools
Debra Mercora, Superintendent in NJ says that reading specialists are often looked to for leadership and guidance in developing school-wide strategies and programs to foster literacy. Reading specialists coordinate programs such as buddy reading. In a program such as this, older students will be paired with younger students. The older student benefits by becoming fluent in a book and then reading it to the younger student and in turn, the younger student benefits from being read to explains Debra Mercora.
Reading Specialists Team with Teachers to Support Busy Elementary Classrooms
Often, students can make great progress when the teacher uses simple strategies and shifts the curriculum just slightly to meet the needs of struggling readers. Debra Mercora, Superintendent in NJ explains that a reading specialist can observe the classroom and offer suggestions to the teacher. The teacher can then continue offering individualized help within the whole group lesson when the reading specialist is not present.
The Role of Reading Specialists in Training Teacher’s Aides
Some teachers, especially in special education classrooms, have teacher’s aides who specialize in delivering direct instruction to students. Reading specialists and teachers work together to identify students who have special reading needs and develop instruction to directly teach and practice the needed skills.
Debra Mercora of NJ explains that by training the classroom aides in these instructional techniques, the aides are enabled to lead small group or one-on-one lessons within the classroom. This provides students with more repetition and practice of vital reading skills.
How a Reading Specialist Teams with Others to Develop an IEP
A reading specialist is an integral part of the IEP team says Debra Mercora of NJ. They help with assessments to see whether the student qualifies for special education services. They report their findings to the team during the IEP meeting.
After it has been determined that the student has IEP needs involving reading, the reading specialist may deliver services directly to the student says Debra Mercora. This may be one-on-one, or part of a larger group. The IEP team will decide the best method of instructional delivery together.
Final Thoughts on the Importance of the Roles Reading Specialists Play
The importance of strong literacy skills in elementary schools cannot be overstated. Reading specialists provide a vital role in ensuring every student experiences success with reading, growing and education.