Reading and Literacy Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Reading and Literacy?

Students who choose to pursue a major in reading and literacy can find a wide variety of opportunities for both personal and professional growth. Success in the field of reading and literacy education requires that teachers, researchers, and scholars engage in an ongoing exploration of the many factors that affect literacy in today’s society.

Reading and literacy education students train to become both teachers and scholars. They develop strong communication skills that are necessary to educate students of different ages and varying cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds. Reading and literacy students also learn to examine and analyze former and current trends in the ever-changing field of reading education. Online education degree programs in reading and literacy majors are available in a variety of specific concentrations.

The Importance of Reading and Literacy

In the National Literacy Act of 1991, the United States Congress defined literacy this way: “[Literacy is] an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

The 2003 National Adult Literacy Survey reported that 14 percent of American adults were functioning at the lowest level of literacy. This means that they can understand basic text but are unable to perform what might seem like simple tasks, such as reading a street map, or finding particular information in a newspaper or magazine article.

Degree Programs in Reading and Literacy

Most reading and literacy degrees exist at the graduate level. To enter a master’s degree program in reading and literacy, you must hold a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs require students to possess teaching certification or licensure. Be sure to carefully check the requirements of your preferred degree program.

Most reading and literacy degree programs expect students to understand the following topics before applying:

  • The reading process.
  • The basic components of reading curricula.
  • Techniques for teaching reading.
  • The process of assessing students’ reading progress.
  • How to research and evaluate reading and literacy data.
  • Trends and issues in reading research.

After being successfully admitted to a graduate-level degree program in reading and literacy, students may find themselves exploring topics such as:

  • Conduct in-depth research about trends in reading.
  • Be able to assess students’ reading progress and develop the skills necessary to create appropriate instructional techniques.
  • Demonstrate the ability to teach reading using multiple approaches.
  • Understand the components of balanced reading programs and curricula.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and ability through practical and active application in the field.
  • Demonstrate practical and theoretical knowledge by designing and implementing reading programs.
  • Develop the ability to act as mentor for other reading teachers.

Online Degrees in Reading and Literacy Education

Accredited online degree programs offer students a level of instruction held to the same educational standards as an accredited on-campus program, but with additional flexibility and convenience that many students need. Online reading and literacy degree programs can be particularly useful for working teachers, who can continue working and earning experience while completing an online program.

Many online degree programs in reading and literacy are extremely rigorous: some students may choose to take fewer courses at a time, extending their overall enrollment in the program, while some students may choose to take a full course load, completing the program in fewer semesters. Options for enrollment vary from program to program.

What to consider when researching on-campus and online degree programs in reading and literacy:

Potential applicants should consider the following questions when choosing an appropriate accredited program:

  • Does the program require applicants to have prior degrees, licenses, or certificates?
  • Do I meet its applicant eligibility requirements?
  • May I obtain my necessary state certifications or licenses while enrolled in the program?
  • In what direction do I wish to take my career in reading and literacy?
  • Can the program help me reach my career goals?
  • What level of teaching do I wish to concentrate on?
  • What are my potential areas of focus?
  • What areas of focus does the program offer?
  • What kinds of skills and experience do I wish to gain?
  • How long is the program?
  • What is its teaching philosophy?
  • What is the program’s application process?
  • Is a thesis or dissertation required?
  • Does the program require any fieldwork?
  • Does it require extensive research?
  • Is classroom observation a necessary facet of the program?
  • Can I enroll part-time?

What Can You Do With a Reading and Literacy Degree?

In addition to regular classroom teaching, students who obtain a degree in reading and literacy may choose a career in:

  • Preschool reading education
  • Elementary reading education
  • Secondary reading education
  • Special education and remedial reading education
  • Specialized reading
  • Adult literacy
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)

Adult Literacy and English as Second Language (ESL) Education

Teachers of adult literacy and English as a Second Language should be familiar with and tolerant of the common difficulties and concerns that ESL students often face. Adult literacy teachers in particular need a well-developed ability to communicate with people from a wide variety of economic and cultural backgrounds.

Special Education and Remedial Reading Education

Special education and remedial reading teachers can work in a number of capacities: at the early childhood level, in kindergartens, in elementary schools, in middle schools, at the secondary level and more. Special education teachers work with students who have physical and learning disabilities, and remedial reading teachers work more specifically with students who have language and reading-related learning disabilities. Some teachers work for human services agencies that assist homebound individuals, or individuals in hospitals and residential facilities.

Reading Specialist

Reading specialists work closely with teachers, students and administrators to develop reading curricula and to coordinate reading and literacy programs in schools. These professionals may focus their careers on preschool, elementary, middle school, secondary, or remedial reading programs. They are usually a resource for the academic community in which they work, collaborating extensively with educators at all levels as well as the student body and the parents of students.

Reading specialists who wish to pursue a career at an academic administrative level may be required to obtain additional state licensure. Certification and licensure requirements vary from state to state.

Reading and Literacy Licensure, Certification and Associations

Teachers of reading and literacy who wish to teach reading in the public school system must hold valid credentials, usually consisting of state certification or licensure. Credential requirements vary in each state and for each level of teaching. Most state education boards require:

  • student teaching experience
  • successful completion of state examinations
  • A bachelor’s degree (many individual school districts require master’s degrees)

Literacy and reading specialists who wish to teach in a preschool setting must generally meet state teaching credentials, though some states may make allowances for qualified teachers to teach at this level with only a provisional license or certificate.

Master Reading Teacher Certification

Some reading and literacy degree programs give students the opportunity to obtain the Master Reading Teacher Certification. A Master Reader serves as a mentor and resource to other reading teachers. In order to obtain a Master Reading certificate, reading and literacy students must:

  • complete a specialized preparation program
  • pass the certification exam
  • acquire teaching experience, and/or
  • obtain an appropriate state teaching certificate.

More information about certification and licensure

The National Association of State Boards of Education offers information about state certification and licensure requirements, state and national teaching standards, and state school districts. The National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards is a nonprofit organization that develops and upholds standards for professional educators in the United States. They supply information about education reform, state credentials and more.

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