The Middle and High School Reading Classroom Teacher Vignette
The Middle and High School Reading Classroom Teacher is a professional responsible for teaching reading at the middle or high school level. In this role, the middle or secondary reading teacher might have multiple responsibilities (see each of the Standards describing the role and function of the Middle and High School Reading Classroom Teacher).
Mr. José Rodriguez (all names are pseudonyms) is a reading teacher at Readmore Middle-Senior High School, where students are bused to school from various sections of the city. The student population is diverse, and the various ethnicities and languages enrich the school’s curriculum. Mr. Rodriguez is a former social studies teacher who taught for six years before earning his master’s degree, for which multiple reading classes comprised his course work. He has been a successful classroom teacher and is able to communicate with students and faculty in his new role as a reading teacher.
He understands when many of the teachers in the school tell him that they are teachers of their content, not reading teachers. It was only when he first enrolled in a course on content literacy that he began to realize the importance of knowing how to improve literacy practices with his students. Although he knew that there was a range of reading abilities within a single classroom and that using the same social studies text with all students was problematic, no one had explained how student differences and reading achievement could be addressed. Now, as a reading teacher, these past experiences, combined with what he has learned about teaching reading to adolescents, provide an important venue for the melding of literacy practices and skills. He accomplishes this by collaborating with classroom teachers, addressing their concerns, and enabling students by teaching them how to improve their reading prowess by selecting meaningful materials rather than relying primarily on programmatic materials with specified goals and outcomes.
Mr. Rodriguez has the opportunity to work with students both individually and as a group. He maintains several bookcases filled with reading materials on a wide variety of topics and reading levels, including trade books, books on tape, and a listing of electronic texts that take into account the linguistic and cultural differences of the student population. He also has classes of students who are striving to become better readers of both academic and personal reading materials. He is quick to mention a direct relationship between students’ world experiences and reading comprehension when teaching adolescents. In these classes, Mr. Rodriguez administers reading assessments, plans lessons and assignments, and selects reading materials through which students can practice a skill after they have received the instruction. During and after these class sessions, he analyzes students’ needs and interests and arranges these skill activities in logical order.
His classes consist of students who have a range of reading abilities, including students with difficulties. John, for example, said, “I don’t read much.” When Mr. Rodriguez asked John to read aloud from a passage in his book, he just stared at the words. Mr. Rodriguez asked John to read any word that he knew and was met with silence. Mr. Rodriguez gave John a list of words ranging from primer to 11th-grade difficulty with the same result: silence. Mr. Rodriguez wrote the word cat on a sheet of paper, and John continued to stare. Mr. Rodriguez said, “Cat.” John replied, “You mean the kind that run around the house?” Mr. Rodriguez had met students like John before in his classes. These students were not “putting him on,” but, rather, were enduring. Even though John was 19 years old and in the 11th grade, Mr. Rodriguez knew that he had to address the literacy challenges that John, and others with limited literacy, presented.
Throughout the school year, Mr. Rodriguez works collaboratively with the classroom teacher to learn about the various content subjects and the difficulties encountered by students in these classrooms. He offers suggestions and shares examples of strategies that the teacher can construct as adjunct aids to introduce lessons before assigning the reading of the text, during the reading of the text, and after reading the text. Mr. Rodriguez stresses the importance of having students learn with instead of from the text, which includes print and digital discourse. He is well aware that meaningful learning is preferred over rote memorization, so he demonstrates to the teacher that meaning resides within each learner, and therefore no one can learn for another. He also demonstrates how the patterns of organization (e.g., simple listing, time order, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution) are prevalent in these textual readings and also in the teacher’s own writings.
When demonstrating strategies to the teacher, Mr. Rodriguez models how to administer some informal diagnostic instruments to students to better determine their interest and reading abilities. This modeling includes plotting each student’s standardized reading test score to determine the range of reading achievement in a given class, developing and administering a cloze test from a passage of the class’s textbook, creating an interest inventory that centers on the students and course content, and perhaps developing a group informal reading inventory with teacher-constructed literal, vocabulary, and interpretive questions from the assigned textbook.
Mr. Rodriguez has been invited by several teachers to come into their classrooms to demonstrate a lesson using adjunct aids, such as graphic organizers, visual literacy guides, reading/study guides, and thematic organizers. These demonstrations have piqued interest and resulted in
Mr. Rodriguez working with teachers to construct their own adjunct aids. While walking down the hallway or stopping at the faculty lounge, several teachers have asked, “What can students do to learn for themselves?” On these occasions, he has met individually with these teachers and explained strategies that can be taught to their students. He showed examples and used their respective texts by demonstrating how they could teach their students how to take notes, construct electronic concept maps, and apply the SQ5R study method, and several other strategies that students can initiate on their own, so they can learn on their own.
Realizing the importance of content literacy for all members of the faculty, Mrs. Williams, the principal, asked Mr. Rodriguez if he would be willing to conduct professional development workshops. He replied, “Let’s conduct a needs assessment with our faculty to see what they feel is needed to address the teaching and learning of our students.” As a former classroom teacher, he feels that addressing perceived problems from within a school is far more meaningful than conducting a series of sessions that may or may not be significant or personally relevant.
Mr. Rodriguez notes that he must keep abreast of reading methods and materials and may be the only person in the school who works under the obligation to be knowledgeable about current reading practices, curricula, methods, and resources. He seeks financial support to attend and present at local, state, national, and international conferences so as to better inform his practice and personal knowledge. He values the teachers and students he works with and looks forward to learning more about literacy and its practice by pursuing an advanced reading specialist degree in the doctoral program at a nearby university.
Reading Specialist/Literacy Coach Vignettes
Reading Specialist/Literacy Coaches work at all levels, including early childhood, elementary, middle school, secondary, and adult. The following vignettes depict what these individuals might do in a school.
Notice that in some instances, Reading Specialists/Literacy Coaches have responsibilities that may require them to work with students and teachers. They may also have responsibility for leading efforts to develop the reading program in a school, thus the requirement that Reading Specialist/Literacy Coaches be prepared to fulfill duties across all three role definitions.
Shala: An Elementary Reading Specialist
Shala is a reading specialist working in an elementary school in a large inner-city school district. She is also known as a Title I teacher, and her position is paid for by those federal funds. Her primary responsibility is working with students who are having difficulties meeting the demands of the classroom.
To fulfill this role, she meets with teachers at the beginning of the year to discuss the students in their classrooms. This meeting occurs after teachers have an opportunity to work with their students, to get a sense of their instructional strengths and needs, and collect data via several screening tools. Shala meets with grade-level teams that make decisions to discuss the students with whom she will work, the instructional focus of her work, and various grouping options. She also talks with teachers about when she can work in their classrooms with small groups of students. In some cases, she meets with individuals or small groups in a pull-out setting.
For example, Shala plans her day so that she is in first-grade classrooms for 30 minutes each weekday when teachers are conducting differentiated instruction. In a classroom, she works with a small group of students who need additional support, while the teacher works with another small group. Shala may review a specific skill or strategy (e.g., a phonemic lesson that requires students to blend and segment) with the students or facilitate fluency practice by asking students to participate in shared or repeated reading. This schedule requires Shala to plan carefully with teachers on a consistent basis. In the afternoons, she meets with individual third-grade students who are reading below grade level to provide 20 minutes of intensive reading instruction.
Because Shala works in a school where four of the teachers are new to the profession, her principal has asked her to use some of her time to help these new teachers plan lessons, model lessons for the teachers, and help when they request support. Therefore, she may coteach or observe teachers, which is followed by conversations with the teachers to help them think about whether their instruction was effective for the students and how to improve it.
She has also found that she can provide support for these teachers in two other ways. She meets with them informally before school once a week to talk about common concerns and answer questions that they may have. Second, the new teachers, as well as other interested teachers, participate in a study group during the school’s regularly scheduled professional development time, which is once a month for two hours. On the day of the professional development session, students are dismissed early, and teachers have some choice as to how they can use that time effectively to improve instruction in the school. Shala leads the group of teachers especially interested in reading instruction, who are currently reading and discussing a book about differentiated instruction.
Shala also leads efforts to inform and involve the parents and guardians of the students in this school. The school’s leadership team is making a concerted effort to work with parents and guardians in ways that reinforce and support the parents’ and guardians’ role in promoting children’s literacy development.
The above example illustrates a Reading Specialist/Literacy Coach whose primary task is working with students in the school. However, to do this job well, she must work collaboratively with teachers to enhance classroom instruction (IRA, 2000). Moreover, to enhance classroom instruction, the principal has given Shala time to coach or facilitate the work of teachers. She is involved informally in coaching through her work with leading grade-level meetings and study groups. Although coaching is not a primary responsibility, it is certainly an aspect of her position that supports student learning.
Hank: A Reading Specialist/Literacy Coach
Hank, a former middle school English teacher, is a reading specialist/literacy coach working in a large high school in a rural community. His formal title is literacy coach, and his job description indicates that his primary responsibility is to provide support for the content area teachers as they use various literacy strategies and activities to promote student learning in their respective content areas. Hank works one-on-one with teachers and also works with groups of teachers in various content disciplines.
For example, Suzie, a history teacher, indicated that her students did not seem to comprehend the material that they were assigned to read, so she wanted to learn some ways of holding class discussions that would help students critically think and talk about what they had read. Also, because there were always so many new vocabulary words essential to learning the material, she asked Hank if he could help her think of ways to build the vocabulary understanding of her students. Hank met with Suzie, talked with her about her students, and then the two of them coplanned a discussion that involved both peer conversations and a larger group discussion. Hank agreed to coteach this lesson with Suzie. He also gave her some ideas for building vocabulary before a lesson, but they agreed to focus primarily on the comprehension and discussion concerns. In this example, Hank worked with Suzie one on one, using coplanning and coteaching as coaching approaches. He knew that Suzie would also want him to observe her teaching a discussion lesson, but they would work together in future to address this particular concern.
Hank also works with groups of teachers, believing that teachers learn from each other and that one of his responsibilities is facilitating teacher sharing and networking within the teams. This also gives him an opportunity to learn from the teachers in the various content areas. He recognizes that he needs to rely on the teachers for the content knowledge that they want their students to learn. He began working with the English department, facilitating their efforts in promoting active engagement, especially in the discussions that teachers were leading in their classrooms. However, members of the social studies department, especially interested in developing better strategies for active engagement and classroom discussion, asked Hank to meet with them also. He brought both groups of teachers together, so the English teachers could share with their social studies colleagues some of the strategies that they had found successful.
The school in which Hank works just received funding from the state to promote literacy across the curriculum, so he is now holding professional development sessions in which he shares ideas that he learned at statewide meetings of literacy coaches in the funded schools. He is also leading efforts in the various content areas to review and revise the curriculum guides to infuse the literacy framework that has been adopted by his school as a result of the grant.
One of Hank’s important tasks is reviewing the state assessment data from tests given to ninth and 11th graders. He discusses the results of these data with teachers at those grade levels and helps them understand what the results mean for instruction. For example, although ninth-grade students were scoring above the national mean in math computation, their scores in the story problem section were not as high. Hank and the math teachers meet to discuss ways that they can help students use a problem-solving approach for story problems. Another of Hank’s tasks is scheduling classes for small groups of students whose performance on the test was poor. He works with these students for about a month, for 45 minutes twice a week, on test-taking strategies. Additionally, he shares the strategies he teaches to these students with the teachers, so they can reinforce the strategies in their classes.
Hank is a busy professional. His primary role is literacy coaching of teachers, both individually and in groups. He also works with students, either by coteaching or modeling, and sometimes teaches small groups of students, although this instruction is usually short term. Hank also has a major responsibility for leading efforts to improve the school’s instructional program across all content areas by using research-based ideas about literacy learning in the curriculum.
International Reading Association. (2000). Teaching all children to read: The roles of the reading specialist [Position statement]. Newark, DE: Author. Available: www.reading.org/General/AboutIRA/PositionStatements/ReadingSpecialistPosition.aspx