Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Teaching and Empowering Reading Specialists to Be Literacy Coaches: Vision, Passion, Communication and Collaboration

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Teaching and Empowering Reading Specialists to Be Literacy Coaches: Vision, Passion, Communication and Collaboration

Article excerpt

Welcome to the real world of reading specialists and literacy coaches. . . Individually and collectively we hold tremendous potential for shaping our world. . . As literacy leaders, we are working in changing times with evolving professional roles

Vogt & Shearer, 2007, p.1

Vogt and Shearer (2007) give voice to the power of the role of the reading specialist/literacy coach as a literacy leader who works with both teachers and students to raise achievement. (Note: I use the designation reading specialist/literacy coach throughout this article because this is the title of this role adopted by the International Reading Association Standards for Reading Professionals: Revised 2003 [International Reading Association, 2004]). For the first time the dual roles of reading specialist and literacy coach were linked because IRA recognized the changing role of the reading specialist. Today, the reading specialist must not only be able to teach students, she or he must also be a knowledgeable, skilled literacy coach who mentors teachers.

Vogt and Shearer (2007) along with Walpole and Blarney (2008) also give voice to the complex nature of this evolving leadership role. They cite the vast body of research that shows that effecting schoolwide change is difficult because of multiple school, district, and community factors that impact on instruction. And the complex nature of this dual role is continuing to evolve. In the current draft of the revised International Reading Association 2010 Standards for Reading Professionals (International Reading Association, 2009) the reading specialist/literacy coach is being required to include greater focus on assisting and supporting teachers to provide effective instruction for students with diverse cultural and language differences along with focusing on new 21st century digital literacies.

Literacy coaching continues to be a very hot topic (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2009) because there is a strong body of evidence to demonstrate that collaborative and supportive professional development increases teacher effectiveness and results in higher student achievement (Joyce & Showers, 1995; Darling-Hammond, 1999). Many studies focus on the roles and responsibilities of reading specialists/literacy coaches that lead to higher achievement. Bean, Swan, and Knaub (2003) focused on schools that have won the International Reading Association (IRA) Exemplary Reading Program award, Title I schools that had been identified as having exemplary reading programs, and schools that were identified as having "beaten the odds" based on student demographics. They found that coaches in these schools serve as change agents who make a schoolwide impact by being a resource to teachers. They provide materials, make instructional suggestions, model strategy instruction, conduct professional development, mentor new teachers, coordinate the reading program, and oversee the school's assessment system. They also serve as a liaison to the community and work with parents to build strong school/home connections.

Allier and Elish-Piper (2007) also found that reading specialists /literacy coaches led to increased student achievement in K-3 Reading First schools that had large percentages of students who were African-American or Hispanic, had low income, and were English language learners. They found that the most important roles included individual teacher conferences, using assessment to analyze data and plan instruction, and demonstrating effective instruction.

Blachowicz, Obrochta, and Fogelberg (2005) found that literacy coaching that provided professional development and support to teachers resulted in underachieving students in a diverse urban school district raising grade level benchmarks from 55 percent in 2000 to 80 percent in 2003. The reading specialists/literacy coaches in this study focused most on in-class demonstrations, modeling, support for instructional innovations, and feedback.

Biancarosa, Bryk, and Dexter (2008) found that students in 18 elementary schools serving diverse population made a 16 percent increase in year one of a literacy coaching initiative and a 27 percent increase in year two. …

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