Ch. 1 from Bean’s “The Reading Specialist” and an Interview.

Ch. 1:  “The Role of Reading Specialists in Schools, Classrooms, and Communities” p. 14  Reflections. 1.  What skills and abilities do you think are essential for working successfully as a reading specialist in an instructional role?  Leadership role?  Assessment role?

  • Instructional role:  After reading the first chapter, I think the instructional role of a reading specialist must be research-based and highly collaborative.  Part of this includes working with students in small groups, but more emphasis is now being placed on collaborating with classroom teachers and other literacy stakeholders.  For example, in order to prevent literacy problems in kindergarten, a reading specialist can work with preschools and parents to communicate upcoming instructional expectations.  Also, there is currently a greater instructional focus on adolescent and English Language Learner literacy.  Reading specialists can partner with the community, the library, the school, and the parents to address these ever-changing literacy needs.  It is vital for a reading specialist to disabuse teachers and others of literacy research misunderstandings.  So, the instructional role of the modern reading specialist goes well beyond remediating students, and it includes sharing research-based information with teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large.
  • Leadership role:  According to Bean’s research, literacy coaches and mentors are more in demand now.  This aspect of the reading specialist’s leadership role is to improve classroom instruction and requires excellent interpersonal and communication skills.  Also, there is a need for leadership at the secondary level when reading specialists collaborate with content-area teachers to improve literacy.  In my opinion, the leadership role of a reading specialist will be most in evidence when instructional changes and student advocacy are needed.
  • Assessment role:  This is the age of “accountability,” and the assessment role of a reading specialist includes both giving assessments and measuring reading growth by interpreting the results of various measures.  This data is essential to help specialists to make important literacy decisions and to assist teachers as they differentiate for changing literacy needs.  So, the specialists’  role of analyzing high-quality, research-based assessments is critical.

  2.  With which role are you most comfortable?  What concerns do you have about the other roles? I feel most comfortable with the instructional role of the reading specialist, and it’s probably because I’ve been teaching children and strategizing with teachers for a long time.  I’m a little wary of certain aspects of both the leadership and assessment roles of the modern day reading specialist.  As a leader, I like to bring positive, constructive ideas to the table.  I can imagine the importance of  great diplomacy when it’s time to change direction in a literacy program or approach.  It would be very important to communicate in a way that encourages “buy in” and not resentment.  Bean wrote that the most successful literacy collaborations included positive, supportive principals, and I really believe that to be true.  In terms of the assessment role, I remain concerned about the current pressure to “teach to the test,” due to the high-stakes nature of some formal assessments.  Beyond that, I would hope that a district would be open to using plenty of short, informal assessments that are diagnostic and based on proven literacy research.  In sum, it would be great to work with a community that, when necessary, is open to change.  

3.  Interview with a Reading Specialist:  I am interviewing Lisa Cunningham, Reading Specialist at Bonsack Elementary in Roanoke County.  Mrs. Cunningham will complete the interview on Saturday, September 6, 2014, and I will upload her answers to these questions, from p. 14 of the Bean book, as referenced below. 1.  What are your responsibilities as a reading specialist?   “At Bonsack, I have to wear a number of different hats.  My job is really split into two specific areas:  Language Arts Coordinator:  Keep staff updated on current Reading/Writing Goals for the school.  Train staff in new/revised practices concerning Language Arts (rubrics, F&P Testing, DSA, I-Test &, etc.) Maintain records for Reading/Writing assessments from K-5th grade, (SOL, PALs, F&P, RCPS Benchmarks, etc.) Create and maintain Guided Reading Book room.  Attend monthly Language Arts meetings and report back to staff.  Inclusion on many different committees, (Literacy Committee, Textbook adoption, etc.,) that meet regularly throughout the school year.  Provide feedback to Central Office staff on Reading/Writing achievement, goals, and practices in the school.  Create a schedule for PALs remediation and oversee a PALs instructor for students in K-3rd grade.  Reading Specialist:  Test students in K-5 using the F&P Reading Assessment Kit throughout the year.  Prepare Reading/Writing progress reports for any student participating in any type of evaluation for Special Education or remediation.  Attend parent-teacher conferences to support teachers in their reading and writing goals.  Plan, schedule, and conduct remediation groups for students in 1st–3rd grade.  These remediation groups meet daily for 45 minutes and include reading intervention and word study remediation.  For some groups, our focus is writing intervention.  Provide staff instruction in reading assessments, instruction and practices to enhance the current curriculum.  Throughout the years, I have also been assigned a “full” class, (15-18 students,) to instruct in reading and language arts for a 2 hour block daily.  I have had classes in grades 2-5 for Language Arts.  I also assist with SOL testing as a proctor every year for all grade levels in all subjects, (typically in a small group, read-aloud setting.)” 2.  How do you determine the goals and content of your instruction?  “To determine who receives intervention, we use a number of different methods, which include:  Analysis of SOL scores and PBQ results, Benchmark results and the analysis of PBQ results, F&P scores, PALs results, classroom assessments in reading and teacher observations. Goals are determined by assessing a student’s current reading level in the areas of accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.  Students receive individual goals based on their current performance and ability; remediation groups are very fluid and change throughout the year.  Using the SOLs and the vertical alignment of reading skills, we focus on students achieving grade level expectations in specific areas of comprehension, fluency, and accuracy.  For Special Education students, the Spec. Ed. Instructor will typically supply goals based on our recommendations and then we work collaboratively to meet those goals.  Content is based on the specific program being used or the goals outlined in the remediation plan.  Typically we use Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention system, which is very scripted.  I will always enhance that program with content from the regular classroom using the social studies, math, and science curriculum to add additional support and practice in reading comprehension and vocabulary development across the curriculum.  For students not participating in F&P LLI groups, I use the SOLs and the grade level pacing guide to help me with planning and instruction.  We are really lucky to have a HUGE book room and tons of resources available to us, so my reading instruction really works to incorporate many areas of the curriculum in developing reading fluency and comprehension.”  3.  Which assessment instruments do you find to be particularly helpful in assessing students’ needs?   “F&P Testing; Benchmark Assessments, (only useful when a careful analysis is done of the questions and student’s responses,) SOL reports, (really just the individual performance by question reports,) and Teacher Observations!!!” 4.   How do you use assessment results?  “I use them to guide instruction by targeting strengths and weaknesses.  I never solely focus on remediating a weakness; I believe that by enriching a child’s strengths and encouraging them to feel successful, it is easier to get them to “buckle down” and work to strengthen their weak areas.” 5.  In what ways do you serve as a resource to teachers?  “I build units in writing for them, (often going into classrooms to “guest teach” a unit.)  I create trade book units to help teachers bring new trade books into the classroom.  I train and assist in any new programs or tools brought into the school that affect language arts/reading.  I hold after-school professional development sessions, (Daily 5, Writing Traits, Guided Reading with Differentiated Instruction.)  Finally, I brainstorm creative approaches to assessment and instruction, (4th grade movie, Bit Strips, Blogging, etc.)”  Do you have any other coaching responsibilities, and if so, what?  ” I mentor new teachers if necessary; model specific instruction techniques for specific classroom teachers as requested by administration.  I also create the yearbook for the school.  :-)”  6.  If you were able to develop your own assessment program, what would you emphasize or change?  “Wow!  I would love to find a reading assessment program that is more objective.  It is very difficult to be objective when testing a child you have worked with and seen significant growth in as a reader.  Often, the comprehension portion of reading assessments is really subjective and can significantly skew the results.  Basically, being able to assess comprehension is a significant weakness in all of the testing programs available, but I don’t know how this can be fixed since it is so objective when it comes to higher level thinking and analysis.”   7.  What are some of the major difficulties experienced by students in your school?  ” (1) Our students face the same challenges as students in other areas.  Across the board, our students struggle with reading comprehension and higher level thinking skills.  In this “test-saturated” environment, kids are losing the ability to spend time developing higher level problem-solving skills and creative solutions.  (2)  Few parents spend the time necessary reading, writing and “talking” to their kids.  Job commitments and financial responsibilities have taken over their lives and down-time is a luxury.  (3)  Also, kids are overwhelmed by so many other commitments and come to school exhausted and discouraged.  It is not unusual to have a first grader come into school and tell you about the football, dance, etc. practice that lasted until after 8:00 the evening before.  It makes it hard to keep their focus and enthusiasm when they are not getting enough sleep!”  8.  In what ways do you facilitate parent involvement?  ” A website, student blogs, movie showings, quarterly notes sent home to encourage reading at home (how-to type stuff,) SOL Night to show parents what the students are actually facing and how to prepare them.” 9.  What are the major issues you face as a reading specialist?   “Like any other teacher, the biggest issue is time!  The expectations placed on any teacher are nearly impossible within the confines of the school day.  The SOLs have gotten out of control as far as the amount of “documentation” and meeting time dedicated to improving scores.  It seems that we spend more time documenting what we do and revamping curriculum to ensure that kids are performing adequately on a  test that does not reflect independent student growth.  Also, I can spend all day long remediating at school, but if a child is not reading and practicing reading skills at home and throughout the summer, then improvement is not going to be optimal.  I cannot force a child or a parent to commit to the amount of time beginning reading remediation really requires!  I wish I could though!!!” 10.  How well prepared were your for the position you now hold?    “I think I was fairly well prepared simply because I had already spent 9 years as a classroom reading/writing teacher in a middle school.  This exposed me to readers of all levels and showed me the importance of early intervention and strong instruction in reading comprehension skills.  Because I knew first-hand how many students were leaving elementary school without the necessary reading skills, I could offer real-world perspective on its impact in upper grades.  It gave me more credibility with teachers.  I had no idea the responsibilities of my position would be so expansive, but there is a great support system here, so I have been lucky to work with people who truly want the best for all of their kids.”

References:

Bean, R. M. (2009). The reading specialist: Leadership for the classroom, school, and community. Guilford Press.

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2 thoughts on “Ch. 1 from Bean’s “The Reading Specialist” and an Interview.

  1. Very interesting Erin. What an excellent and informative interview. It’s very interesting that many reading specialists feel as though they do not have adequate time to do all the responsibilities that they have.

    I honestly think that in many cases the most difficult role is the leadership role because at some level, the degree of influence that you have is really dependent upon the administrator for whom you work. The reading specialists that I know who are most successful in that role, communicate a lot with their principals but they also communicate very clearly that the reading specialist is not supposed to be evaluating teachers, but helping them. Leaders also know how to facilitate a group without pushing an agenda.

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  2. I would never want to push my own agenda on a school, but I can imagine becoming frustrated if a principal and/or central office was truly blocking literacy progress in some way. For example, it has already been necessary to just accept that I cannot make high-stakes testing and all the, (in my opinion,) associated ill-effects just go away. So, I’ve accepted that, and I only work for change regarding that in my private time. Most principals for whom I’ve worked have been quite pragmatic, and they know that real progress is made by analyzing individual diagnostic assessments and differentiating from there. They seem to be between a modern-day rock and a hard place because so much money is spent on outcome-based SOLs that impact everything, including a school’s accreditation. My attitude toward teachers and principals is one of empathy and support. I’m concerned about the pressure that everyone is under, and I truly just want to help foster as much joy in learning and improved literacy as possible. I also would be relieved to not be in the position of evaluating teachers. I like the literacy coach approach because I think most teachers really do want support and ideas.

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