A coalition of organizations has issued standards describing the professional and subject-matter skills that middle and high school “literacy coaches” should possess.
Literacy coaches, whose profiles have risen in recent years, not only need expertise in building reading skills among students, but should also have the versatility and diplomacy to work with potentially skeptical teachers in a variety of subjects, according to the standards released last week.
“Standards for Middle and High School Literacy Coaches” zeroes in on the work of reading specialists at higher grade levels, noting that they face challenges their counterparts at the elementary level do not.
The document was published by the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association. The National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Council for the Social Studies collaborated on the project.
“There’s a recognition that all of these subjects are linked, and we can’t just deal with them in isolation,” said Alan E. Farstrup, the IRA’s executive director. “We took into account very carefully the subject matter each of the associations was concerned about.”
The new standards follow a 2003 IRA report, “Standards for Reading Professionals,” that spelled out other qualifications for literacy specialists. The latest standards are meant to complement the earlier document by looking at the content-matter knowledge reading specialists need to help students in different classes, such as math.
That issue is of particular concern at the middle and high school levels, where students typically move from one class to the next, and teachers are generally focused on presenting specific subjects rather than on working with struggling readers, the new set of standards says.
While its drafters did not have a firm estimate of the number of literacy coaches nationwide, it is believed that an increasing number of districts have hired them in recent years, partly with the help of funding from the federal Reading First program. (“States and Districts Send Literacy Coaches to the Rescue,” July 27, 2005.)
Literacy coaches have to be able to persuade subject-matter teachers to help blend reading strategies into already-packed class schedules, the standards say. Coaches also need to have enough working knowledge of disparate subjects to know what reading strategies are appropriate for them.
When working in science classrooms, for instance, literacy coaches should have a basic understanding of how scientists make and test hypotheses. In mathematics, they should understand everything from the basic demands of textbooks to how math graphics, diagrams, and vocabulary are used.
Sharon Walpole, an assistant professor of education at the University of Delaware in Newark, believes the standards would have to work their way into teacher-training programs for reading specialists to be effective. Literacy coaches also could help themselves adjust to unfamiliar academic content areas by knowing state and district standards in those subjects, she said.
“You have to know the curriculum in the area where you’re working,” said Ms. Walpole, who teaches aspiring teachers in literacy strategies. “That would be a big first step.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Cross-Curricular Standards Issued for Reading Coaches