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Reading Specialist
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Reading Specialist
In the Department of Health and Behavior Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some major characteristics of the Reading Specialist Program?

Key program characteristics are as follows:   

  • Preparation for two State certifications: Teacher of Literacy, Birth-6, and Teacher of Literacy, 5-12.   
  • Preparation to work with children, adolescents and adults with reading and writing difficulties.   
  • Individualized and small group focus - students are prepared to teach reading and writing to struggling readers both individually and in small groups. This prepares them to provide literacy instruction in pull-out programs, inclusion classrooms and regular classrooms.   
  • Balanced literacy focus - integration of rigorous, evidence-based phonics training with authentic literacy  encompassing word recognition, reading comprehension, fluency, vocabulary development, spelling, and expressive writing.   
  • Assessment and intervention focus - students learn to deploy a battery of classroom-based and standardized assessment measures to identify strengths and weaknesses of individual students and groups, and then develop an intervention plan based on the assessment findings.   
  • Preparation to diagnose dyslexia - students learn to administer a battery of standardized tests and formulate a diagnosis.   
  • Psychology focus - understanding of typically-developing and delayed literacy development from the vantage point of cognitive processes and their relation to race, ethnicity, language proficiency, and socio-economic status.    
  • Research focus - emphasis on evidence-based (scientifically-based) intervention strategies for struggling readers.   
  • Lifespan perspective - students learn to deliver assessment and intervention to individuals from preschool emergent literacy through adolescence and adulthood. Students learn to develop content-area literacy interventions. Adults include adult literacy students and college dyslexics. It is never too late to improve literacy skills.   
  • Clinical experience - students take practicums in a clinic at Teachers College where they deliver services to struggling readers of all ages, who come from low income households.   
  • School experience - one practicum may be taken at the student's own school or another selected school.   
  • Professional development focus - preparation for professional development in advanced seminar as well as in graduate assistantships.    
  • Full-time students can complete the program in one calendar year (see information about Practicums below for details)

If I am interested in applying to the Reading Specialist Program using the online application system, where can I find the Reading Specialist Program?

On the online application, the Reading Specialist Program is listed under Applied Educational Psychology: Reading Specialist.

What are the opportunities for financial aid, scholarships, or research assistant positions?

You may be eligible for work-study. Please contact the Financial Aid Office for further information.

The Program itself has two scholarship initiatives. The first is the James L. Neff Reading Specialist Scholarship, which provides tuition credits to support tutoring of public elementary school students who have reading and writing difficulties. This scholarship is available within the HBSK 5377 practicum.

The second scholarship is the Charlotte M. Hamill Scholarship, which supports tuition for a female student who is preparing for or advancing in a career in reading or learning disabilities. Students are selected for these scholarships based on the strength of their application to the program as well as their ongoing performance in the program, as applicable.

Also, the Reading Specialist Program has a limited number of Teaching Assistantships, for which full-time, matriculated Reading Specialist students are eligible.

Further, you may compete for an Arthur Zankel Urban Fellowship, which is a college-wide initiative. For details, see the following link (the FAQ tab is particularly useful): http://www.tc.columbia.edu/oscp/detail.asp?id=zankel+fellowship&info=the+zankel+fellowship

Finally, the College posts research assistant and other openings on the Human Resources website.
If you wish to be recommended by TC for State Literacy Teacher certification when you complete the M.A. requirements, you must enter the program with prior certification in another education area. If you do not have this certification, please contact an advisor (perin@tc.edu).

Also please note that students must have completed certain coursework in order to be recommended by Teachers College for state certification as a Teacher of Literacy: see the box “FYI AND ATTENTION” on page 1 of the document at the following link:

http://www.tc.edu/i/a/document/23433_IRDF.pdf .  If you have questions about whether your prior course work meets the requirements, please contact the Office of Teacher Education at ote@tc.edu.


Are there new certification requirements for New York State? What are they?

The New York State Education Department is revising the New York State Teacher Certification Examination as of May 2014. The new tests include a portfolio-based teacher performance assessment (edTPA), an Educating All Students test, an Academic Literacy Skills Test, and updated Content Specialty Tests. For information regarding regulations adopted for specific requirements for certificate titles click here.

If I am eligible, what should I do to obtain State certification as a Teacher of Literacy when I complete the Reading Specialist M.A.?

When you are ready to complete the Reading Specialist Program, fill out appropriate forms at the Registrar's Office. You will need to complete a separate form for each certification (Teacher of Literacy, Birth-6; and Teacher of Literacy, 5-12). TC will submit documentation to the New York State Education Department. Certification will be expedited if you work through the Registrar's Office rather than independently. You can obtain information about New York State certification requirements from the State's website: http://www.highered.nysed.gov/tcert/. For other information about State certification, contact TC's Office of Teacher Education Support Services.

Information about what Teachers College will require is available here.

If you have questions about Teachers College’s institutional recommendation for program completers, please contact the Office of Teacher Education at ote@tc.edu.

I have other questions about certification. Whom should I ask?

The Office of Teacher Education has the most up-to-date information about State certification. Please direct your questions to ote@tc.edu.

I plan to work in another State when I complete my degree. Will my Literacy Teacher certification be recognized in another State?

New York State has reciprocity agreements with many other States. For information about certification requirements in other states, please see : http://www.uky.edu/Education/TEP/usacert.html. We also strongly suggest that you also obtain information from the Education Department of the State in which you plan to work. Please contact TC's Office of Teacher Education Support Services or the Registrar's Office if you still have questions after obtaining the above-mentioned information.

I understand that your program draws on literacy research with a cognitive psychology focus. Must I have an undergraduate degree in psychology to qualify?

No. Students are introduced to the critical concepts and methodology in the context of discussions of literacy research studies. The program prepares students to read cutting-edge research studies in order to provide the highest quality assessment and intervention services to individuals with literacy difficulty and dyslexia.

How competitive is the Reading Specialist Program?

We consider applicants based on their transcripts, personal statements and references. See the college catalog for application requirements.

Are GRE's required for the Reading Specialist Program?

No. However, if you apply for entry to a doctoral program at TC, you will need GRE's.

How long does it take to complete the Reading Specialist Program?

Full-time students (four courses per academic semester) take 1-1/2 years to complete the program. Part-time students (two courses per academic semester) must complete the program within 3 years.

I am an international student. Am I eligible for the program and for State teaching certification?

International students can be eligible for the program as long as they meet admissions criteria. Teachers College can recommend international students for New York State certification although this certification does not guarantee employment. For information on employment eligibility, please access the TC homepage, click on "Resources for Students" and then on "International Services."

I have been accepted to the Reading Specialist Program. What courses should I take?

Please contact program advisors (perin@tc.edu or masullo@tc.edu) for advisement. A listing of possible electives is given later in this document.  HBSK 4072 is an essential course and is offered in the Fall and Spring semesters. HBSK 4074 is offered in the Spring and Summer A sessions.  Practicum classes are offered once per year:  HBSK 5373 (fall term only); HBSK 5376 (spring term only); HBSK 5377 (fall term only).  HBSK 5098 is offered in the Spring semester only. See TC's website for course offerings each semester. Advisement is required for incoming students in their first semester.

Who is my advisor?

Program advisors are Prof. Dolores Perin, perin@tc.edu and Prof. Susan Masullo masullo@tc.edu.

How many elective courses should I take?

Students are required to have 6 elective points upon completion of the program. Most students take two courses for three points each.  All courses must be taken for a grade.

How do I know what elective courses to take?

Students should choose electives that are related to literacy and their professional placements. The following is a list of suggested elective classes from which to choose. Other courses outside of the list below may be considered as electives but students must have their advisor's permission to register for them.Please note that some courses listed below require instructor's permission. To request permission, please contact the instructor of the course.

  • A&HL 4000 Introduction to Linguistics
  • A&HT 4080 Teaching in Linguistically Diverse Classrooms
  • A&HT 4089 Teaching Writing to ESL Students
  • C&T 4000 Disability, Exclusion, and Schooling
  • C&T 4001 Differentiating Instruction in Inclusive Classrooms
  • C&T 4052 Designing Curriculum and Instruction
  • C&T 4078 Curriculum and Teaching in Urban Areas
  • C&T 4080  Risk and Resilience in Early Development (for those w/o course work or classroom experience in behavior management)
  • C&T 4083 Working with Families of Young Children with Disabilities
  • C&T 4136 Methods and Materials of Reading Instruction
  • C&T 4137 Literacy and Learning in the Content Areas   
  • C&T 4138 Teaching Literacy in the Early Years (instructor's approval required)  
  • C&T 4139 Constructing Critical Readers (Prerequisite: C&T 4858 or C&T 5800, instructor's approval required)  
  • C&T 4140 Literature for Younger Children (instructor's approval required)   
  • C&T 4141 Literature for Older Children (instructor's approval required)
  • C&T 4151 Teaching of Writing (instructor's approval required)   
  • C&T 4199 Teaching & Assessing Reading in the Inclusion Classroom  
  • C&T 4842 Institute: Content Area Literacies  
  • C&T 4858 Institute: Teaching of Reading (instructor's approval required)  OR   
  • C&T 5800 Institute: Teaching of Writing (instructor's approval required)   
  • C&T 5037 Literacy, Culture and the Teaching of Reading (instructor's approval required)   
  • C&T 5042 Topics in Children's Literature:  Nonfiction Literature   
  • HBSE 4000 Introduction to Special Education 
  • HBSE 4001:  Teaching Students with Disabilities in the Regular Classroom 
  • HBSE 4005 Computer Applications in Special Education  
  • HUDK4024 Developmental Psychology: Adulthood and the Lifespan   
  • HUDK 5023 Cognitive Development    
  • HUDM 4050 Introduction to Measurement  
  • ITSF 4015 Introduction to Computers, Language, and Literacy   
  • ITSF 4021 Foundations of Bilingual/ Bicultural Education   
  • ITSF 4027 Current topics in Bilingualism and Bilingual/ Bicultural Education  
  • ITSF 4028 Teaching Literacy in Bilingual Settings (Prerequisite: ITSF 4021)

If courses are offered for 2 or 3 credits, which should I choose?

You are required to take the courses listed for program completion, irrespective of the number of credits you earn. Take courses for 2 points unless you have a strong interest in the topic that will motivate you to undertake an extra project entailed by the third point.

If a course is offered for Pass/Fail, may I do this?

You must take courses for a letter grade, not Pass/Fail.

I am interested in teaching literacy to bilingual or English language learners. Is this an appropriate program?

Program advisors can create a mini-concentration for you, including two electives in bilingual and ELL instruction, assignment to bilingual and ELL participants in your practicum experience, and possible modification of your program to meet your needs.

I am interested in working with older adolescents and adults. Is this an appropriate program?

Yes. We provide preparation in reading and writing assessment and instruction across the lifespan, from Kindergarten through adulthood.  There are opportunities in several courses to specialize in literacy in "older" learners. One of our courses, Adult Literacy and Developmental/ Remedial Education, focuses on the needs of older adolescents and adults with low literacy skills who attend adult education or community college developmental education programs.

I work full time. Will I be able to attend the Reading Specialist Program?

Part time students benefit fully from their experience in the program.  In the Fall and Spring semesters, all required classes are offered in the late afternoon and evenings, starting at 5:10 pm . In the Summer sessions, classes may be available in the late afternoon or evening but Summer schedules cannot be guaranteed. If you are having difficulty with class scheduling, please contact your advisor.

Does the Reading Specialist Program involve student teaching?

Fieldwork is conducted in three required practicums on literacy assessment and intervention. The fieldwork is done either at the Dean Hope Center for Educational and Psychological Services (CEPS), a clinic at TC, or at an approved school. Whether conducted in CEPS or in a school, the fieldwork involves assessment and instruction of individuals with reading and writing difficulties.

What will I learn in the practicum courses?

Students work on an individual and small-group basis with children, adolescents and adults who are experiencing difficulty with reading, writing and other academic skills. An initial assessment is conducted to gain information that will assist in designing an educational plan. Students go on to deliver a comprehensive program of literacy interventions based on individual strengths and weaknesses. They also conduct intake interviews and client conferences, conceptualize individuals' learning patterns, interact with parents and other family members, follow ethical guidelines appropriate for the profession, prepare detailed documentation, and write case reports to professional standard.

How do the three practicums differ?

The practicums differ regarding whether the work is with individuals or groups and whether the work is conducted in a clinic or a school. The initial practicum, HBSK 5373, provides an introduction to assessment and intervention methods, including administration of an assessment battery, instructional techniques, clinical procedures, and the process of preparing documentation. Students begin work with a participant at CEPS. The second practicum, HBSK 5376, is at an intermediate level in which students work at CEPS with a participant of a different age, skill level and/ or linguistic proficiency. At the advanced level, HBSK 5377, students work with a group rather than individual. This experience may be obtained in a school rather than CEPS. Students who are teaching in schools with a State-approved curriculum can work with students with literacy difficulties in their own schools, with the permission of the principal and parent/guardian. Other students can request assignment to schools with which the Program has a relationship. All practicum training is conducted under close supervision.

How are literacy practicums scheduled?

Classes are held on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays. Practical work at CEPS is scheduled during non-class hours determined by student and client. Evening and weekend hours can be scheduled at CEPS. School-based work is scheduled jointly by the school and student. For all students, supervision takes place at TC and is planned to accommodate students' and supervisors' schedules.

How much time is required for each practicum?

The time commitment required for the practicums includes weekly class attendance, three contact hours per week of assessment and intervention sessions in clinic or school, planning for these sessions, preparation of client documentation, and weekly supervision. Since the practicums require a considerable amount of time, we suggest that students schedule some of their work with clients on weekends.

Are courses available during the Summer?

Some courses are offered during the Summer but most are offered during the Fall and Spring semesters. The practicums are not offered during the Summer. Please consult the class schedule through the TC homepage for courses taught each semester.

I have taken some courses in reading at another institution. Can I transfer them into the program?

Credits from other institutions are not accepted towards completion of the Reading Specialist M.A. Program. If any of your previous coursework appears to duplicate content required for the Reading Specialist degree, you may be able to substitute courses (see advisor).

I am enrolled in another program at TC, and am considering transferring to the Reading Specialist Program. Will my credits apply?

If you have taken required or relevant elective courses, they may apply. Please consult with an advisor.

I am interested in working with adult basic education students, college students who have dyslexia, or in a family literacy program. Is the Reading Specialist Program right for me?

Yes. The program provides preparation for literacy instruction through the lifespan.

While I am in the program, I would like to obtain experience working with a professor on research. Are there any opportunities?

You may be able to obtain a work-study or research assistant job. Contact the Student Aid office to find out if you are eligible for work-study. Research Assistant openings are posted on the Human Resources website through the TC homepage. You may also be able to compete for a Graduate Assistantship within the Reading Specialist Program, which will provide you with research or case management experience.

Are there any other jobs I could apply for at TC?

Postings may be found on the Human Resources website. In addition to salary, some jobs pay in the form of tuition credit.

Will TC help me find a job when I am about to graduate?

Yes. Contact the Career Services Center any time while you are a student. They provide individual consultation, help writing resumes, information about job fairs, etc. Information is available at http://www.tc.columbia.edu/~career-services/.

I am interested in studying literacy at the doctoral level. Is the Reading Specialist M.A. program appropriate for me?

The Reading Specialist Program emphasizes professional preparation rather than training in research methods. However, the program provides important practical knowledge which can be useful in later doctoral research.

I am interested in obtaining dual certification as a reading teacher and school psychologist. Is this option available?

This combination is not currently offered.

I have other questions. Whom should I ask?

Please contact a program advisor if you still have questions after reading through all the links on the Reading Specialist website.  Call 212-678-3942 for professors' office hours.