Online Master's Programs in Reading & Literacy

Updated on: 12/13/2018

Education is a stable and growing field that gives teachers and other professionals a chance to make a difference in the lives of students. Reading teachers work with learners of all ages to develop foundational skills in literacy. Teachers who already possess a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate can advance their careers and increase their salary potential with an online master's in reading.

Choosing the right graduate program can be a challenge. The curriculum and length of the degree can vary by program, while tuition costs may depend on residency or the kind of program you enter. This page can help prospective graduate students select an online master's in reading program that best suits their education and career goals. Read on to learn more about common coursework, specializations, career opportunities, and financial aid packages.

What to Know About Online Master's in Reading & Literacy Coursework

An online master's in reading does not typically lead to initial certification as a teacher. Rather, the degree provides current classroom teachers with advanced skills in reading and writing instruction. Most graduate programs in reading focus on classroom reading assessment and supervision, language arts and children's literature, and diagnosing and addressing difficulties in reading. Some programs emphasize literature, while others examine various theories of reading pedagogy.

In many states, earning a master's in reading online is a prerequisite to meet state standards for certification as reading specialists. Not all students in a reading master's program plan to seek jobs as reading specialists. Classroom teachers may also use the degree to sharpen their skills, and instructional coordinators use their degree to help teachers throughout the school improve reading education. In general, an online master's in reading takes about 30-38 credits and roughly 18-24 months to complete. Most online degrees include the same coursework as their on-campus counterparts.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Reading & Literacy Program?

An online master's reading specialist degree combines courses in educational strategy, theories of learning, reading concepts, and children's literature. While curricula vary by school and program, the list below outlines some of the more common courses students complete.

Advanced Study in Teaching Reading

Teachers and experienced educators develop skills to teach reading to diverse students. They plan culturally and linguistically diverse lessons by analyzing topics, themes, and issues from an array of perspectives. Learners also explore strategies to improve teaching reading in the content areas.

Trade Books in the Elementary Classroom

Trade books are commercially published fiction and nonfiction books designed for general readership. Students in this course identify and use meaningful trade books in the elementary classroom. This includes identifying appropriate trade books and using them as a supplemental resource across the curriculum.

Socio-psycholinguistic Applications to Reading Instruction

Socio-psycholinguistic theory states that readers construct the meaning of a text from their own experiences and cultural values. Students apply this theory to indirect, independent methods for teaching reading in the classroom.

Diagnosis in Language Difficulties

Students learn to recognize the signs of dyslexia and other reading difficulties in students at all levels. They also learn to identify red flags in slow language learners at the early childhood level that may signal reading difficulties later on.

Advanced Study of Content Reading and Literacy for Secondary Education

This course introduces advanced studies of theory and practice for reading and writing education at the high school level. Students explore strategies for reading and writing across all content areas. They also design and evaluate a secondary reading curriculum. Most schools require practicum hours in this course.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Reading & Literacy Program?

While some schools offer a general master's in reading online, others provide concentrations for students to tailor their degree. Depending upon your academic interests and professional goals, you may be able to earn certification in more than one area. Specialization options vary by school, but the list below includes a sample of those available.

Children's and Young Adult Literature

This specialization emphasizes the multicultural and international perspectives within the canon of children's and young adult literature. Students in this specialization can pursue doctoral work, complete a teaching certificate, or complete additional graduate study in library science. The program focuses on theoretical methods, research approaches, and instructional strategies in the field.

Language Arts Education

Designed for future literacy education consultants, reading teachers, and diagnosticians in reading clinics, this specialization emphasizes language arts in literature-based reading programs. Courses include language issues in reading, assessment and development of reading abilities, clinical experiences in reading assessment, and instruction. Graduates can obtain a reading and literacy specialist credential in some states.

English as a Second Language

This specialization blends the fields of English language learning with reading and literacy. Courses include second language acquisition, methods in teaching ESL, and multicultural and multilingual learning environments. Students also complete coursework in linguistics and language arts pedagogy. Students can conduct practicums in both ESL and reading education.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Many online reading master's programs conclude with a capstone project such as a thesis, portfolio, final exam, or electronic assessment. Some schools even allow students to select the scope and style of their capstone. A thesis requires students to conduct research in the field of reading and literacy, and present an analysis to a committee of faculty. A portfolio, by contrast, usually emerges out of work conducted during an internship. Programs that require a final exam create a comprehensive but focused formal assessment that draws from all courses in the program. An electronic assessment introduces digital technology to an existing reading and literacy classroom.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Reading & Literacy Program?

Choosing the right online reading master's program can be a challenge; however, prospective students should consider a program's reputation, accreditation status, and affordability. Education programs with strong reputations are likely to meet many states' standards for a reading specialist certification. You should also evaluate a prospective school's graduation rate; a high graduation rate signals that an institution is committed to helping students achieve an education.

Accreditation is also important. Prospective students should ensure the programs they are considering hold regional accreditation. Many of the best online reading master's programs hold additional accreditation with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). While not vital, CAEP accreditation certifies a school's commitment to excellence in teacher training. Finally, students entering teaching careers should consider all available sources of funding to avoid significant student loan debt.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Reading & Literacy Degree

Most students who pursue an online master's in reading already serve as certified classroom teachers. A graduate degree in reading and literacy can improve a teacher's skills while positioning them for jobs in leadership. Reading specialists serve students at all levels from kindergarten through postsecondary levels. They may teach full classes, small groups, or individual students, and many reading specialists develop programs to assist classroom teachers in literacy instruction. Some also take responsibility for schoolwide reading programs. Instructional coordinators may select, implement, and evaluate reading curricula for their schools.

Instructional Coordinators

As a member of the leadership team of a K-12 school, instructional coordinators oversee teaching standards and school curricula. These educators select curriculum, work with teachers and school leaders to implement curriculum, and assess its effectiveness in the institution. They also plan and coordinate instructional conferences for teachers, as well as mentor and coach teachers. Some instructional coordinators serve the general school, while others specialize in one area of instruction, such as reading and literacy.

Median Salary: $63,750 per year

Currently Employed: 17,200

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +11%

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Many certified K-5 teachers earn their master's in literacy to increase their earning potential and improve reading instruction in the classroom. They can also pursue a career as a reading specialist, which requires an additional certification in most states. Along with assisting struggling readers, a reading specialist coaches teachers and aides in new methods of reading instruction, and develops schoolwide reading initiatives.

Median Salary: $56,900 per year

Currently Employed: 116,300

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +7%

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students in grades 5-9. They primarily work in public or private schools, but may also work in online learning environments. Day-to-day activities for middle school teachers include lesson preparation, direct instruction, overseeing reading groups, evaluating student performance, and managing the classroom. Many middle school reading teachers also oversee after-school creative writing or reading clubs, and conduct meetings with parents or other education professionals.

Median Salary: $57,720 per year

Currently Employed: 47,300

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%

High School Teachers

High school teachers instruct students in grades 9-12 at public, private, and online schools. While most reading teachers focus on younger grades, high school literacy teachers work with struggling readers who must meet minimum standards to earn their diplomas. These professionals select workbooks and novels for students and recommend testing for learning disabilities. They also provide support to the special education system, sponsor clubs, and maintain records.

Median Salary: $59,170 per year

Currently Employed: 76,800

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%

Postsecondary Teachers

Usually employed at a technical school, liberal arts college, or research university, postsecondary educators instruct college students in their area of specialization. A reading education professor may teach courses in education, literacy, or reading pedagogy to aspiring teachers. In addition to classroom work, postsecondary educators also serve on committees, write grants, sponsor student clubs, and publish research. Some postsecondary teachers work in higher education full-time, while others serve as adjuncts or part-time instructors.

Median Salary: $76,000 per year

Currently Employed: 197,800

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +15%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Reading & Literacy Careers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects training, education, and library science professions to grow by 9% between 2016 and 2026. Since public schools rely on state budgets determined by elected legislators, the growth rates for education professions fluctuate by state and can shift significantly over time. Reading and literacy specialists who work in community-based programs or in adult education should not expect the same robust growth as those working in public education or as postsecondary teachers.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Reading & Literacy

Joining a professional association for reading and literacy educators gives professionals opportunities to network with each other, learn from leaders in the field at national conferences, and access the latest research through journals and publications. Members can also propose articles and talks, build their own professional platform, and gain recognition for their skills.

  • National Council of Teachers of English

    For more than 100 years, NCTE has connected teachers of English with academic resources, advocacy opportunities, and networking options. Today, members can access publications and journals specific to language arts education.

  • International Literacy Association

    ILA membership provides educators access to resources, standards-based units for the classroom, reduced rates for the annual ILA conference, and a chance to purchase discounted health insurance.

  • International Dyslexia Association

    The IDA offers teacher preparation, workshops, conferences, and a set of standards to equip classroom educators to serve students with dyslexia. The organization also offers CERI certification to those implementing structured literacy practices.

  • American Association of School Librarians

    AASL boasts over 7,000 members. They serve school librarians across the U.S. and Canada through a bi-yearly gathering, eLearning tools, and publications such as School Library Research — an online open-access research journal.

  • National Education Association

    A network of more than three million members committed to the cause of public education, the NEA provides extensive resources for reading teachers, including lists of research-based tips and strategies.

How to Pay for a Master's in Reading & Literacy Degree

Earning a master's in reading online can be a rewarding, but expensive, experience. Fortunately, many financial aid packages can help students reduce or eliminate the cost of higher education. The U.S. government offers loans, grants, and loan forgiveness programs to qualifying teachers. States, municipalities, and private donors also extend financial aid to future teachers.

Federal Financial Aid

Students can take advantage of federal financial aid programs such as grants, work study programs, and an array of loans. Aid packages that specifically help military personnel and veterans are also available. To get started in the federal financial aid process, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available online at studentaid.ed.gov.

Teacher Loan Cancellation

Through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, current and prospective educators can ask the U.S. government to cancel their outstanding Federal Perkins Loans. To qualify, recipients must teach low-income families in a high-need field, as designated by their state, for 1-5 years. Other qualifications may apply.

State and Municipal Financial Aid

Individual states and cities support public education by offering grants, scholarships, and other incentives to education students. The Milwaukee Area Teachers Scholarship, for example, provides funding for current Milwaukee teachers pursuing higher education through Marquette University. Illinois also offers a teacher loan repayment program.

TEACH Grant

Graduate students in education can receive up to $8,000 from the U.S. government thanks to the TEACH Grant. This award is not a need-based grant. Instead, grant recipients must teach for at least four years in a high-need field at a low-income school, and maintain a 3.25 GPA or higher.

Private Scholarships

Future teachers can apply for private funds through scholarships set up by foundations and other private organizations. Scholarships vary both in amount and in qualifications. Teach.org offers a large scholarship database exclusively for teachers. Sites such as scholarships.com, collegescholarships.org, and fastweb.com also offer free searchable databases of general scholarships.