Online Master's Programs in Literacy

Reading and literacy skills impact a student's overall educational performance. A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that third-grade students who struggle with reading become at greater risk for dropping out of high school. School systems, education departments, and lawmakers across the country have launched efforts to help students in all grades become stronger readers. Classroom teachers earning an online master's in literacy not only enhance their instructional techniques but also qualify for specialized teaching positions, such as reading specialists or instructional coaches. Many school systems also reward teachers for earning advanced degrees with higher pay. Learn about the skills and knowledge your education master's degree program can provide and how to find the right school for your needs.

Overview of an Online Master's Program in Literacy

Literacy specialists and coaches need an in-depth understanding of how students develop and improve literacy skills from early childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Courses offer a review of literacy theories and instructional principles that help teachers select appropriate reading materials, evaluate student performance, and develop strategies for improvement.

Common Classes and Coursework


Language and Literacy

Students learn parallel theories of language and literacy development. The course covers phonics, linguistics, vocabulary, grammar acquisition and the impact of social or cultural factors. The course focuses on early literacy instruction and reading comprehension. Students often complete class discussions, group research projects, and essays.

Assessment in Literacy

Students discuss various methods of evaluating student literacy, including formal, data-driven assessments, and informal reading assessments. Students learn which techniques best fit literacy concepts such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing. The course also includes research on various methods of intervention reading, and literacy teachers can use to help struggling readers and how to check their progress.

Content Area Reading and Writing

While most early childhood classrooms provide reading as a subject area, educators in secondary schools often incorporate literacy instruction throughout the curriculum. This course looks at instructional methods that strengthen literacy development, particularly in the areas of reading comprehension, writing, speaking, and listening. Students often take part in class discussions, reflecting on reading assignments, and developing an instructional strategy portfolio.

Literacy Research

Students review existing research in literacy instruction with a critical eye toward research methods and design. They learn to conduct research analysis and how classroom teachers can implement research-based instructional strategies in their classrooms. The class also covers qualitative and quantitative research methods. Most courses require students to develop research questions and review available research material on that topic.

Young Adult Literacy

Students evaluate a variety of texts and materials designed for young adults and develop teaching strategies based on those materials. The course requires students to apply theories of literacy education to select texts from a variety of genres, and develop classroom experiences that engage young adult readers in middle and high school. The class also looks at how to incorporate technology in lessons.

Skills You Will Gain

Earning your master's in literacy online equips you with the skills and techniques you can use in your classroom to help struggling readers improve while improving your understanding of educational theories and practices. Because many master's programs focus on literacy research, students learn to critically evaluate new programs or curriculum materials to determine suitability for their classroom or teachers. The best online master's literacy degrees develop keen critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.

The best online master's literacy degrees develop keen critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.

Effective teachers also must understand how to interpret a variety of data, such as how well students perform on standardized tests and informal assessments. Teachers develop observational skills and communication strategies that help them build better lesson plans and focus intervention efforts on the specific skills a child needs to move forward.

The research and theories discussed in master's-level courses provide teachers with a better understanding of literacy skills development. This knowledge allows teachers to identify students with special needs and provide the additional help they need to succeed. They can also better communicate a child's needs to their parents and discuss age-appropriate activities the family can use to bolster a child's literacy skills.

Online literacy master's degree programs also introduce teachers to new instructional technology. Teachers can enhance lessons with multimedia presentations and online quizzes and writing assignments. Online students also gain essential skills in time management, organization, and self-discipline.

Average Degree Length

Most online literacy master's degree programs require 30 to 36 credits to complete. Many programs also require a capstone project such as a research thesis. The time you need to complete your program varies depending on how many courses you take each semester, accelerated course offerings, and cohort programs.

Many universities require students applying to an online education master's program to already hold a teaching license. They anticipate students continuing to teach while completing the advanced degree. Online programs offer working educators flexibility to attend school while continuing to meet professional obligations. Part-time programs may require students complete only one class per semester, with many teachers taking more classes during the summer months.

Most online literacy master's degree programs require 30 to 36 credits to complete

Cohort programs combine all students entering the program in a group that moves through coursework together. These programs allow students to build strong professional networks and learn from each other. However, schools often follow strict course sequencing and doesn't allow students to take extra classes to graduate more quickly.

Some schools offer accelerated programs. These programs allow students to focus on one or two courses each term, often 8-10 weeks in length, and then move on to the next course. Students can earn more credits over a year using this method while still gaining a deep understanding of course concepts and principles.

Finding a Top Program

Many schools offer top, accredited online education master's programs. Prospective students may struggle to identify the best school to meet their needs. Cost, flexibility, and location make up only part of the points to consider. Students seeking a top online master's literacy program should research options thoroughly and speak with students, faculty, and other teachers before making a selection.

  • Accreditation

    You should ensure your school holds institutional accreditation from a regional accrediting agency. Many states require teacher preparation programs to earn programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation as part of their teacher licensing rules.

  • Research

    Schools with active research programs in literacy education offer students opportunities to work on active research projects and collaborate with faculty researchers. These institutions also maintain extensive libraries of research on the topic, which can help students with their research questions.

  • Relevant Curriculum

    Your program should include an extensive selection of literacy-based courses providing a variety of elective opportunities. Some universities also offer concentrations or specializations, which help students tailor their educational program to their interests and career goals.

  • Student Support

    Online students should consider the learning resources available, such as online access to research journals or tutoring services to help find employment after graduation. Ask students about faculty responsiveness to questions and concerns.

  • Reputation

    Consider the academic reputation of the school. If you choose a school near your home, most potential employers or supervisors will likely know about the quality of the teacher preparation program. When selecting a school farther away, look at data such as completion rates or how many students pass national exams in areas of literacy education.

Literacy Careers After Earning A Master's

Graduates with a master's in literacy online enjoy strong employment opportunities in education and related industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 8-11% job growth through 2026, particularly as states put accountability measures in place for education quality. Educators may find work in public or private schools; local, state, or federal education departments; or with curriculum publishers who need the educational expertise to develop effective, relevant teaching resources. A master's degree often qualifies teachers for leadership positions within their school district, such as an instructional coach or school principal. Most states offer teachers higher pay once they complete a master's degree.

Instructional Coordinator

These educational experts help teachers implement new curriculum plans and improve their teaching effectiveness. As schools focus more on accountability in student performance, more schools will seek specialists in areas of literacy and math instruction. BLS anticipates 17,200 new jobs through 2026.

Average Annual Salary: $64,450

Special Education Teacher

These educational experts help teachers implement new curriculum plans and improve their teaching effectiveness. As schools focus on accountability in student performance, more schools seek specialists in areas of literacy and math instruction. BLS anticipates 17,200 new jobs through 2026.

Average Annual Salary: $59,780

Reading Specialist

Reading specialists work with classroom teachers to develop lesson plans or work individually with students in need of additional literacy instruction. They need an understanding of language development and how cognitive learning disabilities impact literacy acquisition.

Average Annual Salary: $51,604

Elementary Principal

Principals oversee a school's academic program, hiring and evaluating teachers and developing professional development programs. They analyze academic achievement data and establish school class schedules. They also must ensure the school operates within its budget and remains in good repair. The BLS projects 8% growth in principal employment through 2026.

Average Annual Salary: $95,310

Instructional Designer

Instructional designers often work with textbook publishers to develop grade-appropriate instructional materials aligned to academic standards. They may also build teacher resource manuals or training materials to help classroom teachers use the textbook. As the demand for multimedia instructional materials grows, these professionals must learn to incorporate a variety of audio, video, or slideshow presentations that help engage students.

Average Annual Salary: $63,010

Additional Certifications for Literacy

Many states regulate the education and knowledge educators need before accepting certain positions. All classroom teachers must maintain a teaching license issued by their state department of education and meet ongoing professional development demands. An online master's in literacy often meets the requirements for specialized certifications and licensure. Confirm your state's specific prerequisites for testing or teaching experience.

Reading Specialist

Depending on state rules, reading specialist jobs may require a separate teaching license or an additional endorsement on your initial license. Your master's degree program must include courses in reading and writing education. Many states also require teachers to complete a practicum and pass the Praxis reading subject exam.

Administrator

Administrator or instructional leadership licenses require a minimum of a master's degree in education. The master's program must prepare individuals for leadership roles within their school with a focus on academic achievement. After graduation, many states require applicants to pass the Praxis exam in administration and supervision. Many states also require teachers to serve as classroom teachers for three to five years before seeking an administrative license.

Instructional Coach

Instructional coaches must often hold a teaching certification with individual school systems. Certification remains voluntary, but often enhances an applicant's resume and ensures coaches maintain ongoing professional development in training teachers. The Instructional Coaching Group offers a certification requiring coaches to demonstrate seven effective coaching principles and data on teacher progress.

Professional Organizations & Resources for Literacy Students

Professional organizations and research organizations dedicated to literacy education offer educators a wealth of resources. Find information on professional development opportunities, the latest research-backed instructional materials, or connect with other literacy teachers to share best practices.

  • Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers This organization advocates for improved curriculum for teacher preparation programs, ongoing professional development, and use of best practices in classrooms. ALER hosts an annual conference offering networking opportunities and guest speakers sharing the latest research in literacy education. The website includes a library of research materials and a career center.
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development This organization offers members magazines and newsletters focused on teaching, curriculum development, and teaching excellence. Members also enjoy access to professional development webinars and discounts on instructional resources.
  • Bookshare Bookshare makes reading materials available to individuals with vision problems, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. The organization's library features more than 700,000 titles with audiobooks, large font books, braille, audio and highlighted text, and other formats. Qualified students and schools receive free access.
  • Center for Effective Reading Instruction This affiliate of the International Dyslexia Association offers professional certification for teachers, literacy interventionists, and literacy specialists. Certification requires passing the Knowledge and Practice Examination for Effective Reading Instruction. Certification renewal requires 10 hours of continuing education each year.
  • International Dyslexia Association This international organization brings together experts in dyslexia, parents, and educators to advocate for people with dyslexia. The organization also offers programmatic accreditation for literacy and reading educator preparation programs and educator certification from the Center for Effective Reading Instruction. The website also provides multiple resources for teachers, including a handbook on identifying the signs of dyslexia and classroom instruction tips and tools.
  • International Literacy Association This organization includes 300,000 members in 86 countries working to provide practical educator resources and setting high standards for literacy professionals. Researchers work to translate groundbreaking research findings into policy and initiatives that support literacy education. Teachers may apply for awards and grants to support their research and teaching efforts.
  • National Council of Teachers of English This organization offers networking communities for elementary, middle, secondary, and college educators. Members enjoy access to lesson plan ideas, journal articles, and guidance on intellectual freedom. The annual conference brings together educators from across the country to share tried-and-tested classroom practices. Members receive a quarterly magazine, convention discounts, and access to instructional webinars.
  • National Summer Learning Association Many teachers recognize the "summer slide," where students forget skills they had mastered before school dismissed for the summer. The NSLA brings together educators and other stakeholders to support and promote high-quality summer education programs. The organization offers resources local programs utilize to develop fun, engaging programs, and advocates for policy issues that encourage summer learning.
  • Read Write Think The International Literacy Association, National Council of Teachers of English and The Verizon Foundation shares content written by literacy teachers across the country. Literacy experts review content and lesson plans available on the site. The parent section offers ideas to encourage reading and writing activities at home, as well.
  • Reading Rockets This national media literacy initiative offers PBS television programs, online resources, and professional development to encourage children to become confident readers. Its robust social media communities provide opportunities for parents, teachers, librarians, and childcare providers to share strategies to help young people learn to read.
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