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Master's Programs

Language and Literacy

Literacy is the foundation of all learning. A student who can read confidently, comprehend fully, and write clearly opens doors to worlds of discovery in science, math, literature, and history. Adults who struggle to read and write are locked out of better-paying jobs and hindered in their personal development. As a graduate student in the Language and Literacy (L&L) Program, you will learn how to use research-based practices to positively impact the lives of learners of all ages.

The core strength of the L&L Program is our comprehensive approach to literacy from the combined perspectives of research, policy, and practice. As an L&L student, you will learn what neuroscience can tell us about dyslexia; how to conduct an appropriate and accurate literacy assessment in diverse urban schools; and how to develop a literacy intervention plan that engages learners, K-12 in their own success.

Faculty Director Pamela Mason on the L&L Program:

Message from the Director

Welcome to the Language and Literacy program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Our program is grounded in the belief that language and literacy skills are essential to every aspect of an individual's life and that literate individuals contribute positively to our social, cultural, and economic well-being. Our work focuses on the many factors that influence the development of language and literacy skills across the life span, with particular emphasis on improving instruction, research, and policy nationally and internationally.

The faculty and researchers in Language and Literacy explore a variety of topics ranging across all stages of development. Studies focus on the language-based precursors to literacy, on the impact of early literacy intervention on multilingual learners, on the academic language skills that relate to students’ reading proficiency, and on how neuroscience can be usefully applied to the fields of learning and remediation. Faculty interests and experiences encompass ensuring equity of access to quality literacy instruction, especially in urban schools, addressing the opportunity gap, promoting effective data-driven school-wide literacy programs, and developing sustainable school-based professional development.

Our faculty have made significant contributions to both national and international scholarship and policy on language and literacy issues, including the National Academy of Sciences report, “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children,” the Rand Reading Study Group report, “Reading for Understanding: Toward an R&D Program in Reading Comprehension,” "Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel of Language-Minority Children and Youth," the national evaluation of Early Head Start and Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success. In addition, faculty members are involved in various national and international Commissions and Committees, including the Literacy Research Association, the International Reading Association, and the American Education Research Association.

Students in the program have opportunities for applied work and research with the Cambridge Public Schools, the Boston Public Schools, local Early Head Start/Head Start programs, and community based programs. Qualified students may receive their initial licensure as a Reading Teacher through the Massachusetts Department of Education. Other students may focus on becoming Literacy Coaches.

One of the great strengths of the Language and Literacy program is the rich and varied set of experiences and interests that our students bring to the program. Our diverse student body represents classroom teachers from a variety of school settings (locally, nationally, and internationally), literacy volunteers from community based programs, and students from many disciplines who wish to further their understanding of literacy instruction and research. Their broad range of cultural perspectives enriches our program as it strives to address the needs of all learners.

Whether you are visiting this site as a prospective student or are currently enrolled in the program, I urge you to explore the resources available in the Language and Literacy program. Familiarize yourself with our faculty and their areas of research and teaching expertise, visit the courses we offer, acquaint yourself with some of our alumni and the work they have done after graduating from the program, and learn about the program requirements. If you are a prospective candidate, you may apply online to the program. I hope that you will consider adding your own expertise to our Language and Literacy community. Please feel free to contact us regarding your interest or questions about the program.

Pamela Mason
Program Director, Language and Literacy
Lecturer on Education

Program Highlights

L&L is a year-long, full-time program that prepares you to become an effective change agent in the lives of young learners and adults. Here are some of the many advantages of studying language and literacy at HGSE:

Evidence-based practice – Whether you plan to work in the classroom, in education publishing, or with a non-profit literacy organization, L&L will prepare you to be an “informed consumer” of research. You will learn how to analyze research findings and apply them most effectively in your practice.

Urban, public focus – L&L fieldwork takes place in the Cambridge Public Schools, where you will learn from innovative programs in place for English language learners, bilingual students, and students identified with learning disabilities.

Cohort and community – The members of your L&L cohort form a collaborative and supportive learning community. Expect to learn as much from their diverse experiences and perspectives as from the formal L&L curriculum. You will also make connections across the wider HGSE community that will broaden your understanding of education and strengthen your professional network.

Reading lab – The Jeanne Chall Reading Lab is an invaluable resource for L&L students and the education community. The Reading Lab is stocked with children’s books and magazines, literacy assessments, and reference materials on the research and practice of literacy instruction. It’s also a wonderful space for collaborative group work and discussion.

Harvard and beyond – Not only can you take electives across the HGSE catalogue, but we encourage L&L students to cross-register for exciting classes at the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Harvard Business School, and even MIT.


L&L students can choose from three different program strands, each with its own admission and curricular requirements:


The Generalist strand offers the most flexibility, allowing students to choose courses in research, policy, and practice that best match their interests and career goals.


You will complete eight courses (32 credits) in the following categories:

View all courses in the Academic Catalogue.

Reading Specialist

This strand is more structured, designed to satisfy the requirements of licensure as a Reading Specialist Teacher in Massachusetts. In addition to coursework in reading development and reading difficulties, students complete a fieldwork practicum in an urban public school. Admission to the Reading Specialist strand requires an active Initial or Professional teaching license and a minimum of one full year of teaching experience.


You will complete eight courses (32 credits) in the following categories:

View all courses in the Academic Catalogue.

Literacy Coach

This strand is for students interested in providing professional development and literacy training to teachers as a school-based literacy coach. In addition to taking courses in adult and professional development, students have the opportunity to observe literacy coaches working in local schools. Admission to the Literacy Coach strand is reserved for applicants with at least three years of teaching experience.


You will complete eight courses (32 credits) in the following categories:

View all courses in the Academic Catalogue.


Cross-registration at other Harvard schools is available with permission of the instructor.


L&L faculty members combine deep scholarly expertise with decades of professional experience to become powerful teachers and lifelong mentors for L&L students. The diverse research interests of L&L faculty include the language-based precursors to literacy, the cognitive consequences of bilingualism, the development of language expression and comprehension skills, and much more.


There is no single mold that produces an L&L student. Many of our students have worked as teachers and reading specialists in K-12 public schools, often in urban areas. They come here looking for research-based practices to enhance their instruction and help them serve as literacy leaders in their schools. Other L&L students come from the business, non-profit, and education publishing sectors seeking out new ideas for improving educational outcomes for learners of all ages.  All L&L students share a deep commitment to education and a passion for social justice.

Within the L&L program, roughly 70% of students pursue the Generalist strand, while 30% choose either the Reading Specialist or Literacy Coach program strands.


A master’s degree in L&L is the ideal preparation for a rewarding education career that makes a positive impact in both the lives of students and the systems that serve them. L&L alumni assume literacy leadership roles in K-12 classrooms at home and internationally, with education non-profits, research centers, hospitals, education publishing houses, state departments of education, ministries of education, educational technology startups, and much more.

Where Alumni Work


If you believe in the transformative power of literacy and want to be an agent of change in the lives of young learners and adults, we want to hear your story. Please note that each strand within L&L has its own admission requirements. Applicants to the Reading Specialist strand must have an Initial or Professional teacher’s license and at least one (1) full year of teaching experience. Applicants to the Literacy Coach strand also need to have at least three (3) years of teaching experience. There are no licensure or minimum teaching experience requirements for the Generalist strand.

Visit HGSE admissions to learn more about Ed.M. application requirements and deadlines, and to get information about financial aid. Applications are due in January of the academic year you plan to enroll.


If you have questions about the admissions process or want to learn more about the benefits of the L&L program, please contact our admissions liaison Ernald Furxhi at or 617-495-3414. If you have specific questions about L&L program requirements, please contact program administrator Andrena Mason at or 617-495-3521.