Reading Recovery. ERIC Digest.
by Sensenbaugh, Roger
This digest discusses elements of the Reading Recovery program, describes
a typical reading recovery lesson, addresses issues of the importance of
teacher education and teacher role in those lessons, reviews the existing
literature in the ERIC database regarding the effectiveness of Reading
Recovery, and discusses the cost effectiveness of the program.
In the often contentious world of beginning reading instruction, marked
by the sharply differing opinions of advocates of intensive phonics instruction
and those who support the whole language approach, Reading Recovery (r)
appears to be fairly non-controversial. Combining extensive teacher education
with an emphasis on the development of phonological awareness and the use
of contextual information to assist reading, Reading Recovery seems to
offer the lowest-achieving first-grade children an effective method of
reading and writing instruction. Reading Recovery continues to generate
interest among educators, parents, and administrators. Journal articles,
conference papers, books, research reports on Reading Recovery continue
to be added to the ERIC database. Unofficially, Reading Recovery is the
topic on which this Clearinghouse's User Services specialists currently
receive the most requests for information. Earlier responses by this Clearinghouse
to this continued interest in Reading Recovery include two annotated bibliographies
(Sensenbaugh, 1994; Denner, 1993).
Introduced into the United States from New Zealand in the mid 1980s,
Reading Recovery projects have been implemented in nearly every state.
In addition, Reading Recovery is being implemented in Australia, Canada,
WHAT IS READING RECOVERY?
Reading Recovery (Clay, 1985) offers daily half-hour one-on-one tutorial
sessions for students who are having trouble learning to read after one
year of formal instruction. The program is supplementary and short-term,
with most students needing from 12 to 16 weeks of instruction (Pollock,
1994) before they are successfully discontinued from the program. A combination
of teacher judgment and systematic evaluation procedures identify those
lowest-achieving children for whom Reading Recovery was designed. The program's
goal is to bring students up to the level of their peers and to give students
the assistance they need to develop independent reading strategies. Once
students are reading at a level equivalent to that of their peers, they
are discontinued from the program.
Reading Recovery is designed to provide the social interaction that
supports the students' ability to work in their "zone of proximal development"--just
beyond their level of actual development--with a supportive adult who helps
them solve problems and to perform. Clay's theory of learning to read is
based on the idea that children construct cognitive systems to understand
the world and language. These cognitive systems develop as self-extending
systems that generate further learning through the use of multiple sources
of information (Clay, 1985; Pinnell, 1994).
A TYPICAL READING RECOVERY LESSON
During the daily half-hour sessions, children read many small books,
some of which are written in a style close to that of oral language. The
books also often use predictable language. Teachers keep a running record
to analyze the child's reading performance. Children also compose and read
their own messages or stories. In addition, children read slightly more
challenging texts that they have not read before. Teachers provide detailed
support for the children as they read these more difficult texts. Magnetic
alphabet letters might be used to assist in analyzing words. Reading skills
are taught in the context of extended reading and writing by Reading Recovery
teachers who have completed a year-long inservice education program that
focuses on moment-to-moment responses to children's actions and behavior.
An essential component of the Reading Recovery program is the training
of the teachers who provide the tutorial instruction. Reading Recovery
teachers learn to observe, analyze, and interpret the reading and writing
behaviors of individual students and to design and implement an individual
program to meet each student's needs. Just as the Reading Recovery children
engage in social interaction with the teacher, Reading Recovery teachers
engage in social interaction with their colleagues and mentors to construct
a view of learning and teaching that supports literacy learning (Gaffney,
Pinnell (1994) expanded earlier research on the effectiveness of Reading
Recovery by controlling for a variety of local factors at the school level
and by allowing for a comparative inference in relation to traditional
remedial programs targeting at-risk first-grade children. In addition to
finding that Reading Recovery was the most effective of the five programs
evaluated, Pinnell found that one-on-one instruction was essential for
the lowest-achieving students, and that teacher training was an important
factor in the success of Reading Recovery.
IS READING RECOVERY EFFECTIVE?
Reading Recovery's seemingly non-controversial nature is nowhere more
apparent than in the research base examining the program's effectiveness.
Nearly all of the documents in the ERIC database find that the program
is effective and recommend the program with only minor reservations. An
extended series of studies of the Reading Recovery program as implemented
in Ohio (one of the earliest Reading Recovery programs in the United States)
finds that the program is successful in accelerating 3 out of 4 students
up to the level of their peers (Pollock, 1994). Each of the series of reports
ends with the recommendation that the program be continued and a list of
recommendations regarding specific aspects of the program that could be
Areas of criticism or need for further research include the long-term
effectiveness of the program (Center, 1992), the kind of reading skills
to be emphasized (Chapman, 1991), the program's cost effectiveness (discussed
below), and problems of implementing the program (Pinnell, 1994).
Making the general claim that Reading Recovery is an effective program
is somewhat misleading. Existing research ranges from case studies of particular
teachers or students all the way up to detailed analyses of state-wide
programs. Although "Reading Recovery" is a registered trademark of the
Ohio State University, and authorized programs use Marie Clay's materials,
the various Reading Recovery programs in the United States differ somewhat
in how they are developed, implemented, and assessed. Perhaps it is more
precise to say that existing research validates the effectiveness of the
specific Reading Recovery programs examined so far.
Glynn (1992), while noting the clear gains made by Reading Recovery
pupils, brings up another area of concern--how to coordinate Reading Recovery
instruction and regular classroom instruction so that students who are
successfully discontinued from the program can continue to succeed on independent
reading tasks in the very different environment of the regular classroom.
While only a comparatively few documents in the ERIC database address
Reading Recovery's cost effectiveness, the program's high per-pupil cost
(compared to other intervention programs) is enough to give any administrator
or taxpayer pause. As Dyer (1992) points out, however, the initial high
cost is offset by the money saved through (1) not having to retain low-achieving
students in the first grade; (2) not having to place students in special
education or Chapter 1 programs; and (3) not mislabelling a child as "learning
disabled" when in fact the child needed only the brief, supplementary intervention
provided by Reading Recovery.
Dyer concludes (based on a cost-benefit analysis) that Reading Recovery
is an educationally sound and cost-effective early intervention program
for helping children who are at-risk of early reading failure.
Center, Yola, et al. (1992). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Reading
Recovery: A Critique. Educational Psychology, 12(3-4), 305-13. [EJ 478
Chapman, James W., and William E. Turner (1991). "Recovering Reading
Recovery." Australia and New Zealand Journal of Developmental Disabilities,
17(1), 59-71. [EJ 445 894]
Clay, Marie M. (1985). The Early Detection of Reading Difficulties.
Third Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 263 529]
Denner, Michael, Comp. (1993). "Reading Recovery Research, 1986-1992:
Citations and Abstracts from the ERIC Database." Bloomington, IN: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 376 449]
Dyer, Philip C. (1992). "Reading Recovery: A Cost-Effectiveness and
Educational Outcomes Analysis." ERS Spectrum, 10(1), 10-19. [EJ 442 889]
Gaffney, Janet S. (1993). "Reading Recovery (r): Widening the Scope
of Prevention for the Lowest Achieving Readers. Technical Report No. 580."
Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading. [ED 360 624]
Glynn, Ted (1992). "Reading Recovery in Context: Implementation and
Outcome." Educational Psychology, 12(3-4), 249-61. [EJ 478 468]
Pinnell, Gay Su, et al. (1994). "Comparing Instructional Models for
the Literacy Education of High-Risk First Grades." Reading Research Quarterly,
29(1), 8-39. [EJ 475 731]
Pollock, John S. (1994). "Reading Recovery Program 1992-93. Elementary
and Secondary Education Act--Chapter 1. Final Evaluation Report." Columbus
Public Schools, Ohio. Department of Program Evaluation. [ED 376 437]
Sensenbaugh, Roger (1994). "Effectiveness of Reading Recovery Programs."
Reading Research and Instruction, 34(1), 73-76. [EJ 494 625]