by Claire Miller
As a lecturer and doctoral student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, Marie Clay wanted to know more about how young children learn to read and write – two of the first and most important skills that students need to grasp.
After becoming a professor and head of the Department of Education at the university in 1976, Clay continued with her work in early literacy. She developed observational tools that allowed teachers to identify children having difficulty getting underway with reading and writing and as a consequence teachers now sought her expertise to work out how to provide for the children’s learning.
From her research and observations came Reading Recovery, an international early intervention that trains teachers how to identify students with trouble reading and writing and how to create tailored lessons to help them improve those skills.
“Dr. Clay conducted research to determine what it is that children who are progressing well are doing, and how teachers can get those who aren’t to better understand how to read and write,” said Floretta Thornton-Reid, executive director of Reading Recovery at Georgia State University.
GSU’s Reading Recovery program, housed in the College of Education, serves as a regional training center in the Southeast, showing teachers and teacher leaders in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Bermuda how to work with students one-on-one to improve their literacy skills. In addition, Thornton-Reid and other staff in the program visit schools to work with both teachers and students.
Teachers who receive Reading Recovery training learn to assess students’ skill levels in reading and writing and design tailored instruction that builds on what each child already knows. They work with children individually on letter recognition, phonemic awareness, word identification, sentence structure and more as they work with children reading and writing texts.
“If we’re really going to prepare children, there must be alternatives to group instruction,” Thornton-Reid said. “For example, if two people go see a movie together, they’re both seeing the same set of information but interpreting it in different ways. The same thing happens in the classroom when a teacher presents a concept to a group of students. Some children may not understand the first time, and we need to help them process those lessons.”
Reading Recovery at Georgia State has its origins in the early 1990s, when the dean of the COE tapped teacher Cliff Johnson to go through a one-year training program at The Ohio State University, where a successful Reading Recovery program had already been established, and to bring that expertise to Georgia State.
“I went through the training and when I came back, I worked with the Fulton County School System,” Johnson said. “In the fall of 1991, I worked with nine teachers, two teacher leaders and 47 children. And within about 16 weeks, 40 of those 47 children had reached the levels of reading and writing they needed to achieve in their grade level.”
In its 20-year history on campus, the Reading Recovery program at GSU has trained 1,465 teachers, 69 teacher leaders and has impacted thousands of children in the Southeast.
Johnson has seen countless children develop reading and writing skills, which helps reduce the number of students retained and/or referred to special education classes. And he believes the program’s emphasis on individual instruction has made all the difference.
“It’s a unique program because it assesses children and acknowledges that they may learn differently than others, rather than labeling them as having a deficiency,” Johnson said. “We’re helping children build the skills and knowledge they need to become successful readers and writers.”
The College of Education will celebrate Reading Recovery’s 20 years on campus with a reception on Aug. 26 from 10-11 a.m. in COE room 150.
For more information about Reading Recovery at GSU, visit http://education.gsu.edu/ece/reading_recovery.htm.