Teacher takes notes while a first grade student reads aloud from a book

Reading Recovery turns 25

In 2013, not long after returning from a 21-month trip to Mexico to visit family, Deyci Valdez received a letter in the mail from her daughter’s first grade teacher.

Alejandra was struggling with reading, the letter said, and it was recommended that she participate in the school’s Reading Recovery program.

Reading Recovery is an international early intervention program that shows teachers how to create tailored lessons for first grade students struggling with reading and writing, and it proved to be the crucial step needed to address Alejandra’s difficulties learning key literacy skills.

“She would participate in one-on-one sessions and I could see the progress she was making,” Valdez said. “She started with books with itty bitty pages and soon she was moving up to chapter books, like the Junie B. Jones series,” a popular children’s book series.

Valdez smiles when she talks about Alejandra, who has become an avid reader and successful student in the intervening years, thanks in part to dedicated teachers and an intervention program that turned things around for her daughter.

“Even though Ms. Paige isn’t her Reading Recovery teacher anymore, she still checks in with her and still looks out for her,” Valdez said. “Alejandra’s teachers have always been involved in her life.”

Reading Recovery at Georgia State celebrates 25 years

Reading Recovery was originally developed in the 1970s and 80s by Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist and professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The framework Clay developed soon spread to other countries around the world and found its way to Georgia in the early 1990s.

Georgia State University’s College of Education & Human Development first established its Reading Recovery regional training center when Dr. Clifford I. Johnson, with the support of the Pittulloch Foundation, enrolled as a post-doctoral student in 1991 at The Ohio State University for a full academic year to become a trainer of Reading Recovery teacher leaders and teachers.

Upon completion of his training in 1992, Johnson returned to Georgia State and initiated the program by training teachers and teacher leaders for the Fulton County Public Schools. He was the executive director of the university’s Reading Recovery and literacy programs until his retirement in 2003 and has served as a consultant since his retirement. His fidelity to Reading Recovery is grounded in the fact that it gives children a second chance to succeed and avoid entering a cycle of failure.

“The remarkable progress that children make in Reading Recovery demonstrates that early intervention prevents failure and the need for costly remediation, retention and special education placements,” Johnson said.

Georgia State’s regional center not only trains teachers how to use the Reading Recovery intervention program – which focuses on intensive, individualized instruction for 12 to 20 weeks, depending on a child’s specific needs – but also trains teacher leaders, who return to their school systems and train  teachers how to implement Reading Recovery at their schools.

In the 25 years since its first class, Reading Recovery at Georgia State has expanded its reach to Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, has trained 1,668 teachers and 81 teacher leaders, and has worked with more than 67,000 children. For students who go through Reading Recovery, 72 percent graduate from the program reading at grade level and need no additional help.

“We’re trying to get our teachers to help first grade students before they fail and close that gap before they fall further behind,” said Dr. Sue Duncan, executive director of Reading Recovery at Georgia State. “Every time I hear or see a child who’s finally getting it, it makes the struggles we went through to implement Reading Recovery worth it.”

First grade teachers often report seeing changes in their students after a few sessions, which doesn’t surprise Dr. K. Journey Swafford, associate project director for Reading Recovery at Georgia State.

“Student behavior improves because as their reading and writing skills are improving, kids are more engaged in the classroom,” she explained. “These children very steeply make progress academically and continue that progress when they’re back in the classroom for the rest of the year.”

Looking ahead: Reading Recovery addresses students with special needs

Though Reading Recovery has been used in schools around the world for 30 years, educational researchers are still interested in ways the program could be expanded on or improved moving forward.

In 2011, the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education and the University of Delaware’s Center for Research in Education and Social Policy received funding from an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to conduct a four-year independent external evaluation of Reading Recovery.

The study was designed to review the program’s short- and long-term impacts on student learning and how the program could be expanded in the U.S. with additional i3 funding, and found that students who participated in Reading Recovery programs showed an 18-point gain in their Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores, on average. The study also showed Reading Recovery trainers at universities across the U.S. “played a critical role” in recruiting teachers and schools to implement the program, demonstrating how institutions like Georgia State can impact Reading Recovery’s growth.

In addition, Duncan said Reading Recovery at Georgia State has started training special education teachers and has seen some children improve enough to be placed out of special education and into general education classrooms.

Adapting Reading Recovery in this way – and taking steps to bring Reading Recovery to more school districts in Georgia – shows that Duncan, Swafford and others are dedicated to bringing the program and its successful track record to more students who need it.

“We want to provide more opportunities for teachers to learn and kids to learn,” Duncan said.

For more information about Reading Recovery, visit http://readingrecovery.education.gsu.edu.