When young children struggle to read, they can quickly fall behind their classmates in a number of subjects. Teachers with the 27-year old Reading Recovery program work one-on-one with 1st graders to rapidly reverse that descent, developing tailored strategies that respond to individual students’ unique hurdles in processing text.
“Over the past few weeks, I have seen such a change in my students,” said Amarisa Fuentes, an Elkins Elementary teacher in Fort Worth. “They came to me knowing only a few words and now they are reading and taking risks without fear of failure.” Thanks to Texas Woman’s University’s $3.7 million share of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, her school is offering the early literacy intervention program for the first time.
Texas Woman’s University is one of 19 colleges nationwide that is benefitting from a $46 million i3 grant that ED awarded to Ohio State University in 2010 to expand teacher training for Reading Recovery with the goal of training enough teachers to help 88,700 students by the end of 2013.
Reading Recovery is a research-based intervention strategy developed in New Zealand in the 1970s that came to the U.S. through Ohio State in 1984. As noted in its i3 Scale-up application, “Reading Recovery has gone through a 25-year period of development and validation, producing the largest impacts on student reading skills of any intervention reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse. With its evidence of effectiveness in beginning reading intervention in all four reading domain outcomes — Alphabetics, Reading Fluency, Comprehension, and General Reading Achievement — the successful application was one of only four Scale-up grants in the initial round of i3 funding.
“We target 1st graders who are in the bottom 20% of their class for reading development and work with them daily for 12-20 weeks to bring them up to average level for their class,” said Jim Schnug, project administrator of Reading Recovery’s i3 grant at Ohio State University.
The i3 grant funds year-long professional development that even longtime teachers find “intensive.” Along with graduate coursework, the training requires future Reading Recovery educators to conduct lessons with coaches and classmates observing and providing feedback.
“It’s good to have another set of eyes and ears with you in the classroom. It causes you to be very reflective about what you do and why you do it, and to learn new strategies,” said Eastgate Elementary School teacher Benita Smith, a 17-year veteran educator in Ohio’s Columbus City Schools who is now a Reading Recover teacher-in-training in OSU’s program.
Data bear out Reading Recovery’s success. According to Schnug, the program has successfully enabled 75 percent of its students to reach their classmates’ average reading levels. They then return to regular reading lessons with their peers and most maintain average or better proficiency with occasional “check-ups” from Reading Recovery. Perhaps the most stirring proof of the program’s results come from those who know its students the best, though.
After having a tough time in kindergarten, 1st grader Jaylen Gamble “likes to show off by reading to everybody,” said Jaylen’s grandfather Dan Cunningham.
“My son is now reading everything he sees – magazines, stuff on cell phones….even the back of our bottle of bubble bath,” said Brandie Poindexter of her son, Ikiam Pass. “I’m so proud of him.”
“One parent told me he had never seen his child make so much progress in a short amount of time,” said Fuentes, in describing the impact of Reading Recovery in her class. “Tears came to his eyes as he watched his son read a book for the first time.”
With children’s self-confidence a precious and easily-lost commodity, time is a critical element of the program.
“We use the word ‘acceleration’ a lot. We can’t waste time,” said Schnug.
–Julie Ewart and Patrick Kerr are the communications directors in ED’s Chicago and Kansas City Regional Offices