Reading Recovery: i3 Grantee Has Immediate Impact on Young Readers

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.

A child and teacher use magnetic numbers.

Magnetic letters are often used in Reading Recovery lessons as children learn how letters and words work.

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


  1. Perhaps in your situation Reading Recovery became teacher recovery, which is truly shameful. It is true that the intense training is tremendous and improves teachers’ instruction but that’s not its major purpose. It is not to fix teachers. Yes, the knowledge one gains from the yearlong training and collaboration from peers to find solutions when a child struggles in reading is unparalleled. It is unlike any professional training that our undergraduate teachers, who teach first graders how to read, have experienced. Here in eastern Pa, I have witnessed countless of the “hardest to teach” students rise to the tops of their classes in reading, maintain those gains while learning to love reading. If implemented with fidelity, as other “new” recycled phonics reading programs demand, Reading Recovery works!!! Even with limited English proficient students, the one-on-one instruction for our neediest of children sets them on the path of success. Are our children not worth the investment? If Obama (and I am his supporter) really wants to make a change, it lies within the instruction. Teaching those students who are ready to learn with eagerness and self-confidence are easy to teach. Teachers need to become better at teaching our students in need, those students’ limited experiences, and literacy exposure. Reading Recovery provides that. It teaches teachers what to do if consistent errors are evidenced in student reading and teaches them how to use students’ strengths to build self-confidence. Keen diagnosis of the challenges/problems and tackling the cure not sidestepping and blaming the students’ socio-economic status is what it is all about. The pre-packaged phonics programs touted by the RTI publishers currently will work for some but for these children it is all about building a sound foundation in all five components of reading, using real stories, teaching with compassion, building a relationship and constantly increasing the rigor. As a Reading Recovery teacher in training 15 years ago, I was very skeptical. However, after one year of teaching 10 children how to read, kids who other teachers felt were unteachable, I know that Reading Recovery, when done correctly is the answer for many of our struggling readers. What is more important in our schools than providing our “hardest to teach” children the gift of reading?

  2. This is not a political issue. Research has shown that about 20% of students will struggle to read even with the best teachers. Reading Recovery is a safety net that catches many students before their difficulties become difficult to overcome. Research has also shown that group instruction can benefit some children, however, for the most tangled students 1 on 1 intervention gets the most growth in the least amount of time.
    If you were having a severe medical issue, I doubt many of you would sign up for group therapy. Group therapy works in some instances, but not in life threatening situations. In fact, in a recent surgery, I had a team of professionals. Learning to read has lifelong consequences. It’s time we stop debating and start supporting an intervention that works.

  3. In the late 90’s, I was a superintendent of a urban-like district. After using 8 RR teachers for 5 years, we saw a decrease of 13 staff in Learning Support, and we used the funding gains to add more teaching staff and lower class size.

  4. There was some interesting information that came out of Wisconsin in the last decade or so that showed Reading Recovery wasn’t the panacea it’s supposed to be (Google it to find it). In addition, see

    Do I believe it works with some students? Sure but Reading Recovery is an expensive way to teach reading and many of these students may have been helped equally well by small group instruction that could have been delivered more cost effectively.

    My own opinion is that the program is less important than the teacher. Ultimately, strong teachers will have good results in most cases. People who want to help struggling readers need to provide good teachers. This is a factor that can be changed more easily than SES status.

    Reading Recovery has been very effective in promoting itself; however, those who award grants should consider whether other more cost effective programs would better serve more participants. Reading Recovery also may not work with the reader who truly struggles, and because of how students are selected for participation, some needy students may get overlooked in Reading Recovery.

    • While the above commentator stated… this type of program is expensive”…, how much more expensive to society is illiteracy??
      The ongoing battle that educators have with the electronic entertainment devices in relentless. Any program with silent reading, reading strategies taught to students, learning strategies shared with the learning communities is is as they say that one teachable moment.

  5. Reading Recovery is an early intervention that closes the literacy achievement gap early and levels the playing field for low SES students. High poverty IS a commentary on our society, irregardless, these children will become taxpaying citizens in the future and deserve the best instruction possible to achieve their potential.

    Teachers who are trained in Reading Recovery receive a year of highly specialized, job embedded training and continued ongoing professional development that enables them to design and deliver lessons that accelerate the learning of individual children who find learning to read and write most difficult. In addition, they use the instructional expertise gained through this training with many other students they teach during their other part of their day.

  6. Usually it’s the low SES kids who end up in Reading Recovery. Also, it’s the teachers who can’t handle a classroom that end up becoming the RR teachers, in my experience.

    You know what would help these typically low SES kids do better? Higher SES.

    Poverty is the problem, and the Obama administration has set it’s sights on remaking schools, and not in the image of the school rich people’s kids go to.

    Reading Recovery’s mere existence is evidence that we as a society have failed our least able members, and are committed to continuing in the same direction for the foreseeable future.

    Total bummer.

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