I read the headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 31st December 2017 with sadness. The demise of Reading Recovery. Certainly not unexpected but sad nevertheless. I remember first hearing about Reading Recovery at university in the late 1980’s and being intrigued by the research coming out of New Zealand. Then I had the opportunity to train in 1992 and I learnt so much about teaching reading. My school was also caught up in the enthusiasm and we changed elements of our teaching program to incorporate some of the Reading Recovery ideas. There was definitely an impact on classroom practice and student learning.
Sadly over the ensuing years much has changed in education but not in the world of Reading Recovery. While ideas of best practice have evolved, Reading Recovery clung to what Marie Clay had said in the 1970-1980’s with the reverence of true believers. I personally feel that Marie herself had she been alive would have rethought elements of the teaching program as current research has changed what we know about learning and meeting student needs. The clinging to rules and regulations didn’t endear many tutors to schools grappling with how to effectively use limited resources. Thus Reading Recovery has become a convenient way to cut costs.
Nevertheless all we learnt from Reading Recovery will not be lost. Despite a phonics test being introduced all teachers know the ‘reading is about meaning’ to quote Marie Clay. There are three sources of information that readers use to make meaning. They are visual information, syntax (grammatical structure) and meaning. We need a balanced approach to the teaching of reading.
Reading Recovery taught us to look for the firm foundation of what a student knows and build on that with new learning. This notion has never failed me in all my years of teaching. Also Reading Recovery lessons were based on the reciprocity between reading and writing and guess what… our current English syllabus also emphasizes this point with the key process of responding and composing.
As experienced teachers the challenge is to sift through political expediency and keep hold of basic principles and mesh them with current thinking as we strive to improve the student learning outcomes of all students. (Please note this article reflects my personal viewpoint)