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 Reading Recovery Graduates Share Experiences Helping Striving Readers Thrive

Reading Recovery is a short-term intervention for first graders having extreme difficulty with early reading and writing. Specially trained teachers work individually with students in daily 30-minute lessons lasting 12 to 20 weeks. After a full series of lessons, about 75% of these formerly lowest students reach grade-level standards.

The San Diego County Office of Education English Language Arts team interviewed two recent Reading Recovery graduates: Julie Aquino, an education specialist for grades TK-5, and Krista Wisdom, a first-grade teacher, about their experiences in helping striving readers thrive.

Let’s chat for a few minutes about helping striving readers, students who are having difficulties, become thriving readers who are capable and confident readers. One thing that the research points to as being essential is that it is important to start by looking for strengths. Which strengths do you look for to build upon?  

JULIE: Well, in the early grades, a striving reader puts a lot of effort into their mental processing of letters and words as they read. Striving readers are often visibly proud of their accomplishments when we point out what they are doing well and point out their growth in reading. A striving reader also is eager to talk about the text as they read it, and will offer quite a few ideas for sentences we can write afterward, often making connections between the text and their own life.

KRISTA: Two of my students speak Spanish at home and being multilingual is definitely a  strength. I am able to build on their knowledge about how language works by introducing patterns and cognates. Also, my students are learning to problem-solve unknown words, using what they know about letters, sounds, and known words through word study.

JULIE: I absolutely love it when I see a child make an analogy from a known word to a new, unknown word, in order to decode that unknown word. For example, I had a child struggle a bit to decode the word "frighten," and then he said in a whisper, "Oh it's like night - fr-ight...plus -en-- frighten!"  

Right, and some of the best teaching moments are those when you get to witness a breakthrough, or “thriving” moment. 

JULIE: I think it’s giving them the letter and word knowledge to figure out words in print, but we also give them a lot of confidence to take risks when teaching them strategies like how to “roam the known” phrase. It’s important to promote their independence at processing words by using very brief prompts. All of this helps kids to have these breakthroughs and thriving moments.

What do you attribute this to?  

KRISTA: I am thinking of two of my first graders who were in my kindergarten class last year where we had a whole year to get to know each other. Because I was able to use what I know about these students and what they can already do, I knew right away what we had to start with during their reading intervention. Listen to Krista say more here.

Reading Recovery is a year-long professional learning model that encompasses more than 90 hours of professional learning. What impact has participating in this intensive professional learning had on your teaching?  

JULIE: I've been a special education teacher for 13 years, and I've always tried to use research-proven reading programs with my struggling readers, but I had mixed results. Reading Recovery, to me, is really the holy grail of teaching kids to read and write. A big part of this is the 1:1 teacher to student ratio, and the other big parts are the wonderful Reading Recovery strategies Marie Clay developed for us to use, and her very brief, independence-building prompts that we are instructed to use with the kids to push their processing along as they read. The Reading Recovery program makes us take daily records of how the kids are applying strategies, what they have learned, and what they need to learn next to improve their reading and writing. This is also really key to propelling kids to higher reading/writing levels. Listen to Julie say more here.  

KRISTA: Reading Recovery training has given me a deeper understanding of the reading process.  I now know that  I can go slow in order for my students to make accelerated gains. For example, I have a better understanding of the reciprocity between reading and writing. I also have developed an understanding of how to plan for word study as the students continue up the gradient of text complexity at each of the reading levels. 

It sounds like the growth in your students is noticeable.

JULIE: My students usually develop this really nice sense of pride in themselves as they go through the Reading Recovery intervention program. They can feel themselves becoming better readers and writers, and their classroom teachers really notice an improvement in their independence at reading and writing, as well as an overall rise in their reading levels.  In Reading Recovery kids make the different reading strategies their own--and they can continue to apply these strategies to harder and harder texts as they graduate out of our program and go into the upper grades. Working on writing 1-2 sentences during each Reading Recovery lesson also really helps my students to become more independent writers--especially for the students who start out with a very limited written vocabulary, the ones who really can't write a simple sentence on their own. If they can go back to class and write 1-2 sentences during writing time--this is huge for them. 

KRISTA:  Because I became familiar with what students need in their reading development, I am becoming more purposeful in my teaching.  My Reading Recovery learning has made it possible to transfer  what I learned about the Reading Recovery theory and lesson components to my daily literacy instruction with my other students throughout the day. For example, in reading, I prompt my students to look for the parts they know and cover up those parts. That mentally frees them up to attend to the unknown. In writing, I prompt my students to think of a word they know that they could use to help them problem solve unfamiliar words.  

JULIE: I would tell anyone who is interested that Reading Recovery was definitely worth it. It will really enhance your teaching, and you will be able to bring many, many kids to grade level in their reading.