Reading Recovery

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Reading Recovery is a school-based, short-term intervention designed for English speaking children aged five or six, who are the lowest achieving in literacy after their first year of school. For instance, a child who is unable to read the simplest of books or write their own name, after a year in school, would be appropriate for a referral to a Reading Recovery program. The intervention involves intensive one-to-one lessons for 30 minutes a day with a teacher trained in the Reading Recovery method, for between 12 and 20 weeks.

Reading Recovery was developed in the 1970s by New Zealand educator Marie Clay. After lengthy observations of early readers, Clay defined reading as a message-getting, problem-solving activity, and writing as a message-sending, problem-solving activity. Clay suggested that both activities involved linking invisible patterns of oral language with visible symbols.[1] Reading Recovery is an application of Whole Language instructional principles in an attempt to address the needs of struggling readers, but the scientific consensus is that whole-language-based methods of reading are not as effective as are phonics-instruction-based approaches.[2]

Description of the program[edit]

A combination of teacher judgment and systematic evaluation procedures identify those lowest-achieving children for whom Reading Recovery was designed. The lowest performing children (the bottom 5-20% depending on the context) are identified using the Observation Survey (Clay, 2002), a multi-faceted series of assessment tools covering early reading and writing. The Observation Survey has been standardized in the UK and US to determine its validity and reliability, however coefficients have not been reported. It is not clear why it continues to be used as an assessment tool, given that such tools must publish reliability and validity coefficients. Once a child has been identified and referred to the Reading Recovery program, intervention is developed. The intervention is different for every child, assessing what the child knows and what s/he needs to learn next. The focus of each lesson is to understand and construct "messages"—to understand messages in reading and construct messages in writing—and to learn how to attend to detail without losing focus on meaning.

Daily 30 minute lessons are individually designed and delivered by specially trained teachers. Drawing from their training, Reading Recovery teachers make moment-to-moment decisions to support the child's learning. During each lesson, children read many little books. These include two to three familiar books, a rereading of the previous day's new book and the introduction and reading of a new story. Teachers take a running record of the previous day's new book to analyse the child's independence and reading behaviour. Children also compose, write and read their own messages or stories. Magnetic alphabet letters are used for sorting, to assist visual discrimination, and to look closely at how words work. Reading skills, including phonetic skills, are taught in the context of extended reading and writing by Reading Recovery teachers who have completed a year-long inservice education program that focuses on moment-to-moment responses to children's actions and behavior. It is important to note that the National Reading Panel stressed that the hallmark of systemic phonics is a pre-planned, sequential introduction of phonic elements, and not moment-to-moment decisions about what phonic element should be taught. Moment-to-moment decisions with respect to teaching phonetics, has been questioned by respected reading researchers.

The intervention goal is to bring children up to the level of their peers and to give them the assistance they need to develop independent reading and writing strategies. Once they are reading and writing at a level equivalent to that of their peers, their series of lessons is discontinued.

The intervention is not intended as an alternative to classroom teaching, but is complementary, to enable children to engage in their classroom program.

Professional development for teachers[edit]

An essential component of the Reading Recovery program is the training of the teachers who provide the tutorial instruction. Reading Recovery teachers learn to observe, analyse, and interpret the reading and writing behaviours of individual students and to design and implement an individual program to meet each student's needs. Just as the Reading Recovery children engage in learning through social interaction with the teacher, Reading Recovery teachers engage in learning through social interaction with their colleagues and mentors to construct a view of learning and teaching that supports literacy development. Heavy reliance on colleagues for continued professional development has drawbacks, however, in that Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders tend to ignore, or reject, scientifically-based reading research.

Reading Recovery around the world[edit]

"Reading Recovery" is in use in a number of English-speaking countries. The phrase "Reading Recovery" is a proprietary registered trademark held by the Marie Clay Trust in New Zealand,[3] with The Ohio State University in the US and the Institute of Education in the UK. The Marie Clay Trust and the International Reading Recovery Trainers Organization (IRRTO) licenses use of the title Reading Recovery to affiliated entities around the world.[4]


Historically, Reading Recovery has operated through state and territory departments of education within Australia, as well as catholic education offices.

In 2015, a report from the New South Wales Department of Education [5], concluded that Reading Recovery was largely ineffective, and should not be used for most children [6]. As a result, in 2016, Reading Recovery lost its "mandated status" as part of the curriculum in NSW's more than 900 public schools, although individual schools may still opt to use it [7]. A further consequence of this shift in policy is that, in 2017, the NSW Department of Education initiated a hiring program to recruit dozens of new literacy and numeracy experts to support teachers in "evidence-based professional learning", according to NSW Minister for Education, Rob Stokes [8].

New Zealand

The National Reading Recovery Centre is located at The University of Auckland Faculty of Education, Epsom Campus. Website:

After Reading Recovery was removed from the curriculum in many Australian schools[9], its utility has been questioned by researchers and policy makers in New Zealand as well. [10] By 2019, this had led to reduction in use of Reading Recovery in New Zealand's public schools, and toward a greater emphasis on phonics based instruction. [11] Parent activism has also contributed to a rise in phonics based instruction and a concomitant decrease in three cueing system based instruction in New Zealand schools.[12]

North America

The Reading Recovery Council of North America, Inc. is a not-for-profit association of Reading Recovery professionals, advocates, and partners. It is an advocate for Reading Recovery throughout North America (United States and Canada). It publishes two journals for this purpose: The Journal of Reading Recovery and Literacy Teaching and Learning.[13]

Reading Recovery and philosophically similar programs are still widely used in the United States, but there has been significant push back against the approach. Several large school districts have rejected the approach in favor of phonics based instruction. These include Columbus, Ohio, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.[14][15]

United Kingdom

The International Literacy Centre ( is located at the Institute of Education, part of the University of London. Reading Recovery is at the International Literacy Centre's core, with its integrity applied to everything the Centre offers. There are over 60 Reading Recovery centres throughout the UK, Republic of Ireland and in Denmark. Website:

Further reading[edit]

Reading Recovery has been widely researched throughout the world. Research has investigated effectiveness, cost benefits, continued progress and self-esteem.


  1. Baker, S., Berninger, V. W., Bruck, M., Chapman, J., Eden, G., Elbaum, B., Fletcher, J. M., Fowler, C., Francis, D. J., Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., Greaney, K., Katz, L., Manis, F., Mather, N., McCutchen, D., Mencl, E., Molfese, D. L., Molfese, V., Morris, R., Pugh, K., Prochnow, J., Schatschneider, C., Seidenberg, M., Shaywitz, B., Snow, C., Tunmer, W., Vaughn, S., Vellutino, F. R., Wagner, R., & Wolf, M. (2002). Experts Say Reading Recovery Is Not Effective, Leaves Too Many Children Behind: An Open Letter from Reading Researchers. Retrieved from
  2. Center, Y., Wheldall, K., Freeman, L., Outhred, L., & McNaught, M. (1995). An Evaluation of Reading Recovery. Reading Research Quarterly, 30(2). doi:10.2307/748034
  3. Chapman, J. W., & Tunmer, W. E. (2009). Recovering Reading Recovery. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Developmental Disabilities, 17(1), 59-71. doi:10.1080/07263869100034271
  4. Chapman, J. W., & Tunmer, W. E. (2016). Is Reading Recovery an Effective Intervention for Students with Reading Difficulties? A Critique of the i3 Scale-Up Study. Reading Psychology, 37(7), 1025-1042. doi:10.1080/02702711.2016.1157538
  5. Chapman, J. W., Tunmer, W. E., & Prochnow, J. E. (2001). Does Success in the Reading Recovery Program Depend on Developing Proficiency in Phonological-Processing Skills? A Longitudinal Study in a Whole Language Instructional Context. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(2), 141-176. doi:10.1207/S1532799Xssr0502_2
  6. Cook, P., Rodes, D. R., & Lipsitz, K. L. (2017). The Reading Wars and Reading Recovery: What Educators, Families, and Taxpayers Should Know. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 22(2), 12-23. doi:10.18666/ldmj-2017-v22-i2-8391
  7. Serry, T. A., & Oberklaid, F. (2014). Children with reading problems: Missed opportunities to make a difference. Australian Journal of Education, 59(1), 22-34. doi:10.1177/0004944114555584


  1. Consortium for Policy Research in Education (2013), 'Evaluation of the i3 Scale-up of Reading Recovery: Year One Report, 2011-12', RR-76
  2. What Works Clearinghouse (2013) 'Updated intervention report: Reading Recovery'. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
  3. Schwartz, R.M. Schmitt, M.C. and Lose, M.K. (2012), 'Effects of teacher-student ratio in response to intervention approaches' The Elementary School Journal, 112 (4), 547-567
  4. Department for Education (2011), 'Evaluation of Every Child a Reader (ECaR)', DFE-RR114
  5. Holliman, A.J., Hurry, J., & Douetil, J. (2010). 'Standardisation of the Observation Survey in England and Wales, UK'. London: Institute of Education, University of London.
  6. What Works Clearinghouse (2008) 'Intervention report: Reading Recovery'. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
  7. Burroughs-Lange, S. and Douetil, J. (2006) 'Evaluation of Reading Recovery in London schools: Every Child a Reader 2005-2006'. University of London: Institute of Education.
  8. Schwartz, R. M. (2005) 'Literacy learning of at-risk first-grade students in the Reading Recovery early intervention'. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97 (2), 257-267.
  9. Rodgers, E., Gómez-Bellengé, F., Wang, C. and Schulz, M. (2005) 'Predicting the literacy achievement of struggling readers: Does intervening early make a difference?'. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  10. D'Agostino, J.V., and Murphy, J.A. (2004) 'A meta-analysis of Reading Recovery in United States schools'. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 26 (1), 23-38.
  11. Rodgers, E.M., Wang, C. and Gómez-Bellengé, F.X. (2004) 'Closing the literacy achievement gap with early intervention'. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA, USA.
  12. Schmitt, M. C., (2001) 'The development of children's strategic processing in Reading Recovery'. Reading Psychology, 22 (2), 129-151.
  13. Phillips, G. and Smith, P. (1997) 'Closing the gaps: Literacy for the hardest to teach'. New Zealand Council for Educational Research: Wellington, 3, 1-36.
  14. Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., DeFord, D. E., Bryk, A. S. and Seltzer, M (1994) 'Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high-risk first graders'. Reading Research Quarterly, 29 (1), 8-39.

Continued progress

  1. Hurry, J. (2012) 'The impact of Reading Recovery five years after intervention'. University of London: Institute of Education.
  2. Hurry, J. and Holliman, A. (2009) 'The impact of Reading Recovery three years after intervention'. University of London: Institute of Education.
  3. Burroughs-Lange, S. (2008) 'Comparison of literacy progress of young children in London schools: A Reading Recovery follow up study'. University of London: Institute of Education.
  4. Hurry, J. and Sylva, K. (2007) 'Long-term outcomes of early reading intervention'. Journal of Reading Research, 30 (3), 227-248.
  5. Moore, M. and Wade, B. (1998) 'Reading and comprehension: A longitudinal study of ex-Reading Recovery students'. Educational Studies, 24 (2), 195-203.
  6. Askew, B. J. and Frasier, D. F. (1994) 'Sustained effects of Reading Recovery intervention on the cognitive behaviors of second-grade children and the perceptions of their teachers'. Literacy, Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 87-107.


  1. Department for Education (2011), 'Evaluation of Every Child a Reader (ECaR)', DFE-RR114
  2. Burroughs-Lange, S. and Douetil, J. (2006) 'Evaluation of Reading Recovery in London schools: Every Child a Reader 2005-2006'. University of London: Institute of Education.
  3. Hummel-Rossi, B & Ashdown, J (2006) 'An investigation of reciprocal effects: Literacy achievement and self-beliefs in first grade children'. International Journal of Learning, 12 (10), 269-276.
  4. Rumbaugh, W. and Brown, C. (2000) 'The impact of Reading Recovery participation on students' self-concepts'. Reading Psychology, 21 (1), 13-30.
  5. Cohen, S.G., McDonnell, G. and Osborn, B. (1989) 'Self-perceptions of at-risk and high achieving readers: Beyond Reading Recovery achievement data'. In McCormick, S. and Zutell, J. (eds), Cognitive and social perspectives for literacy research and instruction: Thirty-eighth yearbook of the national reading conference. National Reading Conference: Chicago, IL, USA.

Research reviews

  1. What Works Clearinghouse (2013) 'Updated intervention report: Reading Recovery'. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
  2. Promising Practices Network (2013) 'Programs that work: Reading Recovery' RAND Corporation
  3. Schwartz, R. M., Hobsbaum, A., Briggs, C. and Scull, J. (2009) 'Reading Recovery and evidence-based practice: A response to Reynolds and Wheldall (2007)'. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 56 (1), 5-15.
  4. What Works Clearinghouse (2008) 'Intervention report: Reading Recovery'. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
  5. Florida Center for Reading Research (2008) 'Florida Center for Reading Research: Reading Recovery'. Florida State University.
  6. Reading Recovery Council of North America (RRCNA) (2002) 'What evidence says about Reading Recovery'. Response to internet letter distributed to members of Congress in Spring 2002.
  7. Herman, R. and Stringfield, S. (1997) 'Ten promising programs for educating all children: Evidence of impact'. Educational Research Service: Arlington, VA, USA.
  8. Shanahan, T. and Barr, R. (1995) 'Reading Recovery: An independent evaluation of the effects of an early instructional intervention for at-risk learners.' Reading Research Quarterly, 30 (4), 958-996.

Cost effectiveness

  1. Schwartz, R.M. Schmitt, M.C. and Lose, M.K. (2012), 'Effects of teacher-student ratio in response to intervention approaches' The Elementary School Journal, 112 (4), 547-567
  2. Department for Education (2011), 'Evaluation of Every Child a Reader (ECaR)', DFE-RR114
  3. Pinnell. G.S. (1997) 'Reading Recovery: A summary of research'. In Flood, J., Heath, S.B. and Lapp, D. (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative and visual arts (sponsored by the International Reading Association). USA: New York.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clay, Marie (1977). Reading: The Patterning of Complex Behaviour. Exeter, New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books.
  2. ^ Moore, Terrance. "The Verdict is In: Phonics is the Way to Teach Reading". Ashbrook Center. Ashland University. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Marie Clay Literacy Trust". Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  4. ^ "International Reading Recovery Trainers Organization". Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  5. ^ Bradford, Deborah; Wan, Wai-Yin (2015). Reading Recovery: A Sector-Wide Analysis (Report). Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, Department of Education, New South Wales, Australia.
  6. ^ Smith, Alexandra (20 December 2015). "Reading Recovery program used in 960 NSW public schools does not work". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  7. ^ Bagshaw, Eryk (21 September 2016). "Reading Recovery: NSW government ditches 30-year-old, $55m a year program". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  8. ^ Smith, Alexandra (30 December 2017). "New literacy teachers recruited as NSW government axes Reading Recovery". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  9. ^ Bagshaw, Eryk (21 September 2016). "Reading Recovery: NSW government ditches 30-year-old, $55m a year program". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  10. ^ Thomas, Rachel (13 February 2016). "Experts want 'outdated' Reading Recovery scrapped in favour of new programme". Sunday Star-Times. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  11. ^ Collins, Simon (19 August 2019). "Ministry of Education adds more phonics to school readers". NZ Herald. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  12. ^ Collins, Simon (28 August 2019). "Parents of dyslexic children campaign for phonics: "Nothing worse than watching a little boy's sparkling eyes disappear"". Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Journals - Reading Recovery Council of North America". Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Reading Recovery Bites the Dust in Columbus, Ohio". National Right to Read Foundation. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  15. ^ Hanford, Emily (2 January 2019). "Why Millions Of Kids Can't Read And What Better Teaching Can Do About It". National Public Radio. Retrieved 8 September 2019.

External links[edit]

Reading Recovery Council of North America