What is Reading Recovery?

A group of four young girls posing in front of a classroom.

Reading Recovery is an individualized tutoring program for the lowest-achieving readers in a first grade class. It has been ranked by the What Works Clearinghouse as one of the most effective beginning reading programs and was found to have positive effects across all literacy domains. In the Reading Recovery program, children receive individual daily lessons from a specially trained teacher. By intervening early on, Reading Recovery can halt the cycle of failure for at-risk children and can enable them to become independent readers and writers who can fully participate with other first grade students in their classroom instruction, reading at average or above-average levels.

Reading Recovery was developed by New Zealand educator and psychologist Dr. Marie Clay, who conducted observational research in the mid-1960s that enabled her to design ways for detecting early reading difficulties of children. In the mid-1970s, she developed Reading Recovery procedures with teachers and tested the program in New Zealand. The success of this pilot program led to the nationwide adoption of the program in New Zealand, and to the eventual spread of Reading Recovery to the United States and many other countries around the world.

Program Overview

Children are selected for the program based on individual measures of assessment and teacher judgment. Their regular classroom instruction is then supplemented with daily one-to-one 30-minute lessons for 12-20 weeks with a specially trained teacher. The lessons consist of a variety of activities designed to help children develop effective strategies for reading and writing. Each child's program is unique; through careful observation and decision-making, the teacher designs a program to fit each individual student's needs at that particular moment. Reading Recovery lessons may discontinue any time between the 12-20 weeks once the student has met grade-level reading and writing benchmarks.  After the designated 20 weeks, it is determined whether the student requires additional supplemental instruction usually in a small group setting or is ready to transition back to the classroom without additional support. This provides the opportunity for another child to enter Reading Recovery.

Teacher Training


In Reading Recovery, teacher training consists of a year-long curriculum that integrates theory and practice and is characterized by intensive collaboration with colleagues. Following the training year, teachers continue to develop professionally through ongoing interaction with their colleagues and instructors. Reading Recovery teachers work with children in front of their colleagues in a practice called "Behind the Glass." The teacher and child go into a sound-proof room with a one-way glass mirror, and while the teacher and child work together, the rest of the teachers and the instructor watch the lesson and discuss the teaching and learning interactions between the teacher and student.

Reading Recovery teachers usually spend a half day teaching Reading Recovery students and the other half day working in classrooms, teaching small groups of students, or working with classroom teachers in a coaching model. Teachers work with a minimum of four Reading Recovery students daily.

Characteristics of Reading Recovery Lessons

Many early literacy programs try to move at-risk children along an artificial continuum by teaching skills that somehow "add up" to good reading and writing. In contrast, Reading Recovery teachers carefully observe each student as a reader and writer, and make instructional decisions based on what each particular child needs. By working from the unique knowledge base of at-risk students in a one-to-one lesson format, Reading Recovery teachers move well beyond the traditional "skills and drills" approach associated with remedial programs. While the parts of the lesson are the same on most days, the particular books read, the messages written and the interactions the teacher has with the child are individually crafted to meet his or her needs. Thus, each lesson and the path of progress for each child are different.

The goal of Reading Recovery is accelerated learning. Each child is expected to make faster-than-average progress so that he or she can catch up with other children in the class. The majority of Reading Recovery children typically reach an average reading level after 12-20 weeks of daily instruction. During this period, they continue to work in the regular classroom for all but 30 minutes each day (the length of the Reading Recovery lesson itself). With the assistance of their Reading Recovery teacher, children learn the strategies that good readers use to solve their reading problems and continue to improve their reading and writing each time they engage in those tasks.

Reading Recovery's Impact on Instruction in PWCS

In Prince William County, we have found that Reading Recovery makes a big difference not only for the individual students it serves, but is helping to strengthen language arts instruction at the school and division level. Reading Recovery teachers regularly share instructional strategies for young readers and writers with their teaching colleagues, and are often involved in professional development opportunities for teachers district-wide. We realize that the key to a successful Reading Recovery program lies in the quality of instruction each Reading Recovery student receives back in the classroom. Our at-risk youngsters need the best possible instruction throughout their entire day, and a team approach between Reading Recovery teachers and classroom teachers helps to make each student's learning experience a successful one.

Because we have experienced positive outcomes from the Reading Recovery program and professional development model, Prince William County has developed a class for other teachers who work with young struggling readers and writers in grade K-3 such as Special Education, ESOL and classroom teachers. This class is called Lessons in Literacy. The class is taught by the PWCS Reading Recovery Teacher Leaders and follows the same theory and practices of Dr. Clay. Lessons in Literacy has expanded since it's pilot in 2010. It is highly recommended for teachers who work with students who are very far behind their grade-level peers.


Teacher Leaders

Reading Recovery is led by Teacher Leaders who work with the teachers implementing the program, and ensure that students receive the best possible instruction.  In Prince William County our Teacher Leaders are:

Todd Hartman, Ellis Elementary School, phone 703.365.8541, or by e-mail HartmaTN@pwcs.edu

Kathy Sherman, Rosa Parks Elementary School, phone 703-580-9665, or by e-mail  Shermake@pwcs.edu