What Were They Thinking?

4916846-thinking-man-and-question-mark-3d-rendered-illustrationIn my travels recently, doing workshops about supporting struggling readers, I’ve had several conversations about the loss of funding for Reading Recovery.  Teachers from North Carolina, New Hampshire, and even one from Halifax, Nova Scotia told me how much they value what they learned as Reading Recovery teachers, how much it has helped those children who are most at risk for learning to read in grade 1, how powerfully the Reading Recovery program has influenced their school, and so on.  Yet, these teachers also reported that their funding has been cut and they’ve been moved into other positions. I’m still scratching my head trying to make sense of this.

imagesCA29U2KIWhole districts, counties, and states have done away with Reading Recovery.  What in the world were they thinking? We know Reading Recovery has powerful results as an early intervention model, just check out the What Works Clearinghouse. Also keep in mind that RTI suggests not only quality classroom instruction, but also extra small group support on the next tier, and one-on-one help for students who still need additional support.  ALL OF THESE PIECES are crucial.  We can’t keep trading one for another.

I heard Richard Allington say (at an IRA conference a few years ago) that we KNOW how to help struggling readers; we KNOW what early intervention support is supposed to look like; and we even have enough money to do so. We are just NOT spending our money in the right ways. At this conference and in an article he wrote for Ed Leadership, he talks about what one-on-one help and small group support should look like. He also mentions what doesn’t work. He definitely sees the knowledge level of the teacher as a major important factor.  I cringe when I visit schools where I see a parent volunteer or untrained assistant working with the most at-risk students out in the hall.

One reason I heard for why Reading Recovery has been cut in many places has been that it was replaced with LLI kits.  Principals have said, “Why have a teacher working with one student when she can be working with three at a time?” I am sure Fountas and Pinnell (who developed the LLI kits) did NOT intend for this to happen.

So what happened in these places?  Who is to blame?  Did administrators break under pressure from above and not defend Reading Recovery in their buildings? Is there a relationship between Reading Recovery getting cut and the Common Core coming in? Did the money that used to fund Reading Recovery get spent on test prep materials? Did Reading Recovery teachers themselves not help enough to ensure that others understood its necessity? Did Fountas and Pinnell not make it clear enough what LLI kits were for?

girl-talking-backThanks for listening to me “sounding off” about this topic. I have no answers, only questions… and sadness, too.


    • Susan –
      There is an enormous difference. In short….LLI is a kit. It’s a kit that gives you lessons to do with 3 readers at a time. It provides you with books, phonics components, lesson frameworks, etc. It is meant for use with teachers without a certain amount of background (but these kits are still used by many very knowledgeable teachers.) Reading Recovery is intensive (and, I mean, intensive) training – 6 graduate credits, all school year long as the teacher works with individual students daily. By reading Marie Clay’s work, watching each other teach students behind a glass window, by discussing, by having your trainer come to your school and coach you, and so on – teachers learn more about reading processing systems and how to best meet the individual needs of children who struggle. Acceleration of these students is key, so that when they leave after 12-20 weeks they are on-grade level with their peers. It is by far the best early intervention support for at-risk first graders which can help many children avoid years of struggle, remediation, and many times special education.

  1. I so agree with what you are saying. I was a Reading Recovery teacher for seven years and I worked with those students that needed one-on-one instruction. These students would not have succeeded in a group of just two. They needed instruction tailored specifically to their needs. You can’t do this in a group of two or even three. Small group instruction certainly has its place but there will always be those students that need more.

  2. Thank you! I am a Reading Recovery teacher leader and I see teachers every day that are succeeding and I know they would not be successful without the skilled and highly trained teacher they work with and the opportunity for the teacher to follow the child and meet their individual needs

  3. I was trained in Reading Recovery several years ago. Unfortunately, my state stopped funding it not long after my training. I believe it was something about not being cost-effective. Even though I’m a classroom teacher and don’t do Reading Recovery before school anymore, it’s something that continues to affect all my students. It simply made me a better teacher.

    • Tammy –
      I’m glad your training in RR continues to benefit your students. I feel the same. I wanted to comment about the words “cost-effective.” I think that many school systems use that excuse to cancel funding for RR. That is because they don’t consider the larger issue. RR has kept many, many children from entering Learning Disability and other special education programs. We need to take the amount of funding that years and years of special education services would have cost into account. If you look on the RR website, I’m sure there is information about cost-effectiveness. I just don’t have it at my fingertips.

  4. I think reading recovery was a casualty of the reading wars. Experts in the field like Fountas and Pinnell, Regie Routman, and Marie Clay were labeled “whole language” and therefore the enemy. It’s time we bring these folks and their expertise back to the forefront!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s