Reading Recovery yields proven results – Winnipeg School Division

(with files from WSD’s Reading Recovery team)originally publishing on the Winnipeg School Division website – reproduced her in entirety-

When a student faces challenges in learning to read and write, Reading Recovery is an early intervention program that has yielded proven results in Manitoba for the past 25 years.

In Winnipeg School Division, where the program has been officially in operation for 21 years, approximately 41 out of 55 schools with Grade 1 students (who are the main focus of the program) have taken part in Reading Recovery. Approximately 500 WSD students receive lessons in Reading Recovery each school year (based on average data from the last five years).

“Reading Recovery addresses inequities for children who are entering our school system, and works to catch up those students who have fallen behind,” said Michelle Hildebrand, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. “By the end of Grade 1, most will have caught up to their average peers. According to our data in WSD for our English program last year, 81 per cent of students in Reading Recovery who completed their lesson series were able to catch up. We find that most of those children won’t need any remedial or resource support after their time in Reading Recovery. They actually continue to maintain their gains and learn from their efforts and the instruction they’re receiving in the classroom. That’s huge.”

The program has seen similar successes worldwide. Reading Recovery was created by educator and researcher Dame Marie Clay 45 years ago in New Zealand; the program now runs in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Malta, and Cayman Islands.

Reading Recovery team small.jpg

Pictured above: Sarah Arnold, Holly Cumming and Michelle Hildebrand at WSD’s Reading Recovery headquarters at Sir William Osler School.

Reading Recovery targets first graders who may be encountering reading difficulties; the intervention works best when it is made available to all students who may need it, and is used to supplement good classroom teaching.

“When Dame Marie Clay first developed this intervention, she was thinking of what’s possible for all students, what’s possible for all learners, especially those with reading problems,” said Holly Cumming, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. “Marie Clay said that by sailing in new directions, you can change the world. That’s so true, because when we teach children to read and write and become strong in literacy, it truly changes their world.”

As Reading Recovery Teacher Leaders, Ms. Cumming, Ms. Hildebrand and fellow Teacher Leader Sarah Arnold work in three concentric circles that include professional development and training other teachers in Reading Recovery, as well as implementing the program at the school and systemic level. But the centre circle is undoubtedly the students, with whom they work on a daily basis.

Meeting the needs of the child

Following the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement assessment, individual students receive a half-hour lesson each school day for 12-20 weeks, working one-on-one with a trained Reading Recovery teacher.

“We start our lessons with what we refer to as ‘Roaming Around the Known’. We build on what a student already knows and make a gradual progression through reading levels,” Ms. Arnold said. “In the beginning of each session, we do some familiar reading, to get their orchestration and confidence up.”

Reading Recovery 2019 004.jpg

By allowing students to experience success each session, teachers bolster their confidence in handling new material.

“One of the lenses Clay created was to realize that it’s important that we look for what students can already do, and use those strengths as a springboard for new learning,” Ms. Cumming said. “When you build off a child’s successes, and get to do that on a daily basis, it really helps a struggling student achieve accelerated learning.”

Reading Recovery teachers take extensive records of each day’s session with a student.

“We look at what strategies we’re doing, and based on analysis of those records, we are able to target our instruction specifically for each child,” Ms. Arnold said. “Once you get to know these students, you can arrange for them to have success any time they are learning something new.”

Once a student meets grade-level expectations and demonstrates an ability to work independently in the classroom, they are closely monitored as they transition back to classroom-only instruction.

The vast majority of Reading Recovery students who complete the full 12-20 week intervention are brought up to grade-level expectations in reading and writing.

Students who are still having difficulty following the initial intervention are recommended for further evaluation and possible future supports. These supports can range from classroom supports, resource supports and specialist referral, assessment and programming. Diagnostic information, collected during the Reading Recovery process, can inform the next best steps to assist the child.

“Those students have still often made substantial progress, but they need a little more time with individualized help,” Ms. Cumming said. “So we will recommend those students for a longer term of support or for more specialist help.  We’ll have much diagnostic information on these students so that we can provide schools with an action plan going forward to support their continued literacy progress. We will monitor those students up to the end of Grade 3.”

Ultimately, for every child that enters into Reading Recovery, 100 per cent of them see significant benefits. Four times a year, a Reading Recovery teacher will check up on former Reading Recovery students (up to the end of Grade 3) to ensure they are maintaining their gains—and if there are any issues, will work with the classroom teacher to ensure they are being addressed.


Data collection is an important part of the Reading Recovery process. Along with tracking an individual student’s progress, data can identify wider trends amongst students. This data, in turn, is given to the Province of Manitoba.

“Reading Recovery is one of the most well-researched literacy interventions in the entire world,” Ms. Cumming said. “Our teachers gather data daily, weekly, they make monthly reflections and we have a huge year end data collection around the world for Reading Recovery. Here in the Winnipeg School Division, we collect data and analyze it, develop our goals for next year and then we send it off to the province and they do their own analysis of it.”

That data is in turn reviewed by Reading Recovery representatives on a national and international level, as they seek to incorporate the latest data, trends and best practises into their daily work with students.

Data can inform new teaching strategies, which Reading Recovery teachers gather through a continual focus on professional development.

Reading Recover 2019 observation.jpg

Pictured above: During Reading Recovery sessions at Sir William Osler School, a teacher will work with a student while colleagues observe and make notes of their interactions with students. It’s a way to observe in an inobtrusive manner and offer feedback.

“Our goal is to have a conversation about what we see. Partly, it’s a way to lift our own understandings of the literacy processing theory in which we work, and also it’s a way to be able to offer feedback to our colleague. What we see is working, and what other approaches that teacher may take to help that particular student,” Ms. Hildebrand said.

By having several teachers there simply to observe, they are able to offer many perspectives that assist the teacher and the student.

“We’re able to offer insights that teacher may not be able to see because they’re in the midst of teaching and thinking about the next steps in that lesson,” Ms. Cumming said. “It’s a window to truly understanding how children come to read and write.”

Learning for life

Reading Recovery places a heavy emphasis on professional development, starting with an intensive first training year for teachers.

“It’s a year-long process. Teachers often say that it is very robust, but it’s the best professional development they’ve ever had,” Ms. Cumming said. “Within that year of training those teachers are working with four children every day as well. They’re attending 18 half-day in-service sessions throughout the year, along with four assessment sessions…so there’s a lot of professional development in that first year. Learning about what may be puzzling a young student when it comes to reading can be very complex. We focus on theory to figure out what a particular child needs and what are the next steps for teaching.”

Ms. Cumming, Ms. Arnold and Ms. Hildebrand will also visit Reading Recovery teachers-in-training at their schools, observing their process with students and offering supports where needed. Working with Teacher Leaders, a Reading Recovery teacher develops observational skills and a variety of intervention techniques that meet the needs of at-risk students.

Reading Recovery continues to focus on professional development following a teacher’s first training year.

“As long as a teacher is in Reading Recovery, they continue to come for professional development,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “They have eight professional development sessions throughout the year as opposed to the 18 in their training year. And we still go out and visit them in their schools as well.”

Oral language as a gateway to reading and writing

If a child is struggling to read at the Grade 1 level, Reading Recovery practitioners often take a look at oral language acquisition.

 “One area we’ve done quite a bit of data collection on is oral language. We know that there is a high percentage of children that come into Reading Recovery and in classrooms whose oral language is at risk for learning to read and write,” Ms. Cumming said. “That might mean that they didn’t have the opportunities to gain what they needed from birth to age 5-6. So now they may be behind in terms of being able to pick up storyline and vocabulary…they just haven’t acquired those skills yet. We’re working very hard in Reading Recovery and in schools to see if we can make up for that lack of experiences and help students develop more of an oral language that helps them be readers and writers.”

Students can fall behind in oral language acquisition for a variety of reasons.

“You can have newcomer children who simply haven’t had many language experiences in English or French, and they’re being asked to read text in those languages,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “It could also be that the dialect at home is different than what is being spoken at school. Book language is another challenge for children, because books sound different than the way we talk. So if a child hasn’t had a lot of experience with books at home, then that can cause challenges as well.”

Social interaction is the key to developing oral language in early childhood.

“The interactions that happen at home, the stories that are read, the conversations that are had…they really do make a difference,” Ms. Cumming said. “Many of our children may not have yet had that exposure, so that’s where we’re trying to help. If you don’t hear that language in your formative years, it’s harder to use the language later on.”

Ms. Hildebrand adds: “Oral language is the foundation for literacy development. That’s where we see a huge impact on the children we’re working with.”

Reading Recovery in French

Reading Recovery is also available for students who are learning to read and write en français.

IPLÉ (Intervention préventive en lecture-écriture) currently has seven teachers in six WSD schools. The program, which has WSD French Reading Recovery teachers working alongside teachers from three other divisions, began as a pilot project in 2007-08 and is continuing to grow.

“It all started out with the question of what is possible for our young immersion students as well,” said Ms. Arnold, who works in the English and French versions of the program. “We discovered that our weakest students could also learn to write and read in French.”

Ms. Arnold would like to see French formal reading instruction implemented at earlier grade levels than what is currently prescribed in the curriculum.

“The classrooms and teachers that are implementing it earlier are successful,” Ms. Arnold said. “Any extra boost we can give students in that Grade 1 classroom, just benefits them along the line, because it’s their language of instruction.”

Cost-effective and timely

Because Reading Recovery targets students early in their education, it can put them back on the pathway to success in a timely manner.

“It’s a cost-effective program socially, because right at the beginning of a child’s experience in school, they are getting that extra boost and benefit of having a Reading Recovery teacher as well their classroom teacher,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “We’re addressing that child’s needs early, before they get into ways of working with text that aren’t helpful for them, or before they fall into a pattern of thinking about themselves as someone who can’t learn.

“The power of that early intervention is amazing.”