Reading Recovery – A Meta-synthesis of the research – 2009

Reading Recovery

A Meta-synthesis of the Research
(Prepared for the Edmonton Public School Board, Alberta, Canada by Vic Charlton)

Abstract: Reading Recovery, aimed at struggling, beginning readers, has been the subject of much debate from its beginnings as an intensive psycholinguistic program to its current, balanced literacy approach, whereby pseudo-phonics instruction and cueing systems are integral to its teaching strategies. In question is its efficacy and cost effectiveness.


It is not without some apprehension, indeed diffidence, that I embarked on a journey into the cloistered world of reading research—to say nothing of broaching the hallowed halls of Alberta Education—in an effort to understand two simple truths: first, why, with one of the best educational systems in the world, do we have so many functional illiterates; second, why is the preponderance of these troubled readers, boys?

Though these simple truths are expressed dichotomously, this division is misleading. While some girls do have trouble reading, boys comprise the significant majority in all remedial classrooms. The two questions may be synthesized as: why aren’t schools effective in teaching boys to read?

Axiomatically, then, reading instruction—and reading research—should focus on what works for boys. (Recent reading research has shown that what works for boys, works equally well for girls. E.g., The Effects of Synthetic Phonics – A Seven Year Longitudinal Study. Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson.)

Understanding the truth of functional illiteracy—to say nothing of the costs to society—becomes one of knowing the optimal method, in a classroom environment, of teaching boys how to read. This method (not methods—more on learning styles later), as the research will show, is not to the detriment of girls’ learning; rather, their learning is also enhanced; it’s mutually beneficial.

Though my research revolves around Reading Recovery™, as with any research, I am reminded of Muir’s Law, which states, “Whenever you try to look at something by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Now, because Reading Recovery™ is aimed at the (typically) lowest 20% of beginning readers, among this 20% will be identified those with dyslexia, ADHD or other purported phonological inhibitors to learning to read. As I will show, from the research, these inhibitors also have an ameliorative, common denominator in the optimal method for teaching children how to read. It should also be understood that though the lowest 20% of beginning readers are more readily identifiable doesn’t mean that the remaining 80% will become functionally literate and therefore can be neglected for receiving this method of instruction. Canada’s 42% functional illiteracy rate for adults 16 to 65 speaks to the need to address this 80% as well.

In the contents of this report, rather than narrow the discussion to specifics around Reading Recovery™, I provide a historical context for some of the “modern” theories of how children learn to read that have influenced Reading Recovery. The names or attributes of these theories may have changed with time but their atavistic legacy remains


Summary Conclusion

In a longitudinal study of RR, Chapman et al., 2001) found that children selected for the program were, without exception, experiencing major difficulties in detecting sound sequences in words, in relating letters to sounds, and in identifying individual words out of context prior to entering the program. What this means, at the risk of belaboring the point, is that if children were explicitly taught the phoneme-grapheme correspondences in the first instance, they would no longer be candidates for RR; in fact, they would be on the road to becoming independent readers.

It would seem, though, that actually teaching a specific skill such as reading is anathema to some teachers. But this attitude is learned, whether by conversion or deference. When Alberta Education, and by default all the school boards, swallow hook, line, and sinker the proselytizing of Goodman, Smith, Harste, Burke…and, yes, Clay, are teachers to blame for toeing the mandated line?

No reputable scientist believes that learning to read is as natural as learning to speak, that it is a biologically-developmental, meaning-first process, yet that is the dogma of Whole Language whose mantle is now taken up by Balanced Literacy.


Document Contents

•A Brief History of the English Alphabetic Communications System
•Reading: The Great Debate
•Definitions of Literac
•Literacy Terms
•Three Cueing System
•Learning Styles and Modality Matching
•Reading Recovery
LAST WORD…for parents

Note:  The entire paper is presented in the link below. It is well worth reading!

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