My child seems behind his first-grade classmates who are already reading. What can I do?

Check to see if there is a Reading Recovery program in your school.  It is designed for just the kind of situation you describe.  Reading Recovery identifies children having trouble reading at the beginning of first grade, intervenes with a private tutor, and, for 75 percent of the students who complete the program, gets them to grade level reading within 20 weeks.

At the start of first grade, or around students’ sixth birthdays, children in schools with a Reading Recovery program are evaluated for their reading abilities.  Those who rate in the lower 5 to 20 percent compared to their classmates are offered a specially trained tutor who works with an individual student for a half-hour daily for 12 to 20 weeks.  Then the students are reassessed.  The great majority of students going through the program read on grade level after 20 weeks and no longer need intervention.  For the few who don’t, specific data collected on those students can be used to plan other interventions.

Since reasons for not reading well vary from child to child, each tutor tailors a program based on her student’s strengths and weaknesses.  During a typical lesson a child reads one or more tiny books (just a few words on each page and only a few pages) with comprehension the primary focus of the lesson.  The books are chosen by the tutor based on the child’s interests.  A student also learns phonics, fluency and other reading skills, and writes in a journal-like notebook.  Each day the child brings home a tiny book which she is encouraged to read to her parents.

Reading Recovery intervenes early in a child’s education before problems consolidate and before the child develops a self-concept as a poor reader.  It was started in the 1970’s by a New Zealand developmental psychologist, Marie Clay.  New Zealand is the only country to offer this program in every school, but it has spread to the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the U.S.

Reading Recovery began in the U.S. in 1984, and last year was offered to 50,000 first graders in 4100 schools in 41 states.  It is offered only in schools (not privately) which pay for the training of Reading Recovery teachers.  Teachers are trained for a year, and during that time they observe experienced teachers working with students and begin to work with students themselves.  This is to assure there are highly skilled tutors able to plan a program that will lead a student to successful reading.

Data is collected on every child who takes part in a Reading Recovery program.  In 25 years, in the U.S. 1,551,444 students have completed the program, and of them, 1,209,577 have achieved grade level reading abilities within 20 weeks.

To find out if there is a Reading Recovery program near you, go to the Reading Recovery Council of North America (www.readingrecovery.org).  On the home page, under Quick Links, click Directories.  Then click Teacher/Leader Registry, and put in your city or state in the appropriate blanks.  A list of Reading Recovery teachers and their school email addresses appear.  If you contact a local one, that teacher can tell you what schools in your area participate.

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