Critique of Reading Recovery written by Gerig, Perry, and Spencer

Ya-Hui Tsai
Indiana University in Bloomington

The Reading Recovery chapter, written by Kristi Gerig, Jan Perry, and Leanette Spencer from the University of Georgia, elaborates the processes and details of the remedial program “Reading Recovery”. Reading Recovery is an early literacy intervention strategy providing intensive, individual help for students having difficulties in learning how to read and write. By taking the scenario “Eric” for example, the authors illustrate the process of Reading Recovery (RR) program and demonstrate how the RR teacher applies daily individualized lessons to help Eric make rapid progress in short periods of time and eventually catch up the existing classroom literacy learning. During this extensive process, the Reading Recovery (RR) teacher adopted Observational Survey (OI) to acquire information about the student’s emerging literacy behaviors and had a record of what he knows and how he demonstrated it across several different literacy tasks. After assembling adequate information for the student’s literacy abilities, the RR teacher begins to scaffold the student’s learning and help him develop a self-extending system so that he can become an independent reader and learner eventually.

Key Points

  • The Reading Recovery research was conducted by Dame Marie Clay from the University of Auckland. According to Clay (2005a), reading is a “message getting, problem-solving activity.” Alternatively, writing is a “message sending, problem-solving activity.” Children construct their own understanding of the reading process and in addition, bring a wealth of prior knowledge to the task.
  • There are two theoretical principles on which RR is based. First, reading and writing are connected processes and should be performed in conjunction with each other. Learning in one aspect of literacy supports learning in the other. Second, children learn how to read and write by participating in authentic reading and writing tasks on continuous texts (Cox & Hopkins, 2006).
  • While reading, children use multiple sources of information in flexible ways in order to retrieve a message of understanding from the text. These sources include the following:
  1. Meaning cues (both from within the text and from the reader’s own knowledge of how the world works),
  2. Structure cues (making the text semantically correct based on the rules of the given language), and
  3. Visual cues (understanding and applying the text layout, directionality, and as letter/sound correspondence).
  • Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement which the RR teacher gives to the student in order to collect information about his literacy strengths and weaknesses has several tasks as follows:
  1. Letter identification,
  2. Word test,
  3. Concepts about print,
  4. Writing vocabulary,
  5. Hearing and recording sounds in words, and
  6. Text reading level.
  • Reading Recovery is an excellent model for effective scaffolding. The RR teacher provides a “bridge” between what the child knows and what the child needs to learn. Then, with the support of the necessary language and prompts, the child creates his own system of metacognitive analysis and develops his own problem solving system. In effect, the RR process builds critical reading skills that can serve to guide the child when reading independently later on. Finally, the teacher can release the support or fade from his learning gradually.


The Reading Recovery article is well organized in expanding on the theoretical framework and specializing in the use of RR procedures. As a reader, I think the title of the chapter is really appropriate to help understand what would be discussed in the text. Overall, the authors’ statement is also clear and has cited the pertinent literature to support their points of view.

The things I like in this chapter are the adoption of the scenario and the PowerPoint presentation. By using a very specific example, “Eric” scenario, the authors provided a great introduction for the RR program. Moreover, this example has been connected to each task later given by the RR teacher in the series of lessons. Therefore, the reader can make a clear picture of RR processes and understand how the program works in the real world. On the other hand, the authors used PowerPoint to present what specific materials and texts were chosen as a tool to measure or observe Eric’s concept about print. An exemplified book was also provided in the PowerPoint and you could download a transcript of the audio to see what the RR teacher demonstrated. In other words, the PowerPoint presentation provided an elaboration and clarification of the procedure enabling the viewer to learn the abstract and complex concepts of RR, such as the Concepts of Print Portion of the Observational Survey. There is no doubt that both visual and audio cues lead to better comprehension of the detailed processes.

Finally, the Reading Recovery Challenges section of this chapter provides some comments and critics to help the reader deepen their thought and remind them of potentially controversial issues aroused out of this topic.


In addition to these strengths, there are several weaknesses. To begin with, although the authors utilized the specific example, “Eric,” to describe the application of Reading Recovery process, they should provide more information about his personal background, for instance, his language experience, general intelligence (IQ), learning style, personality etc.. Since as RR article indicated, there is no script for teaching during a RR lesson. There is no set teaching sequences. A highly appropriate recommendation for one child could be an unnecessary one for another child. In other words, every lesson plan is highly unique to each child. Without considering the factors mentioned above, the consequence and effectiveness of the RR program would be reduced. That is, what if Eric is a second language learner? What if Eric has learning disability? The situation would be totally different. Clearly identifying subject’s background makes the outcome of the program more persuasive.

In Reading Recovery, even though the authors provided a PowerPoint presentation accounting for the process of Observation Survey, it is still too obscure to figure out each task or strategy that the RR teacher operated to guide Eric to participate in RR lessons, especially for the Lesson Format in Relation to Scaffolding section. It would be better to allow readers to gain explicit application by providing each procedure with either PowerPoint or video presentations. If such resources were available, RR could be replicated and extended around this tiny planet; from Indianapolis to Atlanta to Taipei to Hong Kong to India to London. Furthermore, by using various presentations, such as pictures, audios, diagrams, videos, the authors could facilitate concept learning, new information encoding, as well as better reading comprehension in terms of the perspective of Cognitive Information Process.

In addition, according to the idea of Reading Recovery, the theories of Vygotsky’s “Scaffolding” and “Zone of Proximal Development” are very important concepts to sustain the whole instruction and make it achieve the goal successfully. As a result, apart from introducing a theory of learning to read, Scaffolding and ZPD are also worthy to explain in order to give stronger theoretical basis of Reading Recovery.


I believe that the Reading Recovery can benefit those “at-risk” readers and provide them a second change to catch up the existing classroom programs by monitoring their literacy learning strategies. If the RR teacher can continually check out the student’s progress throughout his/her elementary school years, as mentioned in the chapter, the RR program will significantly reduce the number of referrals and placements to special education. On the contrary, the cost of “one-to-one” model instruction will probably huge and inefficient. Perhaps more media is needed so other teachers can learn the RR technique vicariously as Bandura argues.


To sum up, the Reading Recovery is an effectively remedial intervention to help low level literacy learners. Students who participate in the program learn to become independent readers and writers, using the same strategies that proficient literacy learner’s use. Learning these key strategies enables them to build self-confidence and to engage in existing programs with continued success. To achieve the goal, however, the RR teacher seems to play a very crucial role in developing the individual scaffolding lesson plan. RR teachers should be highly experienced and well trained. What’s more, the RR program focuses on alphabetical language system, especially for English. To link to my own language background, English was a foreign language for me while in Taiwan and now it is a second language.

There are myriad limitations for RR, such as the influence of first language and culture differences and the resources and time required to effectively complete the process. In terms of the former, the evidence of utilizing the RR program to support ESL or EFL children cross literacy learning difficulty is still deficient. In reflecting on my own teaching experience, this program is still difficult to implement in my own class but it perhaps is a new way to think about and assess students’ English learning. Let’s hope so! And perhaps I will see Reading Recovery wherever I go!