Emergent literacy. Marie coined the term, emergent literacy in her PhD thesis; more importantly, she enhanced our understanding of it enormously, both in Reading Recovery and her assessment work. When we utter the term, we usually mean to emphasize the idea that no matter how young, inexperienced, or novice you are as a reader and writer, there is a level at which, there is a task in which, you can demonstrate your emerging literacy competence. But I also like, as did Marie, the other end of the continuum— the idea that no matter how old, experienced, and expert you are as a reader or writer, there is always something more for you to learn—another book to read, another practice to master, another paper to write, or another word to learn. We are all emergent readers.
Assessment. If you look carefully at Marie’s enactment of assessment, both in the Observation Survey and in the daily enactment of Reading Recovery, you’ll discover that she was all about what became formative assessment. And she did all of this before we began using that term to describe the sort of responsive assessment that guides teachers in three important tasks:
- getting a close reading of each individual student so they can determine the next pedagogical steps to take,
- asking oneself whether what the assessment data suggests that it is the teaching rather than the learning that may need modification, and
- how to engage learners in assessing their own progress.
Marie anticipated the formative assessment movement by a decade or two.
Scaffolding. One of my favorite features of Reading Recovery is the practice labeled, “roaming around the known.” In this practice, every day students spend some time reading texts that they had read before and are well within their zone of competence and confidence (Why? To consolidate and fine tune their skills, strategies, and knowledge). Daily students also spent some time reading texts that were at the edge of their competence and confidence (Why? To challenge and stretch their skills, strategies, and knowledge in moving to a new level). And daily, yesterday’s challenge texts became today’s known texts. An elegant approach to promoting gradual progress! And the key was the level of scaffolding that Reading Recovery teachers provided on the challenge texts. Interestingly, Marie and her colleagues did all of this in the same period (mid to late 1970s) in which Wood, Bruner, and Ross (the folks credited with coining the term, scaffolding, within the realm of learning) were doing their seminal work enacting Vygotsky’s notion of working in the Zone of Proximal Development. Yet another example of Marie’s uncanny ability to anticipate what would happen more broadly in the field before we even named the practice.
Teacher Education. In teacher education, we began, in the late 1970s and 80s, to champion the idea of the teacher as a reflective practitioner. Marie, in her famous “behind the glass” sessions—where a teacher in training and a teacher leader comment, in real time, on the lesson enacted by a second teacher in training—figured out how to operationalize moment-by-moment real-time reflection about practice long before researchers in teacher education got there. This did not go unnoticed by colleagues. During my tenure at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Dick Anderson, Bonnie Armbruster, and Jan Gaffney developed adaptations of that model for our pre-service teacher education program. We see models of professional development come and go, but that model in Reading Recovery stands the test of time. It endures because it is effective. Moreover, it addresses a perennial problem in teacher development: We tend to avoid the absolutely essential but also personally threatening task of evaluating the moment-by-moment flow of teaching. Marie taught us how to do this respectfully—and effectively.