Marie Clay (Continued)

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In 1963, Clay began to investigate her doctoral research question, “Can we see the process of learning to read and write going astray close to the onset of instruction?” In her dissertation, “Emergent Reading Behaviour,” she describes the week-by-week progress of one hundred children during their first year of school (Clay 1966). An important outcome of her dissertation and subsequent research was the development of reliable observation tools for the assessment and fine-grained analysis of changes over time in children’s early literacy learning. These assessments constitute An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement (Clay, 1993a), which has also been reconstructed and validated for the Spanish, Maori, and French languages. Clay’s observational methodology and clinical orientation arise from her training in developmental psychology and have kept her close to the source of literacy learning—the children and their teachers. This proximity may partially account for her perspectives on literacy learning, which differ, sometimes dramatically, from those of other researchers.

From her early research, she published Reading: The Patterning of Complex Behaviour (Clay, 1972), which changed through three editions and formed the basis of Clay’s theoretical description of young children’s developing control over literacy learning, as presented in Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control (Clay, 1991). She has been a regular contributor to peer-reviewed publications (1967, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1985, 1987, 1997), a member of editorial committees for journals (such as the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, the New Zealand Psychologist, the Reading Research Quarterly, the Journal of Reading Behaviour, and the new Journal of Early Childhood Literacy), and she wrote an introduction to the fourth edition of Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (Ruddell, Ruddell, & Singer, 1994).

A permanent and, by 1973, senior member of the University faculty, Clay maintained a high level of contact with children, parents, and educators. Among her many commitments, she was an early member of the Reading Association in New Zealand, president of the Auckland Reading Association in 1971-1972, and coordinator of the New Zealand Reading Association Councils from 1971-1974. Clay was the first non-North American to be elected president of the International Reading Association (IRA). During her term (1992-1993), Clay revitalized international participation in the work of the Association. As the 1995 recipient of the prestigious William S. Gray Citation of Merit, her contribution to invigorating the international emphasis of the IRA was acknowledged. “World-class scholar, researcher, and visionary educator, Marie Clay has inspired scholars, regenerated teachers, and touched the lives of children in all parts of the globe. An unwavering advocate for world literacy, she will always symbolize the I in IRA.” (Reading Today, 1995, 34).

Reading Recovery is one of Clay’s important contributions to education. Like the pattern of her work, the program emanated from close involvement with keen insight into those closest to the source. The research project was born from the concerns of classroom teachers who, despite well-designed classroom programs and good teaching, were not able to change the paths of progress for particular children. The driving question, stated with simple elegance, was “What is possible when we change the design and delivery of traditional education for children that teachers find hard to teach?” (Clay 1993b, p. 97.) It is early identification and instruction of these children, and not the classroom programs, that Clay has tried to redesign.

In 1976, Clay began to work—first with one research assistant, Sara (Sue) Robinson, then with a group of experienced primary educators including Barbara Watson—to develop an intervention that would bring the lowest children up to the average band of progress in their classrooms. These pioneers did not know then the possibilities that might be created for children, for teachers, and for schools with a different set of circumstances and assumptions.