The unique nature of Reading Recovery often requires careful explanations of the central understandings that form the foundation of the early intervention, the Early Literacy Processing Theory. Rationales and explanations of the key Principles of Reading Recovery Include:
Emphasis on Preventing Literacy Failure.
Reading Recovery is about preventing literacy failure and reducing the costs of that failure to schools and systems. Strong evidence indicates that preventing difficulties at the onset of learning is the best course of action to take with struggling readers and writers (Juel, 1988; Morris, 2009; Pianta, 1990). Early intervention reduces academic failures and related social-psychological effects.
The effects of waiting to help students who struggle with literacy learning places a burden on upper-grade classrooms that is detrimental to instructional achievement. And the effect/impact on students is immeasurable.
A Complex Theory of Early Literacy Processing.
Marie Clay’s meticulous observation, documentation, and study of the emerging and changing literacy behaviors of young proficient readers led to her theory of literacy processing — a theory of assembling a complex network of systems for reading and writing continuous text. The theory involves many working systems in the brain which
- search for and pick up information,
- work on that information and make decisions,
- monitor and verify those decisions, and
- produce responses (see Ballantyne, 2014; Clay, 2015b; Pinnell, 2010).
Marie Clay’s theory assumed that young readers had to discover what kinds of information exist in texts and what the reader has to attend to in order to extract that information. The beginning reader has to learn to
- get meaning from texts;
- discover how his/her oral language knowledge relates to text (syntactic awareness);
- learn that existing phonological awareness can be applied;
- find out how visual information facilitates the processing of letters, clusters, words, phrases, and print conventions; and
- discover how many other things about books can help the reader (see Clay, 1991, pp. 67–68).
Marie Clay’s research focused on the formative years of literacy learning. Her theory of early literacy processing has made important contributions to the field for all young children and is guided by the following theoretical principles:
- Reading is a complex problem-solving process.
- Children construct their own understandings.
- Children enter the literacy learning process with varying knowledge.
- Reading and writing are reciprocal processes that can be used to support each other.
- Learning to read and write requires a process of reading and
writing continuous text.
- Learning to read is a continuous process of change over time.
- Children take different paths to literacy learning.
See the online document, Changing Futures: The Influence of Reading Recovery in the United States (Schmitt et al., 2005, pp. 43–52) for more information.
These understandings continue to be reviewed and revised as a result of quantitative and qualitative research. Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (Clay, 2016) is the latest example of the continuous attention given to new research for instructional improvement.
Constructive Learners Take Different Paths to Literacy Learning.
Children construct their own understandings. It is the child who must explore and solve problems — the child does the learning. An active, constructive learner becomes independent by taking the initiative to solve problems, making some links to what he already knows, and working at a difficulty when facing challenges in reading and writing (see Clay, 2016, p. 133). The teacher sets conditions in which the child can learn and provides guidance, but it is the child’s understanding that underlies the learning process. In Reading Recovery, the word strategy refers to in-the-head activity initiated by the learner. Strategic activity refers to what goes on when the child’s brain picks up information from a text, works on it, makes a decision, and evaluates the response (see Clay, 2015b, p. 127).
Children take different paths to learning, especially when learning involves complex processes like reading and writing (Clay, 2014). No sequenced course of study will meet every child’s needs. The teacher must tune in to the individual nature of the learning process, especially with children experiencing difficulties. Reading Recovery’s “complex theory of literacy learning supports the view that there are many parts of literacy processing which can be difficult for children. Different children have different strengths and weaknesses, and there may be many causes of difficulty varying from child to child” (Clay, 2015b, pp. 300–301). This complex processing theory is critically important for creating powerful learning opportunities for any child struggling with early literacy learning. It, therefore, allows teachers to work successfully with students of diverse literacy learning challenges.
Reading and Writing as Reciprocal Processes That Support Each Other.
Perhaps more than anyone in the field of early literacy, Marie Clay recognized the value of writing in the process of becoming literate. She included writing in the Reading Recovery lesson because of its close, reciprocal relationship with reading. Reading and writing processes both pull from the same sources of information—knowledge about letters, sounds, words, language, and meaning—and each benefits the other (see Askew & Doyle, 2008, p. 47; Clay, 2016, pp. 22–23).
Reading and Writing of Continuous Text.
Constructive literacy learning needs to occur primarily during the reading and writing of meaningful texts. Daily Reading Recovery lessons involve reading familiar and new books and composing and writing a message. Only by engaging in these tasks can a child become proficient in the complex, integrated tasks of reading and writing. What really matters is how young learners work to engage with continuous texts because they provide interrelated supporting structures such as language, meaning, and phonological information.
Reading Recovery teachers know that “children can learn to monitor their own reading and writing and to flexibly change responses as they search, select, and self-correct — which can only be achieved with massive opportunities to read and write continuous authentic texts” (Askew, 2012, p. 21). Although lessons include attention to letters, words, and sounds, children can learn to problem solve as a reader and writer only by reading and writing connected text.
Measuring Student Progress: A Continuous Process.
Schools often measure students’ literacy progress with tests. In a literacy processing view of progress, however, progress is measured when we study how children work on texts as they read and write. Reading Recovery focuses on each child’s daily changes in literacy behaviors. Teachers’ close observation and records reveal movement toward an effective literacy processing system at any stage of progress, responding to the question “What operations does he carry out and what kinds of operations has he neglected to use?” (Clay, 2015a, p. 313).
With close observational records, teachers can measure each student’s progress daily and across time. Unlike progress measured by test scores, this systematic observation supports teachers’ daily decision making.