Four Lessons I learned from Reading Recovery

Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Wisconsin and author of 5 Myths About Classroom Technology and Digital Portfolios in the Classroom (both through ASCD). You can find more of Matt’s work at his newsletter,


It’s not just an intervention; it’s an investment in students and teachers.

Source: Fargo Public Schools

In 2011, I was hired as an elementary principal in Central Wisconsin.

The school already had a reputation for strong achievement. It was and still is Schoolwide Title I, with anywhere from 60%-70% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. I was interested in learning what made this school successful in spite of the challenges of poverty.

Over my five years there I discovered many reasons for their success, including strong teachers, a cohesive community, and continuous professional learning.

And one of the most impactful elements on student learning was the presence of Reading Recovery.

Next are four lessons I learned from this intervention.

Lesson #1 – Reading Recovery teaches readers, not just reading.

Reading Recovery is a 15-week intervention designed primarily for 1st graders.

Within these constraints, teachers are expected to work with the reader in front of them. There is no script to follow. As an example, students are offered choice of which books they would like to read together. Formative assessments such as running records are regularly used to inform the teacher about future instruction.

Reading Recovery first meets students where they are vs. where we would like them to be.

Lesson #2 – Reading Recovery is professional development, not just an intervention.

This perspective comes from Dr. Richard Allington, educational author, researcher, and advocate for evidence-based reading instruction.

When I witnessed my first “Behind the Glass” session, in which one teacher works with a student in a room while other teachers observe through one-way glass next door, I was surprised by the honesty of their critiques they would later offer their colleagues. “You all are tough on each other!” The teachers disagreed, explaining that authentic feedback was a critical part of their practice. (Not surprisingly, one of our Reading Recovery teachers also led a lot of our school’s professional development.)

I’ve tried to apply this idea into my own work as a literacy leader.

Lesson #3 – Reading Recovery is a literacy and language intervention, not just for readers.

Within the 30 minutes allotted for each session, students are expected to write in addition to reading with the teacher.

What students write becomes a lesson in itself. They are encouraged to write about what they know from their own life. Strategies taught during the reading and language instruction are applied to what students choose to write about. Related, the language teachers use is oriented to students’ strengths and what they are doing well.

It’s an inclusive instructional model, both from an academic and cultural perspective.

Lesson #4 – Reading Recovery supports students for life, not just for school.

Upper grade teachers in our school would comment that “we can tell which students received Reading Recovery.”

Specifically, they observed that students who experienced this intervention had internalized the skills and strategies to be confident and successful readers. They identified as readers. Our own observations are confirmed by current research. Long term benefits include reducing the number of students who qualify for special education, which is a primary purpose for administering a reading intervention.

I think about the financial and life satisfaction implications of these findings, in addition to helping kids become better readers.

Reading Recovery is not just an intervention; it’s an investment in students and teachers.


This post was first published on Read By Example and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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