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Lessons we can all learn from Reading Recovery

By Mona Yoast

When I was a Reading Recovery teacher, “Back to School” meant screening the lowest-performing first-graders for placement in the program. As I walked students down to my room for the assessment, I would try to put them at ease by telling them we were just going to do some reading and writing together. I’ll never forget the day one young student looked at me sadly and responded, “But I don’t know how to read.”

This broke my heart, but these are the children that Reading Recovery targets.

Thought of as a “safety net,” the idea of Reading Recovery is to intervene early, before students experience failure. The program combines early identification, proven instructional practices, and one-on-one instruction, empowering the teacher to tailor each lesson to the learner’s specific strengths and needs to accelerate reading development. With this approach, even the student that started with no confidence was reading at grade level just 18 weeks later.

Many schools do not have the resources and staff to provide this kind of specialized, one-on-one intervention for every student. But there are essential lessons we can learn from Reading Recovery practices that we can use to help all students become successful readers.

First, early identification and intervention are critical. Decades of research have shown that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are likely to fall further and further behind in future grades, making them four times less likely to finish high school.

In Reading Recovery, I used a one-on-one assessment that took 30+ minutes to administer and another 30+ minutes for me to analyze the results.

Thankfully for today’s busy teachers, there are now assessments that take 20 minutes or less to determine which students need extra reading support, which skills and sub-skills they’ve mastered, and what they need to learn next. This saves hours of instructional time, plus and gives educators better insights into student learning! It’s not surprising that many states, including Arkansas, Michigan, and Mississippi, have approved these assessments to help educators quickly identify struggling readers in the early grades. In fact, Mississippi has seen three years of academic gains among its youngest students.

How can teachers make the most of this instructional time? Once again, we can learn from Reading Recovery methods.

Reading Recovery emphasizes the importance of practice when it comes to learning and mastering skills. In Reading Recovery, students build reading skills by reading books in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)—that is, books that students can mostly read on their own but still offer some challenges that they will need to work through. Learning occurs as the teacher expertly coaches students to draw upon known skills or strategies to work through the challenge, and then reinforces how students worked through the challenge so they can employ that same strategy later.

Why is reading practice so critical? Reading is a process whereby a reader generates meaning by sampling information from three separate cueing systems: meaning cues (pictures, previous story events, background knowledge), structure cues (sentence structure, grammar, pattern), and visual cues (letters, words). Acceleration happens when readers learn to orchestrate these three cueing systems at once, and that can only happen when they are engaged in actual reading. When a student hits a challenge in the text, the teacher prompts him to pay attention to the cueing system he is missing.

These simple interactions have a huge impact on reading development. As a student’s ZPD increases, the level of challenge he encounters increases, and that is what continually fuels his reading growth. Knowing where a student is in his reading development, understanding what he needs to learn next, and matching him with “just right” books for instruction and practice: this is the secret formula that accelerates reading growth, especially in the early years.

As with assessment, there are great tools that can help teachers find engaging, age-appropriate books that match a student’s ZPD. And when that student looks back at you with a look of delight because she just read a book that was too hard for her a few weeks earlier, it’s all worth it!

What strategies have you used to help struggling young learners become confident, capable readers? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook, or tweet us at @RenLearnUS!

Looking for more great insights into boosting reading growth in the early grades? Read our blog on instructional strategies for 7 early literacy pillars, to learn how to use early literacy best practices to boost reading achievement and give young learners the best start in school.

Mona Yoast, Vice President of Professional Services
Mona Yoast, Vice President of Professional Services
Mona Yoast, M.Ed., was formerly the Vice President of Professional Services at Renaissance and is an expert in balanced literacy practices. Passionate about learning, she has spoken at many state and national conferences.


  1. Mario says:

    We use Renaissance Star to help us know their ZPD. From there we have various programs to help studnets increase their ZPD and comprehension. Read 180 is one of those programs and I wish we also had Reading Recovery. I believe that teachers need different tools

  2. Liana Ferrer says:

    At our school we have an intervention group as well. Students who need more help are either pulled out for intervention or are helped individually in the classroom by the intervention teacher.

  3. Cynthia Leija says:

    Great information!

  4. Alecia Walkuski says:

    We have 20 minutes of dedicated reading practice time every day in our building to help with reading recovery.

  5. Nicole Erwin says:

    We use STAR & STAR Early Literacy

  6. Jody Steinhaus says:

    I use the daily Read to Self time to meet with students individually. We set goals and work on various reading strategies that help the child reach the goal and feel successful in reading.

  7. Virginia Travis says:

    We use Renaissance Star to determine the student’s ZPD. We also have pull outs with a reading interventionist.

  8. Trinette Fraizer says:

    Reading recovery means using the data from Star tests to create an appropriate reading regiment.

    • Quita Breland says:

      This exactly what we need to do for our struggling students first. I would like for them to have a reading plan.

  9. Laura says:

    We still have a Reading Recovery/Title 1 reading teacher. She loves how much easier the Star testing and reports are compared to the past.

  10. Andrea says:

    The students take their STAR reading test the first or second week of school. Form there we determine who needs intervention, which will meet daily the first month of school. As a grade level team we meet with the interventionist and principal to decide who should stay in intervention and who can be dismissed or added. Mid-year we re-test STAR and meet again to adjust groups as needed.

  11. Virginia D. Wiedenfeld, M.Ed. says:

    I read the article and then shared the information with our Reading and Math Recovery teacher.

  12. Mary Moetell says:

    Good info! We use a program called SIPPS to place our students into groups across the grade level.

  13. Rita Platt says:

    Reading is the bottom line of a good education.

  14. P R says:

    We use STAR Reading for identifying students with reading difficulties. The information it gives us is used to complete our MTSS paperwork and a baseline for choosing specific research based interventions.

  15. Mary Brown says:

    We use Star Reading to obtain students’ ZPD and lexile. Consequently we measured and labeled all books in the school library by lexile.

  16. RENEE P GRAHAM says:

    My school hires tutors to work with students who score below the 25th percentile. We are so blessed that our admin knows the value of this service.

  17. Antommeshir Jackson says:

    I honestly just found out what ZPD means by reading this article.

  18. David Keech says:

    Using screeners like STAR helps place students in comfortable zones for reading and enables success.

  19. Dvawn Maza says:


  20. Jennifer Bunn says:

    This is an interesting article so I tweeted it and am wondering if STAR early literacy would benefit my school.

  21. Christina says:

    We have a school wide data day where teachers spend part of the day discussing students using the irl from star and any additional assessments such as the DRA. Kiddos are then placed in groups-intervention and every six weeks they are progressed monitored.

  22. Emily Ballard says:

    So nice to see that my state, Mississippi, is actually being talked about in a positive way!!! We use ZPD zones to determine a range for AR reading and it works great!

  23. Teresa says:

    ZPD is what we follow to establish reading goals

  24. Jason says:

    We are in a middle school setting and most students still enjoy reading. The hard part is getting students to break out of their comfort zone of books they like and have them try different genres or authors. For reluctant readers, I try to establish a baby step mentality to reading. Just take it step by step with something they like first; and hopefully, soon the students will begin to read more and more and more and more…..

  25. S.Bellomo says:

    I am looking forward to the webinar and learning more about reading recovery.

  26. Amber AuBain says:

    We support our students by having tier 2 and tier 3 interventions. We use STAR reports and other information to determine if a student would benefit from intensive tier 3 reading intervention with our interventionist.

  27. Lloyd Goldberg says:

    STAR data in conjunction with the ZPD truly runs the reading process. Staying inside it helps everyone catch up or get ahead.

  28. Katie Reed says:

    We use STAR data to determine what kids go where for RTI.

  29. Missy Berry says:

    We use STAR and we assess the students monthly.

  30. Krystal Dozier says:

    I am excited about learning more about Reading Recovery!

  31. Lisa Capon says:

    Great information! I enjoyed learning more about Reading Recovery.

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