June 16, 2008

Reading Recovery Earns Raves for Helping Kids Early

By Amanda McGregor, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

Jun. 16--SALEM -- Divin Elonga arrived from Africa last year without speaking a word of English. Now, at the end of first grade, he is reading above average for his class.

Last Tuesday morning, he whizzed through a book with teacher Lisa DiIsso, called "Just Me and My Puppy," and wrote a journal entry about the story afterward.

DiIsso worked with Divin, 6, every day during the first half of this school year as part of the Reading Recovery program, which provides early interventions for children who are having extreme difficulty learning to read and write.

"When he arrived here from Congo, he didn't know any letters at all," DiIsso said. "He had never held a pencil or drawn before. ... He has done really well."

This year, roughly 100 first-graders in Salem took part in Reading Recovery, in which teachers work one-on-one with students for 30 minutes every day, for an average of 12 to 20 weeks. They read books, analyze pictures to help understand the text, have conversations, use letter boards, write journal entries, and use other tools and tricks to help dissect and master the language. The program is for first-graders only.

"Research shows it's much more fiscally responsible to intervene early rather than remediate later," said Andi Clark, a Reading Recovery teacher leader.

She and teacher leader Julie Whitehead recently gave a presentation about Reading Recovery to the School Committee, sharing statistics and touting a majority success rate of bringing struggling readers up to where they should be in first grade.

During the presentation, Mayor Kim Driscoll and School Committee member Kerry Martin said their children had used the program. Driscoll, who is School Committee chairwoman, said it provides children with a "self-confidence boost, and they feel they're measuring up to their peers."

Last school year, 79 percent of the children who finished a complete Reading Recovery program reached the desired reading and writing levels a child should attain by the end of first grade.

"It's an amazing. amazing program," Martin said, "and the huge home connection played a big role in how well (my son) did." Students are sent home with nightly reading homework. Clark said parents are also asked to come to school and observe a lesson so they can reinforce the methods at home.

Reading Recovery is an international program. In Massachusetts, it's administered out of Lesley University in Cambridge.

Whitehead, who is retiring, started the program in Salem in 1991. It is one of 11 school training sites in the state that draw teachers from other school districts who want to learn how to assess students and use the Reading Recovery method. The Bentley School has a training room and an observation room separated by one-way glass.

Salem has a high number of English language learners, which adds another interesting dimension to the program.

"It works with children from many different backgrounds," Clark said. "Reading Recovery is such an important part of what we're doing here in Salem. It's wonderful that children are getting help early."


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