Why I Like Reading Recovery and What We Can Learn From It by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Why I Like Reading Recovery and What We Can Learn From It by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Eric Litwin asked about Reading Recovery, what is it, how is it implemented, is it effective? As many of you know I am a former Reading Recovery teacher. I can sum up my opinion about Reading Recovery in three words: It REALLY works.  Why do I say this?

First of all, let’s look at the research past and present.  Back in 2007 an extensive review of programs by the federal governments What Works Clearinghouse found that Reading Recovery was the only intervention that made a significant difference in reading achievement for young children.  A current search of the IES>WWC website finds only three early learning studies that met their standards of review https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/EvidenceSnapshot/420 . Reading Recovery is the most successful of those three programs. Readers can follow the preceding link to go to IES>WWC’s Evidence Snapshop Page. There is a link there to download the full intervention report.

Here is a screen capture of that page:

WWC Screen Capture


Many times, early literacy programs help in areas related to decoding (alphabetic, reading fluency), but fail to impact comprehension and achievement.  I want to call your attention to is that RR had significant improvement index scores in all four areas, including comprehension and achievement.  I know of no other early literacy intervention that can make that claim. So, as I said at the outset, Reading Recovery REALLY works.

Eric also wanted to know my opinion of why it works and what we can learn from it. I believe the key to why it works is that Reading Recovery follows the principle of making the program fit the child not the other way round.  RR teachers are first and foremost kid watchers.  As a RR teacher I noticed what the child was doing. One example is that I looked for self-corrections. My own experience is that when the child begins to self-correct, the effect of everything else in the program begins to become cumulative.  If the child is reading materials in their ZPD, each time they read they are effectively teaching themselves new words and understandings. One of the reasons I gave such an impassioned defense of the use of the three-cueing system (last week’s blog entry), is that as I planned my program for each student back in the day,  I was always encouraging cross-checking and use of all the cues. My prompts NEAR POINT OF ERROR would include things like “Say the first sound think of the clues”, “what word starts with that sound and makes sense”, “I like the way the word you just said makes sense, but it doesn’t start with this sound. Can you think of another word that makes sense and starts with this sound?” RR teachers are totally familiar with the concept of ongoing assessment. Their kid watching forms the basis for informing all their instruction.

Eric also wanted to know how important it is to do Reading Recovery individually. My answer is VERY. I’ll go one step further.  If you want results like the ones listed in the WWC reports, then you need to implement RR using trainers certified to carry out the training.  Mark Twain once said, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightening bug. Point taken.  I know some administrators view RR and the associated training as too expensive. However, when one factors in the fact that most RR students who complete the program never need any further interventions, then the cost benefit results look much better. Also, while most RR teachers only service 4 students the first semester, many service more the second semester because the “late starts” are usually a little further along than their first semester counterparts. This leads to more than 4 students cycling through the program second semester.  I know of places where recovery teachers serviced 10-16 students each year. So, I view RR as cost effective.  Is there anything from RR that can be transferred over to the main program?

I’ll start by saying, RR is designed for students for whom the regular literacy program is unlikely to work. It is at least a Tier 2, or Tier 3 intervention. But it is a program rich with effective literacy practices. I want to share something I learned at my very first RR convention.  Before trying to transfer RR practices to the classroom, first revisit the practice and look at the learning principles behind the practice. Then adapt the practice and how it is implemented to the classroom. That advice has proven very useful over the years.

When I was looking over research about RR when I was first trained I found out that in America, it took almost twice the number of lessons than in other countries to get students released. My take on that was that we need to look at practices in those other countries, which tend to not use basals but instead use child center literacy-based approaches, in order to improve our own practices.  When I stopped being an RR teacher and started being a push in Title One staff developer, I found myself doing exactly what was suggested at that first conference. Look at practices and then adapt those practices to the classroom. They formed the basis of much of what I modeled for my classroom teachers. I will save talking about the practices I transferred until after Bill Kerns and I put together our proposal for a preconference workshop at the early learning conference scheduled for St. Louis in November (http://www.missouriearlylearning.com/). There we hope to share some of those effective practices.  For now, know that first among those practices is learning to prompt NEAR point of error, not at point of error. Classroom teachers can use a technique called “staggered start”. Using “staggered start” they can then prompt near point of error for all the children their guided reading groups. If I’ve peeked your interest, please do follow the blog. I promise a blog entry on all these practices as soon as Bill and I get the proposal written. That will be well in advance of the conference.

So, Eric, first thanks for carrying on this conversation and especially thanks for your great questions.  Yes RR works. Look at the description from WWC in order to see what it involves. Teachers who implement it should learn how to do it as it was intended. If you want to borrow it’s practices, first visit the theory behind practices in RR and then adapt those practices that might help your children into the your main program.  So, until next week…


Happy Reading & Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (once an RR teacher, always an RR teacher)

Here is a link to the IES>WWC site set to filter all literacy programs not just early literacy programs:


Here is a link to more research demonstrating the efficacy of RR:


Another link to more research demonstrating the efficacy of RR:

Here is a link to a recent u tube video explaining the benefits one district found from reading recovery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvrAR5FrEBg&feature=share

July 2020 addition to the blog entry. Link to a 4 year study using random assignment and indicating that RR is effective. https://www.cpre.org/reading-recovery-evaluation-four-year-i3-scale




Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Opinions are my own , I am responsible for their content

12 thoughts on “Why I Like Reading Recovery and What We Can Learn From It by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. Eric Litwin

    Very thought-provoking blog. Thank you for discussing the questions we have been conversing about. I hope these are helpful for others trying to understand early literacy as well. The most stand out point in this blog for me was .. “Reading Recovery follows the principle of making the program fit the child not the other way round. RR teachers are first and foremost kid watchers.” Isn’t this at the very heart of the controversy regarding the over use of standardized assessment and one size fits all direct instruction?

  2. doctorsam7

    Thanks Eric. And I will make good on the promise to detail some of the more effective practices that might be adapted to regular classes. Bill and I plan to have our conference proposal ready in the next week or two and that will help to assure the things I talk about will be the best of the best. Sam

  3. literacypages

    I have been following your blog for a few months now and I always look forward to reading your new posts. I was overjoyed to see you spreading the word about the effectiveness of Reading Recovery.
    A couple of years ago, as part of our Continuing Contact sessions, we studied the research report released in March 2016 – Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of the Four-Year i3 Scale-Up.
    The Consortium for Poly Research in Education released the results of an independent study on Reading Recovery that also found it to be an effective intervention. “The CPRE/CRESP evaluation revealed that students who participated in Reading Recovery significantly outperformed students in the control group on measures of overall reading, reading comprehension, and decoding. These effects were similarly large for English language learners and students attending rural schools, which were the student subgroups of priority interest for the i3 scale-up grant program.”
    You mentioned the number of students that a Reading Recovery teacher traditionally services. I just wanted to share that in my school district I have typically serviced 8-10 Reading Recovery students per year. During the other half of my day, I have played various roles throughout the years that have increased my impact on teachers and students greatly – literacy coach, instructional coach, tier 2/ tier 3 literacy interventionist.
    Reading Recovery training was transformative for me. I love the continued learning each month with our “behind the glass” sessions. I look forward to reading more about adapting Reading Recovery practices to the classroom!

    1. doctorsam7

      Thanks so much for following the blog and for your very kind and informative comments. If it’s ok with you I would like to cut and paste this reply into my next weeks post so everyone following the blog can see it! Let me know. Sam (Dr. B.)

  4. doctorsam7

    I will! It will be the lead item next week. I also shared it early with my blogging partner Dr. Bill Kerns. He is the research guru and I know he will put the research information to good use! Happy Reading and Writing Dr. B.

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