What I Learned from Reading Recovery and How It Helped to Inform my Classroom Practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

What I Learned from Reading Recovery and How It Helped to Inform my Classroom Practices

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’ll begin by saying what this blog entry is not about.  It’s not about trying to move Reading Recovery practices directly into the classroom or to create some pseudo Reading Recovery program. As I said in an earlier blog if you want Reading Recovery like results, then get your teachers trained by certified RR trainers and implement RR with fidelity. This blog entry is about following the advice I received at my very first RR conference. Before trying to move any Reading Recovery practice into the classroom, first visit the theory behind the practice and then adapt the practice classroom setting.

Like Dr. Mary Howard and many others, I mark my career in two parts, how I taught before my recovery training and how I teach now. What now follows are reflections on some of the most important takeaways I have from RR. They are things have helped me become a better teacher and a better teacher of teachers.

Takeaway one- I learned to be a kid watcher and to make effective use of my knowledge of the three cuing systems. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Yetta Goodman coined the term kid watcher and laid the foundations for the science of miscue analysis. Her initial observation was simple but profound.  You can’t read a child’s mind. So, you can’t directly see how a child is thinking and problem solving as they read. You can however observe the child’s actions as they read.  By seeing what the child is trying (or not trying) as they problem solve their words you can get a sense of what strategies the child is (or is not) using as they read.  Quite a number of years ago at a Mid Missouri TAWL conference, Yetta reported that Marie Clay and her husband Ken Goodman concurrently came up with the idea of using the three cueing systems. Ken used the names given to the three cueing systems by his chosen field of linguistics. They were Semantic, Syntactic and Grapho-phonemic. Concurrently Marie Clay began looking at what I think are the very same three cueing systems naming them Meaning, Structural, and Visual. Both Clay and Goodman used the notion of miscue analysis.  By looking at what cueing system the child was using when making an “error”, one can tell which (if any) of the three cueing systems the child was using. So, for Clay and Goodman, errors were not really errors at all. They were attempts to use the cueing systems that misfired. Hence the name miscue.

By systematically recording which cueing system (if any) the child was using when their attempt misfired (miscue), teachers can glean a lot of information on what the child is attempting to do as they problem solve their words. Teachers can also tell whether the child is crosschecking, i.e. using more than one of the cueing systems at the same time.  Suddenly teachers could know what the child was thinking as they problem solved their words. By careful observation and record keeping (especially the use of running records) teachers can get ideas on what the child needs to learn to make a balanced use of all three cueing systems. Our field abounds with excellent sources on how to make use of this incredibly valuable information.  It seems to me that by using this information teachers can become mind readers after all!!

Takeaway two- I learned how to prompt and most importantly learn how to prompt near point of error.

F & P and Calkins have written extensively about prompting. F & P even have charts and apps to help the teacher to know what to say.  Key prompts for problem solving words would include- Does that look right? (does it look like the word you just said), Does it sound right? (is that syntactically correct, is that the way we usually talk), Does it make sense? (does what you just said make sense, fit how the story is going?). Prompting to crosscheck includes calling attention to the cues not used. For instance, if a child says a word that fit the picture but did not fit the letters in the word you might say “What you said makes sense, but does it start with the right letter? What word would also make sense but start with this letter <point to the letter, maybe even say the letter sound>.  There are a host of other ways to prompt, including prompts to help comprehension, but right now I’m focusing on prompts for problem solving words.

It is crucial that prompts be done NEAR point of error, not AT point of error. That means waiting. Wait to see if the child self corrects on their own.  That means, when possible, you must allow the child to read past the error. Praise the child if they spontaneously correct the error (I like the way you fixed that!!!) Early in my training I learned that encouraging self-correction is GOLD.  For many children, when they start self-correcting, that is the turning point in their ability to read and to learn new words from when the read.  That is why determining self-correction rate is one of the things we include on the running record form.

There is a major problem in using prompting routinely in the classroom.  It is best used one on one. It is best used in that teachable moment when a child makes a miscue. How can one have a significant number of such moments in a regular classroom setting?  One answer I learned that increases the number of those teachable moments is to use staggered starts when doing small group reading. Here is how that works. Do your usual introduction/teaching point in your small group. Then announce that today we are using staggered starts in this group. The first time you use staggered starts you will have to take extra time to explain it. After using it a couple of time, most groups learn what is involved. DON’T OVER USE IT. Use it when you need more teachable moments in selected small groups. These are the groups whose members included children that need more work on problem solving their words. Here are the steps:

  1. Each child learns they are not to start reading until you say. When they read, they are to read aloud in a whisper voice. I have them use whisper readers (see picture). I sometimes face them in different directions. Both these teaching moves are designed to lessen the effect of having everyone read at once.

Whisper Read Phones Free to Use Image

  1. Let the children know that once everyone is reading you will come around to work with some students individually. Let them know that EVENTUALLY everyone will get a turn, but it might take more than one session to do that. Also let them know that if the finish the story they are to IMMEDIATELY start from the start and read it again (and again, and again). They don’t stop reading until you say.
  2. Once all the children in the group are reading (I recommend using a group of 3-5), you are then free to circulate and sit in with selected children. I usually don’t do every child every time. BTY, besides getting in my chance to prompt with selected student, I sometimes use this same technique to get in a teaching conference with selected students. DON’T OVERUSE THIS, but it can be handy in a pinch!
  3. BOOK SELECTION IS CRITICAL FOR THIS TO WORK. Pick an instructional level text where the students are likely to make several miscues.  If there is a sound you are especially concerned with, pick a text that uses that sound a lot.  I use both predictable and decodable books during such lessons.
  4. You can stop circulating any time after you are sure that every student has been through the story at least once.
  5. Once you say stop, continue with the lesson as usual.

I’ll say this one more time. DON’T OVERUSE THIS. Use it when you genuinely need to do some one-on- one-word work with selected students who are having exceptional difficulty with problem solving their words.

Take away three- I learned to help kids write their way into reading. Doing the Elkonin boxes and writing short phrases was a powerful part of my recovery lessons. The general principal here is to sometimes let the kids write using the high frequency words they need to know. I currently use Rasinski’s Fry List phrases http://www.timrasinski.com/presentations/fry_600_instant_phrases.pdf. I ask them to copy a phrase and then write more about it.  I also do whole group story writing where I have selected Fry list words (or Dolch list words) posted on a chart and then and ask them to join me writing something using as many of those words as possible. This can be followed by them writing stories on their own, again trying to use some of the high frequency words in the story. This is not the only writing the kids do, but it is writing that helps build their sight word knowledge.

Takeaway four– I learned the value of observation as a part of ongoing assessment.  I think that today we over test and underteach. Constant summative assessments take away from teaching time. They can become counterproductive. Think about it. If you spend most of your time doing summative assessments eventually what you will find is that since you have not taken the time to teach something new, your students are not growing as readers (or writers). Now that I’ve had my chance to vent a little, lets be clear that assessment is necessary.  As a recovery teacher I learned that authentic ongoing assessment can be a very powerful tool. There are “assessments” that are not paper and pencil tests. They are instead rooted in careful and systematic observations.

I was brought into the world of workshop teaching, kicking and screaming. At first, I thought it would turn out to be a waste of time. Found out instead it was a way to become the ultimate kid watcher. It led to my learning to do systematic observations that became defacto ongoing assessments. It has become second nature to my teaching. F & P, Calkins, and Serravallo all have written extensively about how to systematically gather information about your students and to use that information to inform your teaching in a workshop setting. RR was my first experience in doing this. It made me more open and understanding about doing this when I did my workshop training.

There are many other takeaways from RR, takeaways I had as a teacher that I adapted into classroom use. I just gave my top four. I would love to hear from other RR teachers about their takeaways from RR, and how what they learned help to improve their classroom teaching. Please do chime in and make some comments!

So, until next week this is Dr. B. signing off,


Happy Reading and Writing



Dr. Sam Bommarito, (a.k.a., the Kidwatcher)

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito who is solely responsible for it’s content








4 thoughts on “What I Learned from Reading Recovery and How It Helped to Inform my Classroom Practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. Dale

    My favourite is building fluency by pushing them along with a card from a familiar text and getting them to read yesterdays book as soon as they get to the table while I get myself ready for their group and do a quick rove of the rest of the class.

  2. literacypages

    My top four would be: 1. I became a “noticing teacher”. Along with that, I developed a better understanding of the power of working with what is known to get to what is unknown. 2. I became more proactive and responsive to my students’ academic and behavioral needs. 3. I became more compassionate and patient with students who struggled with behavior problems. I had more knowledge about how to build relationships with all of my students – even the tricky ones. 4. I had a deeper understanding of how to use my formative data to lead my daily instruction.
    I love that you pointed out that it is more than bringing Reading Recovery components to the classroom. We have to understand the theory behind what we do first. Thanks for another great post!


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