Advanced search

UCL & Institute of Education supporting Reading Recovery?

(52 Posts)
Alyosha Fri 07-Apr-17 17:06:04

Does anyone know why UCL apparently supports RR & trains RR teachers?

Isn't it pretty well accepted now by most Ed Psychs that RR doesn't actually improve reading in the long term after the NZ & Australia experiences of this programme? It's particularly odd because the ICL (international centre for literacy) claims on its website to be an evidence based organisation that supports phonics!

Can anyone shed any light on this?

bojorojo Sat 08-Apr-17 14:43:22

Their web site tells you all you need to know really. Children are screened at the age of 6 so have been taught phonics. Three quarters of the children selected for RR are non readers. There is no suggestion that phonics is abandoned but there is a recognition that intervention is better than no intervention at all. They appear to believe research that shows success for 17 out of 20 pupils. Experts differ in their opinions but there is an argument for doing something else if plan A has resulted in a child being a non reader aged 6.

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 09:04:18

Generally speaking, there has been a huge amount of resistance among education academics to phonics, for many years. The government essentially had to force teacher training institutions to teach it. This is due in part to ideology/philosophy, and in part (in my opinion) to so many individuals' careers being premised on Whole Language approaches to reading (such as Reading Recovery) being correct.

The vast majority of the very extensive research done that supports synthetic or linguistic phonics has been done by Psychology academics who specialise in reading research, in university departments of Psychology, rather than departments of Education. This allowed Education academics to get away with ignoring or rubbishing this research for a long time. The principles of academic freedom have meant that governments have been reluctant to interfere. If you read the transcripts of the Rose enquiry into reading (2005, I think), one prominent psychology researcher is asked why her colleagues in education at her own university ignore her research, and her answer is a despairing 'I don't know'.

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 09:10:43

Also, the Whole Language approach embedded in Reading Recovery does use phonics, but in a very limited and ineffective way. If children can't guess a word from context, or the first letter, or looking at the picture, etc, then drawing the child's attention to the phonic pattern (as a last resort) is acceptable. However, what isn't included is the comprehensive, systematic and scaffolded approach to phonics that synthetic and linguistic phonics tuition involves. For Reading Recovery, the phonics learning must only be incidental, and in the context of 'reading' a specific piece of text. So this is how they can claim to 'support phonics'.

toomuchtvandsocialmedia Sun 09-Apr-17 09:17:09

I've just finished a SEN based Masters there - my lectures were very much about the importance of evidenced-based phonics interventions for literacy difficulties. Reading recovery was never mentioned as a suitable intervention and, if any of the students brought it up, it was suggested that they look at the criteria for a good intervention - it was never directly criticised though.

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 09:44:37

Toomuch That's you think there is division among the academic staff there on this issue?

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 09:44:52

Toomuch That's you think there is division among the academic staff there on this issue?

toomuchtvandsocialmedia Sun 09-Apr-17 13:17:49

kesstrel. - my assumption is that a division exists, but I have nothing to back that up.

Alyosha Sun 09-Apr-17 18:01:38

Very interesting!

Bojo - any comment on studies in countries that use RR much more than we do and have shown it doesn't work?

It just seems very disingenous to say they are committed to research - but then to completely dismiss the major research done RR which shows that it doesn't work.

In fact they almost admit on their own site that it doesn't we know 5% of kids fail with phonics, 20% with Whole language. They say 8 in 10 catch up with RR - so 20% don't.

I do think there has to be more than it than ideology - surely the Institute of Education whole language enthusiasts must believe they are doing the right thing for kids. Perhaps they just don't believe the evidence?

Bojo - what evidence would convince you that schools should teach only phonics when teaching kids to read?

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 19:34:06

I do think there has to be more than it than ideology

I'd say it's their ideology that tells them they are 'doing the right thing for kids'. Whole Language was developed as a liberating, 'natural', non-hierarchical way to learn to read, and its supporters want to believe that it works, because it suits their deeply-held beliefs about how children 'should' be educated. Their arguments tend to be that synthetic phonics is right-wing, potentially kills love of reading, is boring, robotic, requires too much repetitive practice ( 'drill and kill',) and wrongly involves directly instructing children, (which is bad because they should be discovering things for themselves, in the same way that they discovered how to talk, and also because it implies an undesirable hierarchical relationship, e.g. master/servant between teacher and pupil.)

Of course this is a distorted view (to say the least) but they believe it, and therefore genuinely believe phonics is damaging for children.

Many of them also appear to have very little understanding of what constitutes good evidence, in terms of study design, scientific method, etc. Some also take a 'post-modern' approach to the question of evidence as well, arguing that there is no objective truth, and that therefore it is 'scientistic' and an abuse of power to try to tell teachers how to teach. (It would be interesting to know how many of them have actually read any of the evidence in support of phonics.)

I would also argue that the psychological need to reduce cognitive dissonance is a big factor. Since the evidence contradicts long-held and deeply held beliefs for Whole Language advocates, they do what all of us do in that situation, and rationalise or avoid thinking too deeply. The fact that, if they admitted they are wrong, they would also be admitting that their actions have been damaging to many children in the past, would make the need for denial even stronger. Carol Tarvis has a good book about this and how it affects the helping professions particularly strongly, called 'Mistakes were made but not by me'.

Sorry, this is a bit of an essay!

toomuchtvandsocialmedia Sun 09-Apr-17 19:44:31

The vast majority of the very extensive research done that supports synthetic or linguistic phonics has been done by Psychology academics who specialise in reading research

This may explain the differing attitudes, my department was Psychology based, although my MA focused on supporting literacy difficulties.

kesstrel Sun 09-Apr-17 20:04:19


Ah, I'm afraid that makes sense...sad

mrz Sun 09-Apr-17 20:51:48

*"*^*Does anyone know why UCL apparently supports RR & trains RR teachers*^*"*
Reading Recovery Trademark
*The trademark Reading Recovery* intervention was founded by Dr. Marie M. Clay in New Zealand.
As Reading Recovery was introduced to each new nation, Dr. Clay worked with university-based educators to introduce and establish the training, dissemination, and research procedures. The participating universities were designated University Training Centers (UTCs). Four UTCs have been designated to provide training for new university-based trainers: the University of Auckland, *the Institute of Education at the University of London*, The Ohio State University, and Texas Woman’s University. Through the training and support structures offered by these four Trainer Training Centers, Reading Recovery expands its network of affiliated trainers, UTCs or professional education training centers, and sites.
They seem to ignore all subsequent research

Alyosha Sun 09-Apr-17 22:25:44

Kesstrel - that is absolutely fascinating, thank you. I certainly appreciated your essay! I remember Michael Rosen's belief that support for phonics was political because it was all about conditioning behaviours or something really odd like that. Makes much more sense now!

I often think in these situations - does support for whole world learning or mixed methods attain the level of a religious belief?

I.e. is there any evidence you could show whole word language proponents that would change their mind?

Is it worth sending a letter to UCL and asking directly? It does kind of bring the university into disrepute! Although I'm assuming that many much more qualified & knowledgeable people than me have tried and failed.

I feel a have a personal stake in this, as I was taught to read with whole word language, had a really really good reading age but couldn't spell. My mother fought very hard to get me assessed - and to get me 1-to-1 support ("oh there's nothing wrong with Alyosha, look how well she can read!")...eventually through intensive 2 terms phonics intervention from a great Ed Psych I did learn to spell and write. Lots of other less fortunate kids in my class did not get the help I did and many still couldn't read or spell (or both) by Yr 6.

kesstrel Mon 10-Apr-17 09:01:42

Alyosha I agree that it ought to bring the university into disrepute, and perhaps one day it will. But I fear we're a long way off that. I did a search on the Reading Reform Foundation website, below, you might find some of the threads interesting. They are a group of mostly teachers who have campaigned in support of synthetic phonics for a long time.

Really interesting to hear your personal experience of this. There are so many stories like yours. I have followed the 'reading wars' arguments for nearly 20 years now, and progress has been achingly slow. It is desperately sad that so many children continue to be let down, even now when phonics is supposed to be the only approach to decoding in our schools.

By the way, there is a difference between 'whole word' reading instruction, and 'Whole Language', just so you know. The 'whole word' approach developed much earlier, and was based on the idea that children could learn words as 'wholes', primarily by their shape. That's where the use of flashcards came from.

Whole Language is a much broader idea, developed in the 1970s, and is the basis of Reading Recovery. Their ideas are complicated, but the one that has had the most influence in our schools is that of 'multi-cuing', where a child is expected to use multiple clues or cues to "make meaning" from text, rather than to read the words on the page accurately. These cues include looking at the pictures, the first letter, reading to the end of the sentence, and effectively guessing the most suitable word to fit the meaning. So if a child says 'horse' when the word is 'pony', that's fine.

Alyosha Mon 10-Apr-17 10:13:20

Thanks for that, again super interesting.

And the distinction is something I hadn't realised before - how odd! The whole multi-cuing thing sounds familiar - it all sounds a bit backwards, trying to discern the meaning before actually being able to read it. I speak Russian and I can't imagine any Russian teacher, no matter how wedded they are to the concept of meaning in text, attempting to teach someone to read using whole word recognition & multi-cuing without teaching them how to sound out the alphabet!

I wonder if the proponents of whole language think this should apply to foreign languages too, or is it only English where reading the wrong word is OK...

Alyosha Mon 10-Apr-17 10:14:03

Reading my posts I now feel silly for saying "whole word language" :p

kesstrel Mon 10-Apr-17 12:12:41

Oh, please don't feel silly - everyone confuses the two when they're first finding out about this stuff, including me! And the terminology is confusing, possibly deliberately so.

Really interesting that you speak Russian, and they would never teach that way there. This seems to be true for a lot of languages other than English, from what I've gathered over the years.

There's lots of information about this available on the Internet. You might find these blogs interesting:

The second one is from Australia, where they are much more likely not to use phonics than we now are. They're in a similar place to where England was 20 years ago.

bojorojo Mon 10-Apr-17 19:53:44

The only way that ordinary people will know whether one system is better than another will be if 95% of all children get 100 in Reading Sats when the Phonics system has been taught exclusively for 10 years. That would prove Phonics has a 5% failure rate! The RR info I read only considered children who could not read - the 5%. Therefore Phonics has failed them!

mrz Mon 10-Apr-17 20:35:03

You need to re read the Reading Recovery information as it isn't talking about children taught Phonics.

Alyosha Mon 10-Apr-17 20:36:40

Surely phonics will be better than Whole language if KS 2 results meaningfully improve from where they were in 2006? Phonics doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be better than Whole Language/"mixed methods".

On the evidence so far it appears it is already working.

Dustanddebris Mon 10-Apr-17 21:02:25

The only way that ordinary people will know whether one system is better than another will be if 95% of all children get 100 in Reading Sats when the Phonics system has been taught exclusively for 10 years.

Phonics is hugely important, but it is only one of the skills needed to be a good reader

mrz Mon 10-Apr-17 21:06:17

In an open letter reading experts expressed their views

In this open letter, more than 30 international reading researchers expressed concerns about the continued use of Reading Recovery. These experts urged policy makers, educational leaders, researchers, and federal research organizations to acknowledge the weaknesses of Reading Recovery.

They concluded, "Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind."

- Letter Begins -

We are an international group of researchers who study reading development and interventions with struggling readers. This letter responds to a number of questions that have been raised by educators, policymakers, and parents about the effectiveness of Reading Recovery, a tutoring program designed for struggling first grade students. We hope the following summary analysis will be helpful to those who are considering the most effective ways to help struggling students become proficient readers.

These are not isolated opinions and the findings here are summaries of several peer-reviewed studies and syntheses of research on Reading Recovery. However, it is not our goal to discredit Reading Recovery, but as with any other program, outline its weaknesses to suggest how it can be improved. We believe this should be done for any program that is widely used to address reading difficulties.

*1. Reading Recovery is not successful with its targeted student population, the lowest performing students.*

There is little evidence to show that Reading Recovery has proved successful with the lowest performing students. Reading Recovery targets the lowest 10-20 percent of first graders who have the prerequisite skills for Reading Recovery.

While research distributed by the developers of Reading Recovery indicates a positive effect of the program, analyses by independent researchers have found serious problems with these conclusions. Studies conducted by researchers associated with Reading Recovery typically exclude 25-40% of the poorest performing students from the data analysis.

In contrast, the studies funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the Department of Education never purposely exclude a child. The data on efficacy is based on all those who are enrolled and available for follow-up. This is known as an “intent to treat” approach, which is standard for any evaluative research.

Reading Recovery’s “in-house research” does not follow an “intent to treat” approach. In fact, for the poorest readers, empirical syntheses of “in-house” and independent studies indicate that Reading Recovery is not effective.

In Elbaum et al. (2000), the gains for the poorest readers instructed with Reading Recovery were almost zero. There is also evidence that students who do complete the Reading Recovery sequence in first grade lose much of their gains, even in the 65-75% of better students who finish the program (Hiebert, 1994; Shanahan & Barr, 1995; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Tunmer & Chapman, in press b).

A recent study by a group from New Zealand (Chapman, Tunmer, & Prochnow, 2001) shows that students in Reading Recovery may experience problems with self-esteem when they do not perform well. One of the authors, Chapman, stated in an interview with a New Zealand newspaper (The Press, November 1, 1999) “Students actually declined in self-esteem throughout the course of the program and continued to show no acceleration or improvement in the period following the programme.”(See also Tunmer & Chapman, in press a).

*2. Reading Recovery is not a cost effective solution.*

Even if it were maximally effective, Reading Recovery is not cost effective because the developers require one-to-one interventions by highly trained teachers. An analysis by Hiebert (1994) found that Reading Recovery was very expensive, costing over $8,000 per student, reflecting in part the costs of training.

But Elbaum et al. (2000) found that students who participated in Reading Recovery did not outperform students who were provided one-on-one reading instruction by trained volunteers. At least two studies have compared Reading Recovery in a one-to-one grouping with a modified version of “Reading Recovery” administered to a small group (by definition this can’t be Reading Recovery; Evans, 1996; Iversen, 1997). There was no advantage of one-to-one instruction over small group instruction.

There are other first grade programs that are demonstrably efficacious, impact more students because they do not require 1:1 tutoring, are easier to implement, and do a better job than Reading Recovery of improving student reading skills because they do not drop students (Snow et al., 1998; Torgesen, 2000).

Altogether, several studies indicate that teacher: student groupings of 1:3 work as well as groupings of 1:1 (Elbaum et al., 2000). Many of the current NICHD and OSEP pullout interventions utilize group sizes of 1:3 and higher. Thus, solely by virtue of the number of students who can be reached, Reading Recovery is at least 200% more expensive than other first grade interventions.

Reading Recovery specifically states that it is not a program for groups, but provides little empirical support for this philosophy. This philosophy is inconsistent with the research on early intervention.

*3. Reading Recovery efficacy studies do not use standard assessment measures.*

Most evaluations are restricted to the Reading Recovery developers’ own, nonstandard measures. These same measures are used to determine which students will be considered as part of the sample (continued versus discontinued students). Thus, outcomes are inflated and unconvincing to the research community.

The primary outcome measure used by Reading Recovery “in-house” researchers that has shown the largest effect is an assessment of “text reading” developed by the authors. However, even Reading Recovery specialists acknowledge that “The text reading measure is not an equal interval scale, that is, there are smaller differences in the beginning levels than at upper levels. For beginning readers, it is necessary to look at the reader’s progress in more detail” (Askew et al., 1998, p.10).

Obvious candidates would involve continuous progress monitoring as implemented in numerous research studies and norm referenced tests that are widely available and commonly used in reading intervention research. With use of standard measures like those implemented by independent researchers, student performance could be compared across studies, permitting calculation of response to instruction based on the number of hours of instruction across interventions (see Torgesen, 2000).

*4. Reading Recovery does not change by capitalizing on research.*

Reading Recovery developers have been and continue to be resistant to integrating the findings of independent, scientifically based reading research into their program and making it more cost effective. The failure to attend to research in modifying the program is its major downfall.

The lack of efficacy of Reading Recovery with the poorest readers is not surprising given the research base that highlights the importance of explicit teaching of phonics for this group. Reading Recovery teaches phonics, but the instruction is not sufficiently explicit. A common finding in research on Reading Recovery is that those students who do not respond are weak in phonological awareness (Snow et al., 1998; Tunmer & Chapman, in press b).

In fact, research by New Zealand researchers Iverson and Tunmer (1993) in which an explicit phonics component was added to a standard Reading Recovery intervention reduced the time required to complete the program by about 30%. Morris, Tyner, and Perney (2000) found that a reading program constructed like Reading Recovery with the addition of an explicit component addressing spelling-to-sound patterns was highly effective, even with those students most at risk.

Reading Recovery has been independently evaluated in New Zealand, the country in which it was developed. These researchers, who have cosigned this letter, asked that this summary be included:

“In New Zealand, where Reading Recovery was developed, the programme has been independently examined on two occasions. Both studies found shortcomings. In essence, the programme is failing to meet the claims regarding its objectives and success.

"Senior Reading Recovery administrators have also overtly blocked attempts by graduate students to independently examine aspects of Reading Recovery. The New Zealand Ministry of Education has stated that because of copyright issues, the Ministry is unable to make changes to the program.

"Despite strong evidence in New Zealand, Australia, and the US that changes are needed to make Reading Recovery more effective, Reading Recovery leaders do not seem willing to incorporate the findings of such research to make the programme more effective. There is and has been considerable debate about the efficacy of Reading Recovery in New Zealand; this debate is indicative of an increasing dissatisfaction among researchers and some educators about the nature of the Reading Recovery programme.

"Finally, the Ministry of Education commissioned a report from the "Literacy Experts Group", released in 1999. Included in this report was a recommendation, unanimously agreed to by experts from the full spectrum of views on reading: "We recommend that Reading Recovery place greater emphasis on explicit instruction in phonological awareness and the use of spelling-to-sound patterns in recognizing unfamiliar words in text." This recommendation has not been adopted by Reading Recovery.”

There are three additions that would impact positively the number of students who benefit from Reading Recovery, their rate of progress, and reduce costs:

(1) increased group size;
(2) explicit instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness; and
(3) use of standardized outcome measures and continuous progress monitoring.

These additions have been ignored despite research summarized in the National Research Council report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, which specifically outlined many of these concerns (Snow et al., 1998, pp. 255-258), the National Reading Panel report, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, and various reviews suggesting that such steps would greatly benefit students who are placed in Reading Recovery.

In summary, the Reading First initiative, recently enacted into law as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, requires the use of scientifically based classroom reading instruction for all students.

Even with the best classroom instruction, there will still be some students who don’t make adequate progress and need additional, more intensive instruction. Reading Recovery has not met the needs of these lowest performing students. Most significantly, its excessive costs can make it more difficult for a school to provide help for all students in need, especially those who are behind in the upper grades.

Thus, Reading Recovery is not a productive investment of taxpayers’ money or students’ time and is a classic example of a “one size fits all” method.

No single method works with all students. Methods like Reading Recovery that are rigidly implemented and limited in the number of components of effective reading instruction will not work with all students.

Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind.


Scott Baker, Ph.D.
Eugene Research Institute
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Virginia W. Berninger, Ph.D.
Department of Educational Psychology
Research Center on Human Development and Disability
University of Washington , Seattle, WA

Maggie Bruck, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

James Chapman, Ph.D.
College of Education
Massey University, New Zealand

Guinevere Eden, Ph.D
Center for the Study of Learning
Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Batya Elbaum
Department of Teaching and Learning
University of Miami, Miami, FL

Jack M. Fletcher, Ph.D
Department of Pediatrics
University of Texas Hlth. Science Ctr, Houston, TX

Carol Fowler, Ph.D
Haskins Laboratories
New Haven, CT

David J. Francis, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Houston, Houston, TX

Douglas Fuchs, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Lynn S. Fuchs, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Keith Greaney, Ph.D
College of Education
Massey University, New Zealand

Leonard Katz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Frank Manis, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Nancy Mather, Ph.D.
Department of Education
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Deborah McCutchen, Ph.D.
Cognitive Studies in Education
University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Einar Mencl, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics
Yale University & Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT

Denise L. Molfese, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

Victoria. Molfese, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

Robin Morris, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Ken Pugh, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics
Yale University & Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT

Jane Prochnow, Ed.D.
College of Education
Massey University, New Zealand

Christopher Schatschneider, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Houston, Houston, TX

Mark Seidenberg, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

Bennett Shaywitz, M.D.
Department of Pediatrics
Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention
New Haven, CT

Catherine Snow, Ph.D.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

William Tunmer, Ph.D.
Department of Learning and Teaching
College of Education
Massey University, New Zealand

Sharon Vaughn, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
University of Texas, Austin, TX

Frank R. Vellutino, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
The University at Albany
State University of New York, Albany, NY

Richard Wagner, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Maryanne Wolf, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Tufts University, Boston, MA

Alyosha Mon 10-Apr-17 23:16:52

Dust you are 100% right - but if I can make another Russian analogy, there is no way that you will ever be a reader of Russian if you don't learn the sounds the letters make.

In order to become a proficient reader who understands what they are reading you must learn how to say what's on the page in front of you.

Without phonics pupils find it much harder to access this first crucial step of learning to read...

mrz Tue 11-Apr-17 06:22:08

I don't think anyone has claimed that phonics is all there is to reading but if you can't accurately read the words comprehension is severely compromised and the evidence is that phonics is the most effective strategy for accurately reading words.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: