A blond-haired boy and Reading Recovery teacher Bonnie Simko sit side by side at a small table for their one-on-one, 30-minute lesson at G.H. Jewett School in Bucksport.
After the first-grader enthusiastically reads a familiar story about fire trucks Simko preps him for a new, more-difficult book and he eagerly jumps in.
As the boy reads, Simko keeps a running record of her observations of his reading behaviors — successes and challenges, including his ability to problem-solve during reading.
Based on her observations, Simko continually adjusts her instruction to match the boy’s learning needs. She gently questions, prompts, encourages and coaches him during the fast-paced session on the sunny spring afternoon.
The boy’s father smiles as he watches the interaction through a large one-way mirror. Mary Rosser also observes the lesson alongside the boy’s father and five RSU 25 educators.
Rosser is director of the University Training Center for Reading Recovery at the University of Maine. She champions professional development for teacher leaders and new Reading Recovery teachers around the state.
While Simko and the boy interact, Rosser and the educators share observations and write notes to review later with Simko.
“What a great storyteller you are,” Simko says to the boy.
“She set him up as the learning agent,” Rosser says to the educators, including one high school and several elementary teachers.
“Big … big … big … bigger. He broke the word apart with his eyes,” Rosser says after the youth independently figured out the word. “He said big and kept searching further.”
Similar scenarios routinely play out in Reading Recovery lessons throughout the state, where trained educators work one-on-one each school day with approximately 2,000 first-graders.
More than 32,400 students in Maine have benefited from Reading Recovery since the initiative started two decades ago in the state.
In the 1970s, New Zealand educator Marie Clay developed Reading Recovery — an early intervention, prevention initiative for first-graders experiencing difficulty reading and writing; in 1983, it became a national program in New Zealand.
During each lesson, students revisit familiar books so their reading becomes “phrased, fluent and expressive.” Children are encouraged to develop in-the-head strategies to problem-solve print difficulties while reading for meaning.
“When we read, write, speak and listen, we draw on multiple sources of information simultaneously,” Rosser says. “To a reader, words on a page have to make sense, sound right and look right,” she says.
Comprehensive, coordinated and coherent is how Rosser describes the scientific-base and design of Reading Recovery.
It’s also effective.
National data indicate within 12 to 20 weeks, about 75 percent of at-risk learners who complete Reading Recovery intervention achieve grade-level expectations.
“It makes a difference in the lives of human beings,” says Rosser. “It’s life-altering. On a daily basis we work with students who find themselves on the downside of opportunity, for a range of reasons, and through no fault of their own, they struggle with literacy learning. These are the students for whom Reading Recovery makes a life-altering difference.”
Teachers from around Maine gathered in early May at the Cole Transportation Museum in Bangor to thank Suzanne Cole and the Galen Cole Family Foundation for their long-standing financial support of training for Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders.
One by one, educators in attendance shared touching stories about their students’ successes. Several first-graders who have taken part in the initiative also read from favorite books.
Sidow Osman, 42, and Markaba Sheikh, 39, of Lewiston have witnessed the program’s positive power with their children.
Osman and Sheikh were born and reared in Somalia, then lived in Kenya before moving their family to the United States eight years ago.
Osman says Reading Recovery has been instrumental in helping their son, Sheikh Mohamed, 8, and daughter, Rukia Mohamed, 7, read and write English.
“Reading and writing are the most important parts of education,” Osman told Jodi Smith, a Reading Recovery teacher leader at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston.
Osman, who works an overnight shift at a plant in Auburn, described Sheikh as quiet and confident and Rukia as curious.
Sheikh, who wants to be a soccer player, told Smith reading and math are his favorite subjects at Montello. Rukia, who wants to be an actor, listed reading, recess and writing as her favorite parts of the day at the 700-student elementary school.
They both told Smith they enjoy reading at home for fun. Sheikh cited homework as another hobby and Rukia liked writing in her journal.
With all the successes resulting from Reading Recovery, and the potential for so many more, it’s not surprising Rosser says she’s never experienced a more satisfying time in her professional career.
It’s satisfying for elementary educators, too. Simko and Amanda Hammond, a K/1 looping teacher at the pre-K through grade 6 Montello Elementary School, say literacy training has improved their overall teaching knowledge and skills.
Reading Peter Johnston’s book, “Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning,” has been transformative, Simko says, adding it shifted her way of thinking and interacting with students.
“They (students) need to please themselves, not me,” Simko says.
Hammond always knew she wanted to teach. “As a child I would pretend to be a teacher to my stuffed animals at home,” she says. “I wish I could go back in time (before taking Reading Recovery training) and give those students the instruction my students today receive.”
Hammond is thrilled to play a role in helping children flourish.
“It has boosted the confidence of so many of my students. They walk away feeling successful,” she says. “They know they are readers, writers and hard workers … and the strategies they learn not only benefit them in literacy but set them up for success across content areas.”
Children are eager to learn when it’s an affirming and enjoyable experience, Rosser says.
And learning is elementary to future well-being. Being able to read is imperative for individuals and society, says Rosser.
Two-thirds of students who can’t read well by the end of their fourth-grade year will end up on welfare or in jail, according to One World Literacy Foundation.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777