FREDERICKTOWN — As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, the Reading Recovery community in North America has honored the outstanding success of the program in Fredericktown Elementary School.
The school’s Reading Recovery program was one of the first of its kind in the nation, as well as in Ohio, and, since the 1986-87 school year, has been helping struggling first-graders improve in fluency, comprehension, alphabetic skills and general reading achievement.
There are documented long-term benefits from the program. For example, on the most recent third-grade Ohio Achievement reading test, 24 of the 26 pupils who participated in Reading Recovery in first grade achieved a passing score on the test; six were rated proficient and 18 placed in the advanced or accelerated ranges.
“The fact that the district has made a commitment to have three full-time reading teachers, has a huge impact on our really excellent, excellent reading scores in the district,” said elementary principal Emily Funston. “It starts in primary school, and because the children are reading well when they leave primary school, the reading scores are high all across the district.”
Fredericktown’s Reading Recovery instructors are Mary Jo Cull, Barb Hawkins and Chris Well. On a daily basis, they each provide 30 minutes of one-on-one instruction to first-graders who are having difficulty with reading. The short-term program supplements regular classroom instruction, and lasts a maximum of 20 weeks for each student. The goal is to help the young readers improve literacy skills so they meet grade-level standards and no longer need Reading Recovery. One reason for the national recognition is that Fredericktown, with an 86 percent graduation rate, exceeds the national average of 75 percent. Fredericktown students “graduate” in 15 weeks, on average.
Well said each student in the program has an individualized lesson plan which is modified on a daily basis. The instructors work on letter recognition, the sounds associated with each letter and “chunks” of letters, such as “th” and “ch,” and their associated sounds. They help students with skills such as letter formation, recognizing of high frequency words and identifying word families.
“The nice thing about Reading Recovery,” Well said, “is that we look at what they can do and build on what they can do, build on their strengths.”
Hawkins said the intervention program also includes writing skills. The students keep a daily journal in which they tell stories, and the teachers expand on the vocabulary already familiar to the students.
“We connect the reading and writing together,” she explained. “We tell the pupils, ‘If you can read this word, you can write this word. If you can write this word, you can read this word.’”
Parental involvement is another factor in the program’s success.
“The pupils take home a bag of reading books every night and the parents write down what the children have read,” said Well. “They may add a comment if the students had trouble with something. The parents help the students reassemble cut-up sentences [written by the students] and glue them in a little book. We also invite them to come in and observe a lesson.”
Another reason for Fredericktown’s national recognition is because the district is committed to full implementation of the Reading Recovery program. That means all first-graders who do need it are receiving Reading Recovery. Well said that is uncommon, because many districts do not or cannot provide Reading Recovery to all at-risk first-graders. She said it is unusual to have three reading teachers at one school.
“It’s not just administrative support,” Funston said. “It’s superintendent and board support. It’s a commitment on their part, because when budgets are tight and money is going to be cut, it would be so easy to say, ‘Well, we just won’t have special reading teachers. We don’t have that luxury.’ That would have a huge impact, because the reading teachers really do make a difference. Reading Recovery does make a huge impact on boys and girls and their success.
“I think [the] key to the Reading Recovery process,” continued Funston, “is the quality of the teachers who are teaching it. The teachers make a difference. They do a good job. They’re professional. They always take their work seriously. They are very dedicated.
“Inherent in the Reading Recovery process is a huge emphasis on professional development,” Funston said. “With some regularity, [Cull, Hawkins and Well] go back to Reading Recovery training sessions and continuously the process is revamped and revised and updated, so it’s not stagnant. That makes a difference too, because things change over time.”
At Fredericktown, Reading Recovery is part of the district’s comprehensive literacy program, which is not always the case in other districts. Cull, Hawkins and Well do more than tutor students. They collaborate with the classroom teachers, providing literacy support in all of the first-grade classrooms. They also work with kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers doing literacy inclusion, monitor former Reading Recovery students’ progress, attend intervention team meetings, participate in parent-teacher conferences along with the classroom teacher and participate in professional learning community meetings.