What’s missing from successful remediation programs?

“Reading Recovery, a widely used intervention for struggling readers, meets the needs of the lowest-achieving first graders, a group who are disproportionately poor and minority,” write Curt Dudley-Marling and Sharon Murphy, York University, North York, Ontario, Canada. They suggest, however, that despite their effectiveness, such successful remedial programs have a downside: they function to preserve the status quo by protecting schools from social criticism and needed change. Such programs may be particularly powerful in sustaining existing, ineffective educational practices that don’t meet these children’s needs.

Substantial evidence supports the effectiveness of Reading Recovery. Through 10 to 12 weeks of daily one-on-one tutoring sessions, students at the bottom of their class in reading learn to read at grade level. The goal of the session is to help children develop the strategies of monitoring their own comprehension by searching for syntactic and visual clues to meaning. This pull-out program fits easily into the existing structure of most schools. Successful pull-out programs mean that nothing has to change in the regular classroom to accommodate failing children. In this way, Marling and Murphy assert, programs like Reading Recovery reduce the pressure for meaningful educational reform. They protect schools against claims that school practices are unfair to segments of its population, while demonstrating their good intentions to support disadvantaged youth.

Marling and Murphy report that in most schools, the successful techniques of Reading Recovery do not substantially influence regular classroom instruction. Regular classroom teachers are relieved of the responsibility of dealing with learning problems. Instead, Marling and Murphy suggest that successful remedial programs should build strategies into their programs for helping bring about change in schools. For example, the assessment carried out by Reading Recovery teachers provides a close look at children’s thought processes that can lead to looking at a child in a new way. These assessment measures are very closely tied to instruction, and remediation is easily designed from them. This kind of assessment could be a valuable tool for classroom teachers.

Marling and Murphy believe that successful remedial programs should be in the business of sharing useful strategies with classroom teachers. They suggest that assessment and instructional techniques that have been proved effective for Reading Recovery can be adapted for classrooms.

“A Political Critique of Remedial Reading Programs: The Example of Reading Recovery”, The Reading Teacher, Volume 50, Number 6, March 1997, pp. 460-468.

Published in ERN May/June 1997 Volume 10 Number 3.

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