Reading Recovery failure creates low self esteem

Research by senior academics at Massey University shows that the Reading Recovery programme used widely in New Zealand schools is not producing the desired results.

The research also shows there is a marked decline in children's self esteem - while they are on the programme and during the 12 months following - apparently as a result of their failure to improve.

The study, by Professor James Chapman, Professor Bill Tunmer and Dr Jan Prochnow, is part of a wider project in literacy achievement by young children, funded by the Ministry of Education and the Massey University College of Education Institute for Professional Development.

The study was not intended as an evaluation of Reading Recovery but examined the relationship between the effectiveness of the programme and the development of phonological processing skills or the ability to understand the link between sounds and the letters that make up words. The study involved four groups of children enrolled in 16 primary schools in the Manawatu, monitored over a period of three years.

Success in Reading Recovery is closely associated with phonological processing skills but Professor Chapman says there was a clear indication that the programme neither eliminated nor reduced deficiencies in those skills. "That suggests Reading Recovery doesn't give enough attention to helping kids understand the relationship between sounds and words and instead puts more emphasis on the use of context or illustrations."

The study also shows a strong link between failure in reading and low esteem and behavioural problems. "One year after completing the programme, the Reading Recovery children in the study were performing at one year below age-appropriate levels," says Professor Chapman. "They also held more negative perceptions of their ability in reading and spelling, and in general academic self-concept. Teachers of the Reading Recovery children rated them as having more classroom behaviour problems.
"A year later, that self esteem was still declining, apparently as a result of their failure to achieve on the programme."

Professor Chapman and Professor Tunmer say they are advocating a refinement to the Reading Recovery programme, not a replacement of it.

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