The theoretical underpinning

Reading Recovery is based on a theory of literacy processing.

In Reading Recovery lessons, a child will develop effective ways of picking up and working with information in print.

They learn how to self monitor their reading, correct errors, and solve problems by searching for several different kinds of information. They also learn how to compose and write stories of increasing complexity.

Based on the ground-breaking work by Professor Marie Clay at the University of Auckland to understand how children develop literacy skills.

The theory of literacy processing pays close attention to:

  • a child’s ability to hear the sounds in spoken language (their growing phonological awareness);
  • their knowledge of letters and printed words;
  • their knowledge about how to use the relationships between sound and letter sequences;
  • the language structures and the meaning of the story.

The teacher's role in the Reading Recovery lesson is to guide the child “to pay particular attention to four kinds of information the young readers must become aware of and learn to work with. Different kinds of information may be checked, one against another, to confirm a response or as a first step towards further searching” (Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Second Edition, 2016. p129)

In the early stages of literacy development, children use a number of sources of information to bring together the words on a page, and the meanings that the words deliver. From visual information, the sounds the letters make, the way the words are put together and whether it makes sense to the child based on their experience and knowledge of the world around them.

This diagram summarises what a reader’s brain needs to do. It shows how children combine different sources of information to make sense of the words on the page.

The design principles of Reading Recovery & Early Literacy Support


Shared intervention between the teacher and the Reading Recovery teacher is key.


Reading Recovery expertise and teacher expertise is jointly acknowledged.


Through collaboration, co-teaching and tailoring the content to students within their school environment, more students can be reached.  


Identified children are provided the opportunity for Early Literacy Support within groups, and if further support is needed a child will have one-on-one Reading Recovery instruction. 


Whānau are consulted to get a rich picture of the child, before teachers co-plan based on the profile of the group of children they have set. Consultation with whānau is ongoing. 


Assessment tools support the processes of designing instruction for the children. Agreed assessments included: Early Print Knowledge, Letter Identification, BURT© Word Reading Test, Writing Vocabulary, Reading Level. 

Mā te ahurei o te tamaiti ā tātou mahi e ārahi.

The thing that guides our work is the uniqueness of each and every child.

International success

The approaches employed in Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Support have been shown to be effective in other countries.

In the UK,  the Every Child a Reader programme has demonstrated the effectiveness of taking a three-tier approach of bringing the expertise of Reading Recovery to classrooms, groups, and individuals.*

The approach has also been taken in the USA with research showing the approach is most effective when combined with individual and classroom instruction.**

*   Evaluation of Every Child a Reader 
** Effects in RTI Approaches

What is Reading Recovery?

A one-to-one literacy intervention that helps 6-year-old readers and writers catch up with their classmates.

It has more than 40 years of research and evaluation results. Its effectiveness is supported by the strongest body of evidence for any literacy intervention.

If you would like to learn more about Reading Recovery and why it is deemed one of the most effective literacy interventions in the world, click on the link below:

> Find out more

How does Phonics work with Reading Recovery & Early Literacy Support?

School literacy teams retain complete autonomy over how they design their literacy programmes, and this may include classroom phonics approaches. 

Early Literacy Support complements this by assessing broader aspects of literacy including comprehension of connected or continuous text. It supports classroom teachers to make responsive teaching decisions based on a child’s strengths. Here's what one school had to say about how they are using Early Literacy Support alongside structured phonics: 

“Structured literacy (phonics) is part of what we are doing but not all of what we are doing. That’s because there is no one way of teaching children. The Early Literacy Support (ELS) group provides the flexibility to cater for children’s diversity.  Something that has arisen from ELS and our Junior team’s analysis of 6 year data is that we need to provide more writing opportunities over the week for children in year 1-3. The data shows that writing vocabulary is low and so is HRSW (Hearing and recording sounds in words) across the board, despite the Structured Literacy approach.” 

When a child enters Reading Recovery after a year at school, decoding is one of many areas of literacy that is focused on.

Their Reading Recovery teacher assesses a broad range of literacy development areas such as letter identification, recognised words, writing  vocabulary, parts of a book, phonic knowledge, etc.

When phonemic awareness is an area that needs support, the Reading Recovery teacher has a range of approaches and interventions they will use to improve this area.  

Get in touch with the Reading Recovery team today!
Whakapā mai / Contact us