Teachers Nancy Mills and Natasha Ridley were comparing notes and bubbling with enthusiasm as they left a session of the Reading Recovery Conference in Chicago on Jan. 21.
The 25th annual conference, sponsored by the Illinois Reading Recovery Center for Literacy at National Louis University, brought together reading experts from around the nation to address the issue of how to teach reading. It’s a crucial one for the U.S. economy, since an illiteracy rate of 14 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education, hamstrings efforts to develop a well-prepared labor force.
Attendees included reading teachers, classroom teachers, curriculum leaders and teacher leaders who work with children in grades K-8 and interested in improving their instructional practices, including those for children who have learning difficulties.
“As I was listening, I was thinking, ‘oh yeah, I’m going to bring this back to my teachers and I’m going to try this with my kids in the classroom,” said Mills, a teacher leader, and former reading recovery teacher, in Cicero (Illinois) School District 99.
Besides getting inspired by the presenters, she valued meeting networking contacts like Ridley, a reading recovery teacher-in-training from Prince William County (Virginia) Public Schools.
“This conference is a wakeup call, it’s confirmation and it tells me I need to do more,” Ridley said. After listening to a workshop on writing, she was enthused about getting her students to write complex sentences.
Sessions on close reading, acquiring the structure of English, self-correction, having reading teachers coordinate with classroom teachers and other strategies to teach striving readers filled the schedule of the conference, held Jan. 20-22 at the Marriott Hotel in Chicago.
“In the session on how reading teachers can work with classroom teachers, we got a lot of great ideas to share with classroom teachers, and to teach the kids strategies,” said Jaime Wittenberg, a reading resource teacher in Libertyville District 70 (Illinois) and an NLU alum.
Stephanie Crivello, also a reading resource teacher in District 70, said a session on problem solving had helpful tips on using meaning, structure and visual clues.
The Reading Recovery Center, which sponsored the conference, offers training for teachers in an annual program from September through May. It’s a sought-after and highly respected professional development program, said Rebecca Olsen, who coordinates the independent center at NLU.
Mary Ann Poparad, Ph.D, the director, teaches the program and trains teacher leaders, who then become adjunct professors and train other teachers.
Classroom teachers, reading teachers, special ed teachers and kindergarten teachers may apply, but they must be employed at a school district to be accepted, Olsen said.
“Reading Recovery really is professional development. We’re teaching them how to teach reading,” Olsen said. “Even if they have a master’s degree, they’ve never gotten this before.”
Participants graduate with 9 graduate credit hours, but Olsen said the professional prestige may be worth even more.
“On your resume, it’s huge,” she said. “People know you have amazing training in how to teach reading.”
Reading Recovery was developed by Marie Clay in New Zealand in the 1960s as a way to teach striving readers. Its success attracted worldwide attention, and it arrived in the U.S.in the 1980s.
Reading Recovery teachers select the lowest-performing readers in a first-grade class and spend 30 minutes a day in one-on-one tutoring time with them. At the end of 12 to 20 weeks, 75 percent read at the level of their peers. Regional Reading Recovery centers are based at universities, and the center at NLU trains teachers from Illinois and Wisconsin.
Jennifer Kohrs, a reading specialist in Northbrook (Illinois) District 28, said she attends NLU’s Reading Recovery conference every year, and is amazed that she still gets insights from Clay’s work every time she comes.
“Her research from the 1960s is still applicable today,” Kohrs said.
Alissa Roe, a reading recovery teacher in Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Area School District who is training to be a teacher leader, was glad she attended the conference.
“It gives me time to reflect with my colleagues and stretch my thinking,” she said. “It gives me ideas, which I can go back and try right away in my teaching.”