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Reading Recovery Ineffective: Can Neuroscience Help Struggling Readers?

Posted by Peter Barnes on September 8, 2015 at 2:44 PM

readingMore evidence has emerged that the Reading Recovery program, widely used in Australian and New Zealand schools, is ineffective for most struggling readers.

The NSW Department of Education has completed an evaluation of Reading Recovery which comes to the same conclusion as others that have been done in recent years: the program is not helpful for students who are having difficulties learning to read.  

Just last year a New Zealand study by Professor James Chapman of Massey University concluded that it does not work for children with dyslexia or who are really struggling to read. This is because it relies more on a "whole word/whole language" approach, rather than the explicit teaching of phonics. 

The evidence from reading research and leading reading experts around the world conclusively points to explicit phonics instruction as the most effective way to teach reading.

Although some children will learn to read with no help, this is a very small group (probably less than 5%) and the majority of young students need to be taught to read. And the best way to teach them, according to extensive research, is for them to learn the relationship between letters and sounds and how to sound out words, rather than trying to recognise whole words.

Reading Recovery was developed in New Zealand and has been used in Australian schools since the early 1980s. The other problem with it is that it's expensive  - reportedly $50 million a year in NSW alone - because it relies on a high teacher to student ratio.

Can neuroscience help?

There are other effective reading instruction programs to help struggling readers. But neuroscience research over the last decade or so has shown these can deliver better results if the brains of the students having difficulties with reading are restructured to be better able to assimilate the instruction.

Brain imaging studies have show that the brains of struggling readers are physically different to the brains of students who learn to read easily.  A competent "reading brain" needs well developed language skills. Reading is a language skill. In adddition it needs four well functioning cognitive skills: memory, the ability to focus (attention), processing speed, and the ability to sequence.  

struggling reader

As well as showing how brains differ, the neuroscientists have used their research to develop programs to help restructure brains to make them better able to benefit from reading instruction. The most well know, widely researched and validated program is Fast ForWord.

There are many studies that show a very cost effective way to help struggling readers is for them to do the Fast ForWord brain training programs combined with explicit phonics based reading instruction. Then they can use the Reading Assistant Online Reading Tutor to help improve their reading fluency, comprehension and vocabulary.

Download Neuroscience-based Programs Comparison Chart

Related Posts

Reading Programs Evaluated - Is Reading Recovery a "failed program"?

New Research Supports Teaching Reading via Phonics, Not Whole Language

Dyslexia - Symptoms & Treatment

Improving Literacy with Fast ForWord Brain Science

NAPLAN 2015: How Fast is it Possible to Improve Literacy & Numeracy?


Topics: Reading, Fast ForWord, Literacy, For Principals

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