Reading Recovery was developed by New Zealand developmental psychologist and educator Marie M. Clay. The intervention originated from a project carried out in 1976-1977. Dr. Clay, along with six people-teachers, supervising teachers, reading advisors and senior university students-met every two weeks to observe each other teach and to discuss their procedures and understandings. The observations of the teaching took place using a one-way glass, so that the observers could closely view the actions of the teacher and student without intruding or interrupting the lesson. The members of the group questioned each other about teaching decisions made and the effectiveness of procedures. The procedures which the group determined to be the most effective were printed. That draft of the procedures went through many revisions and refinements over the next three years. Reading Recovery: A Guidebook for Teachers in Training (1993) contains the procedures which were developed during that time, plus some further refinements that have been added over the years.
In 1978 Dr. Clay and her team tried out the procedures with teachers in five schools. The schools were selected to represent a variety of school settings and populations. A total of 122 children received additional instruction with the new intervention. It was during this year that the lesson format, implementation requirements, and training protocol started to take shape. Determinations about the length of time in the program were made based on the results of this year of field testing. The intervention was highly successful in accelerating the learning of most of the students. Most of the children with a full program of lessons reached the performance of their average peers.
In 1979 a one-year follow-up study was conducted which overwhelmingly demonstrated that the children who had previously been successful in achieving average performance continued to perform within the average range a year later. A three-year follow-up study in 1981 found similar results and sustained effects. The Replication Study, also in 1979, found that a new group of teachers could be trained using the training methods which had been developed in 1978 with the same excellent results.
With the completion of these studies, Dr. Clay had developed the instructional procedures, lesson structure, school implementation requirements, and methods for teacher training which formed the basis of the intervention as it appears today. Furthermore, the one-year and three-year follow-up studies determined that the progress that was made during the year of the intervention continued for three years beyond. The learning had been more than mere skills and facts. What the students had learned sustained their future literacy learning in a generative way.
News of the success of the intervention spread to many areas of New Zealand. During 1984-1988 the Department of Education oversaw the expansion of the program for national coverage. News also spread to Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, all of which currently have Reading Recovery programs.
In 1984, Dr. Clay and Barbara Watson came to the United States to train a group of trainers at The Ohio State University. Gay Su Pinnell, Carol Lyons and Diane DeFord were the first trainers in this country. Joined by Rosemary Estice and Mary Fried, two clinical trainers, they trained many classes of teacher leaders for several years. Currently, Mary Fried, Susan Fullerton and Emily Rodgers are responsible for the teacher leader training. The trainers at OSU have also trained other trainers to establish University Training Centers for teacher leaders at many other universities. Currently, there are centers at 23 universities in the U.S.