Why Reading Power Works by Peter Fisher, PhD

Early intervention programs in literacy have proliferated since the introduction of Reading Recovery thirty years ago, but not all of them are successful (Rodgers, 2016). So why does Reading Power stand out as one of the most successful programs where volunteers tutor students? Five components of the program may account for much of the success.

  • First, like most early intervention programs there is a theoretically sound structure to each lesson. Young readers need a carefully designed lesson that includes instruction in phonemic awareness, the repeated reading of appropriate level books, some phonics related activity, word study, and tutor monitoring of a student’s progress (Morris, 2005). When a student comes to a Reading Power session, they know what they will be doing, and the order in which it will happen. That scaffolding allows students to experience success in a safe environment. 
  • Second, the books that students read are carefully leveled, so that when students are successful at one level, they can progress up a coherent gradient (Fountas & Pinnell, 2005). 
  • Third, tutors are volunteers, but work under the supervision of experienced literacy professionals. These specialists train volunteers in the necessary methods, and provide support and oversight on a daily basis.  
  • Many programs do not include the fourth component – tutor appreciation and support. Traditionally, volunteers in education do not last long. With Reading Power there is an impressive record of tutor retention. Tutors see that their contributions make a difference in students’ literacy learning. In addition, tutors meet daily in table groups with their fellow volunteers and literacy professional. In these sessions successes are shared, problems discussed, and possible solutions developed. This is all done in a collaborative atmosphere where tutors feel as if their voices are heard. 
  • The final reason Reading Power works is the level of school support and collaboration. Few volunteer literacy programs are provided space in the schools where they operate. By doing so, the school administration demonstrates the value that they place on the program. The teachers of the students who are tutored value the way in which their students progress, and may talk to the literacy professionals about how they can support the volunteers’ efforts in their classrooms. Also, the Executive Director of Programs meets regularly with the principals of the schools to monitor how the program is operating.

We are often asked how we know Reading Power is successful. One reason is the careful, collected data concerning students’ progress. For those of us involved, however, nothing is more powerful than the smiles on students’ faces as they eagerly walk into the Reading Power classrooms.

--Peter Fisher, PhD; Professor of Education, Tutor, former board and National Louis University; 

Fountas, I, & Pinnell, G. S. (2005). Leveled books, K-8: Matching texts to readers for effective teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Morris, D. (2005). The Howard Street tutoring manual, 2nd. ed. New York: Guilford.

Rodgers, E. (2016). Scaling and sustaining an intervention: The case of Reading Recovery. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 21(1), 10-28.