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Mirror on the world of learning

Readers' revolution. Julie Morrice reports from North Lanarkshire on a multi-faceted approach to boosting early reading skills

There is something of the theatre about it. We, the observers, including Anne Neil, sit in rows of chairs in a darkened space, waiting for the performers to come on to the brightly-lit stage. The show this afternoon features Daisy Kerr as the Reading Recovery tutor and a small red-haired boy called David.

This is the Early Intervention Training Base at Noble primary and nursery school in Bellshill. One corner of two large, bright rooms has been turned into a reading recovery teaching area.

There is a small room with a mirrored wall above the long desk. The tutor and pupil in the room cannot see or, supposedly, hear those watching and learning from the other side.

Each Reading Recovery lesson lasts half an hour, and there is a lot to pack in.

First the child rereads a book he has read before. "She hands the book to the child. It's his. He's doing the reading," says Neil who is to provide the commentary from our side of the mirror. "The emphasis is on fluency and phrasing. Then he reads the new book he was introduced to yesterday, while the teacher takes a running record of his difficulties. She doesn't give him the correct word. She asks: 'What was the hard bit? How did you fix it?'" Next moment they are up at the magnetic board doing word and letter work with coloured plastic letters.

"She's not teaching him the words 'come' and 'coming', she's giving him a strategy for adding 'ing' to a whole variety of words."

Then they're back at the desk, and David is writing a story in his workbook. "We use double blank pages; one page for practice and one for the story. Look, he doesn't need to copy his rough work. He's not looking at it. He knows how to learn spelling."

Finally, the teacher introduces a new book. She does not read it to him, but they look at some of the words and pictures. Then David reads the book himself.

David is in P2, and has come on hugely since he started reading recovery. It is all about teaching him strategies and moving him towards independent learning. But there is always the knowledge that while he is here catching up, the rest of his class are moving on without him.

"People think this is an easy option, teaching one-to-one for half an hour at a time," says Neil, "but it's very intensive. We're not just providing learning support, we're trying to get him back into his class."

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