Her scheme, which provides struggling readers with intensive individual support, has been credited with helping thousands of pupils in the UK, as well as many in the USA, Australia, Ireland and her native New Zealand.
Born in Wellington, she qualified as a primary teacher in 1945 and later won a Fulbright scholarship to study educational psychology in the United States, which enabled her to examine in detail how children coped in the first year of learning to read.
She became New Zealand's first female professor in 1975, when she worked at Auckland university and was made a DBE in 1992.
She brought her Reading Recovery scheme to the UK in 1990.
The project, in which teachers work with children for half an hour a day for three to five months, rapidly spread to England and Wales, helped by central funding. Although funding was withdrawn in 1995, the scheme came back into favour 10 years later when Labour set up a pound;10 million project with KPMG, the accountancy firm and various charities, to provide Reading Recovery teachers for 4,000 inner-city children with severe literacy difficulties.