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The Connection between Reading Recovery and Lev Vygotsky

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    The Connection between Reading Recovery and Lev Vygotsky


                Throughout the world, it has been and remains to be the ultimate desire of every individual to seek to have some education that is deemed capable of bringing that person to the place where one is able to live a fulfilling life. Every individual has an understanding, however remote, of the great importance that education has in the one’s life and especially in shaping and preparing one for the future (Clay 1985). It is the desire of every nation, therefore, to make the learning process as easy and attainable as possible so that there can be a realization of the benefits that accrue from the public’s attainment of education. While there have been put in place efforts to ensure that appropriate programs are made available to all people to learn and attain their desired level of education and improve the quality of their future lives, many challenges still face both learners and the educators. These challenges are particularly pronounced at the basic education level; and the worst affected are those who have certain challenges that make their reception and attainment of education rather difficult. These include the very young, particularly those in first grade and who are just having a first trial at education.

    These are usually not able to get to learn well enough and retain what they are taught unless the instructors can use specifically adopted programs that are designed to help them. Among other issues, the ease of the learning process and the corresponding joy that learners are able to derive from the program goes a long way in determining learning outcomes. It is more or less like in play where the better designed and more appealing a toy for play is the higher the chances that a child will like the game (Vygotsky 1978). Many educational theorists have also come in handy to explain the correlation between different learning programs and the development of children in order for there to be a clearer understanding of the specific approaches that ought to be taken in learning for maximum benefits. It is in the  light of this that this paper seeks to explore the link between one such program of education that is designed for young children – Recovery Reading – and its correlation with a leading 20th century education theorist –  Lev Vygotsky. The aim is to explore how his social development theory has impacted Reading Recovery.

    The Reading Recovery Education Program

    Reading is a very important aspect of the learning process. Although the English language is composed of four main learning skills, namely reading, writing, speaking, and listening; it is reading that is greatly emphasized here owing to its ability to encompass a set of different benefits which include solving problems and gaining knowledge as far as the learning process is concerned. Reading recovery is a very wide area of research and as an education program it specifically targets the people who are prone to learning problems like first grade kids. According to Center (1992) in the article Evaluating the Effectiveness of Reading Recovery: A Critique contained in the journal of Educational Psychology, it is this state of being that ensures that every child is able to get the most basic reading and developmental skills so that all can be well with the kid. It not only offers reading skills that are deemed very critical to the development of the child but also ensures that the child’s writing skills are enhanced (Clay 1985).

    The program first came into being when a scholar and educator from New Zealand was made to grapple with the challenges that children underwent in their bid to gain an education. This made him to come up with a set of learning approaches that he deemed really mattered for the little ones (Clay 1985). He discovered that children needed reading to be able to gain the skills to solve everyday learning challenges; and to get whatever message that was being communicated to them from whatever reading material their instructors were able to offer them.  He particularly discovered that reading and writing enabled the learner to link patterns that could not be seen of oral spoken language with those of signs that could be seen (Dyer 1992). It is an area of education that is so well capable of bringing together the efforts of the instructor and those of the young learner so that there are enhanced benefits for the learner.

    As far its theoretical basis is concerned, the founder of the program, Marie Clay, cites education as a requirement that is so intricately associated with the community that they are inseparable. Clay (1985), writing in the book The Early Detection of Reading Difficulties, says that the community ought to be part and parcel of the learning process even as education is deeply a practice that is deeply entrenched in the society. Clay further adds that it is no use for the two to be set apart one from the other as reading recovery is designed specifically to offer the much-needed interaction between the learners and the society so that these learner can be amble to operate in the so-called zone of proximal development which is particular and specific to every individual learner (Dyer 1992). From the New Zealand where it was found, the reading recovery program fast spread to other parts of the world.

    The Approach to Reading Recovery

                Reading Recovery is unlike any other program of education in that it is designed to appeal to the needs of the developing child who is not only learning intellectual skills but also other key life skills as well. Therefore, the program has specialized teachers who are fully devoted to carrying out a specially designed lesson plan just for the purposes of achieving the goals of the plan (Clay 1985). These teachers with special retraining are expected to conduct daily lessons that take 30 minutes. These lessons are delivered with an understanding of how well children learn and which approaches are most important for the child (Chapman 1991). A typical deviation from the normal learning process is that these instructors on the Reading Recovery program are able to, during the course of the 30 minutes assigned for the program, offer the learners with more focused, need-based assistance that is delivered on the spur of the moment.

    It is worth noting here that the aim is to bring a change in approach to the entire lesson plan so that the learning aspects that are considered to be of critical value are first enforced through placing a lot of emphasis on them (Gaffney 1993). In the view of Clay, it is not the quantity of the learning that a child receives that makes the difference but how the learning is conducted. He reiterates that although 30 minutes assigned to these little children is a far lesser period of time compared to what other ordinary programs offer, they are highly successful because they approach the lessons inn the most effective way which in turn ensures that the learners are given the skills they need in the form and manner in which they best identify. During the lessons, a set of activities are performed by the instructors, specifically reading of a set of books tat are little enough to allow a child to read about four to five in a day. Stories also form an integral part of the lessons, and through constant repetition and mulling over the readings of the preceding days, it is possible to have the kids embracing reading skills fast enough (Vygotsky 1978).

    A key component of the program is to have the teachers trained and equipped with the key skills that are understood to be essential for the learning proves of different ages of children. The key here is seeking to meet the special needs of every learner by having a clear and succinct understanding of the manner in which different children behave as far as reading, interpreting, storytelling, and analyzing is concerned. On the whole, Reading Recovery uses an interaction of social settings with trainers, mentors, and other players to bring about literacy learning (Denner 1993). The lowest-achieving learners are the targets of this Reading Recovery education program. The main purpose of it all being to bring all learners to that level of learning where they are capable of coming close to or to the actual level with the other students. So once this goal is attained then the students can be comfortably discontinued from further specialized lessons and allowed to get back to the normal learning processes with their peers (Gaffney 1993).

    The Socio-cultural Theory of Learning: Vygotsky

                This theory is perhaps a very direct, more specific one in explaining education and learning issues as depicted by children who are mainly the people that are in need of the most learning and the most development. According to the main force behind this social development theory, Lev Vygotsky, learning is a key life process and everyone must undergo it if one is to be a meaningful member of the society (Crawford 1996). And, according to him, society plays an equally critical role in ensuring that this development is as successful as it ought to be. If society fails in playing its part in the learning proves of the child, then there is a risk that certain important aspects will not be grasped by the child.

    This theory forms part of the foundational stone of constructivism. It is a theory than underpins the great role of peer influence and behavior as key components in learning. The theory has three main themes which when applied to any learning or education can serve as key indicators against which the success or failure rate of the program can be measured (Gaffney 1993).. Since the aim of this paper is to establish how well the Reading Recovery education program matches with the socio-cultural theory of learning as presented by Vygotsky, it will be ideal to begin by looking at these three main themes which form the main frameworks of the theory.

    Socio-Cultural Approach to Learning and Development

                According to Vygotsky and the socio-cultural theory, the manner in which a child interacts with the society is a critical indicator of how well that child will develop. It underscores the importance of social interactions in the entire process of learning and development. The child who is learning might be greatly helped to come up with a very effective learning by having more involvement of the child’s peers involved together with the child in the learning and development process (Vygotsky 1978). The key here is having the child looking up to one’s peers to help one learn better. According to Vygotsky, social learning always comes before development, in a move that challenges what other theorists like Piaget have suggested – that development precedes social learning (Wertsch 1995). Given this knowledge, social interaction ought to be enhanced so the child can develop effectively and to the maximum.

    Vygotsky cites a close interplay between the learner as an individual and the society around the child, claiming that for every activity or a child performs there are two levels to it – the interpersonal or individual level and the social level. As such, both levels ought to be embraced for development to be successful. In essence, there is interpsychological and intrapsychological development where development is between the child and the people and then within the child, respectively. Additionally, Vygotsky is of the view that the development of higher cognitives and consciousness are the final, ultimate products of a process of social behavior ands socialization, respectively. He tends to overrule the notion that learning is just an automatic process that is independent of social interaction. He reiterates that the development of cognitive as a separate process is greatly influenced by the language in which the child is taught, language here not necessarily meaning the spoken one but the set of social interactions that the child is exposed to. Everyone has a way in which one learns but the environment – specifically the people with whom one interacts – plays a greater role in shaping outcomes; especially in children.

                This theory clearly illustrates what has been applied in the Reading Recovery program of education. On this basis, it is only ideal that it is listed as the first advantage that the Reading Recovery program is congruent with the socio-cultural theory. This is because in the Reading Recovery program capitalizes on the role of society to bring about development of the child. Actually, as far as the development of the learner is concerned, the Reading Recovery program offers the best approach to learning (Vygotsky 1978). It not only ensures that that there is a deliberate move by teachers to make learning a socially interactive activity but also makes each of the learners to have a special learning experience where they are best served in an environment which clearly meets their specific needs. However, there are a lot of tendencies to generalize everything here. A lot of focus in Reading Recovery is placed on isolated teaching with short, repetitive lessons. This, while being a lot better than general and ordinary lessons, does not really bring about much success unless there is a realization of the learners’ zone of proximal development.

    Peer Influence

                If there is a key tool in determining where one goes in life and more specifically in the learning process, then it is the tool of peer influence from the other people. Vygotsky (1978) in the book Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes holds that the more intellectually developed these peers are, the higher the chances that one will learn faster and attain more success in a shorter time. This is what Vygotsky describes in his theory as the more knowledgeable other (MKO). He underscores the great importance of exposing the learner to peers who are more knowledgeable and more advanced in skills than the learners are. This is where the nature of social interaction as opposed to frequency is critical. The more critical aspects of the theory, especially as far as this theme is concerned, are therefore to be found in having the appropriately trained and skilled instructors and trainers to deal with the learners at their most critical stage.

    One of the many ways through which learning as a process is influenced is through the careful merging of the various aspects deemed important and critical to the learning process. It is like the bringing together of the key players whose absence in the learning process is likely to spell doom for the learning process. The further a learner is able to go with the stakeholders playing their role as expected will be indicated by the nature of the activities these stakeholders have entrenched in the system of learning (Vygotsky 1978). For in stance, if the learning is made as repetitive as possible and more interactive socially, then the learner will develop very well and have skills imparted faster which could otherwise have taken a much longer period of time to develop. The other advantage of Reading Recovery comes in here. This program has so well managed to apply the concept of per influence on the leaner. The learner is exposed to peers who are above one both intellectually and socially. As such, the learner has the added benefit of developing even as one is learning intellectually and attaining critical intellectual and life skills. This Reading Recovery program is, therefore, well suited to the socio-cultural theory.

    The other advantage is that there is a lot of focus on the behavioral and cognitive aspects of the child, aspects which the theory endorses as key to any learning process. Finally, there is the advantage that the children with learning challenges are targeted to be put on the program after which, once they are able to acquire the relevant skills, they are discontinued. It is a process that ensures equity in education attainment and in life in general. The disadvantage here is that the Reading Recovery program, by placing numerous children in one classroom, cannot really succeed in having then learn as they might interact more with fellow peers who are less knowledgeable. This might hamper their learning as learning to be effective requires the learners’ exposure to more knowledgeable peers.

    The Zone of Proximal Development

                According to Vygotsky, it is very critical to have keen interest in the learner and to understand how the learning process is carried out by individual learners. There is a point in the learner’s life when the learner is capable of having the most learning much in the same manner in which an absorbent material can absorb more water at certain concentration potentials than others. The learner is not just learning but learning smart and using all that is available for the most benefit (Vygotsky 1978). Learners are able to achieve their most out of a learning process if they can be brought to the point where they are able to absorb the most. Although psychologists and social workers tend to be rather emphatic on the aspect of smart teaching and targeted teaching, it is really never possible for one to say there is targeted teaching without there being an understanding of which point the best learning for the learner is able to take place. Once this is understood, the teacher will seek to make use of this range within which learning is most effective so that the learner can be able to benefit greatly (Vygotsky 1978).

    According to Vygotsky, this range within which a learner is most capable of getting the most out of the learning process is called the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This zone, he has found out, is the difference that exists between what a learners can get on one’s own and what the same learner can be able to learn when the teacher or instructor or any other peer is able to offer some form of help to the learner (Vygotsky 1978). The aim of any education program must be to ensure that the learner is given most of the lessons within this zone as it is the only zone where learning takes place. Failure to recognize can mean that although as lot can be done to bring about enhanced learning, there is no way that the required level of success can be attained.

    The main advantage of Reading Recovery in this respect is that it has sought to have the children learning based on their unique abilities. That is, the Reading Recovery program has enabled the children to learning within the zone of proximal development, thereby ensuring that they are actually learning (Vygotsky 1978). Without this being done, it is difficult for the learning process to succeed. The main disadvantage here is, however, that the Reading Recovery program does not really seem to have any specific measures that can prove that the children on the program are actually being taught within their zone of proximal development. As such, it is likely that the efforts are yielding fewer returns than is expected (Vygotsky 1978).

    Conclusion and Recommendations for the Reading Recovery Program

                Based on the analysis in this paper, it is true that the Reading Recovery program as applied in education in general and the learning process for young children in particular is not very far from what the socio-cultural theory advocates and demands. However, because of the few limitations identified within the program, it is important that some changes are made to the Reading Recovery program. The first recommendation is that there is supposed to be an improvement on it to ensure that the exact zone of proximal development for every learner is determined so as to be helped best (Driscoll 1994). This can be done by further reducing the number of learners that are able to be in any given class, and perhaps even considering extending the half-hour lessons for every day to an hour.

    Finally, there has to be a deliberate move to determine the learners’ peers as this will help them get peers who are more knowledgeable than themselves. To do this, the Reading Recovery program has to incorporate as many peers as possible to mentor the children. It would all be a waste of time and other resources if the program can run on only a few of the critical factors being entrenched therein. Instead, there has to be an inclusion of all aspects and variables that are deemed or proven to be of great importance to the program.

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