District 65 is a training site for the Reading Recovery program, an early intervention program for struggling first grade readers. At Washington, professional development is offered in this problem-solving approach for teachers from within and outside the District. This year, five teachers from Northbrook School District 28 and three teachers from District 65 are participating in the training.

The daily one-to-one lessons occur in the child’s school and some lessons are demonstrated behind the glass at Washington School as teachers observe and learn. This graduate level course is taught through National Louis University.

Connie Obrachta, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader from Washington School, invited me to watch teachers work their magic during a “Behind the Glass” lesson this week. She described the session as a way for teachers to sharpen their skills for making “on-the-spot teaching decisions that will be the most effective for accelerating student learning.”

During the session I attended, on one side of the two-way mirror, a Northbrook teacher took her 1st grade second-language learner through lessons that involved re-reading a familiar book, talking about what the child read the previous day, working with magnetic letters to learn how words work (incorporating “muscle, motor, and memory”) writing a story or prediction, cutting and re-assembling the story, and reading a new book. On the other side of the glass the group of teachers in training from Evanston 65 and Northbrook 28 observed and discussed the lesson and teaching decisions that would lead to accelerated progress in reading.

Listening to the observing teachers was a little overwhelming. While they watched, they engaged in animated discussion about the strategies used, and why they may or may not be effective. Ms. Obrochta pointed out examples of processing and asked questions. Retorts of “awkward pause” or “he’s struggling with words that have unfamiliar endings” were responses to her questions during the lesson. Mrs. Obrochta continued to help participants think about the connections between reading, writing and conversation, and to identify examples in the lesson they were watching. She talked about the importance of not breaking the flow, letting the child’s behavior guide the lesson while still covering all aspects of Reading Recovery in a 30-minute session.

From the other side of the glass, I was awed by the magic of good instruction. The teacher put words into her conversation to prepare the child for the text he was about to read. She encouraged, praised, and prompted the child to problem-solve words, improve his reading pace, and compose a message about the story.

Ellen Fogelberg, District 65’s Literacy Director, explained that Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention strategy to address the confusions struggling readers have before these confusions become habituated. And, while I am sure she has witnessed many such lessons in her career, she watched this one with the same enthusiasm that this newby showed. One additional aspect to District 65’s Reading Recovery program are plans to expand the model for Spanish-speaking learners next year. Two of the District 65 Reading Recovery Training participants this year are scheduled to join a current district reading specialist in implementing Descubriendo La Lectura, the Spanish version of Reading Recovery.

Before the day was over, the teacher who taught the lesson debriefed with Ms. Obrachta and Ms. Linda Shusterman, a District 65 Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, to talk about the lesson and what might be done to continue to improve for the future. The lessons, tailored to the needs of the child, are very individualized.

While Reading Recovery is new to the Northbrook district, the program has been implemented in District 65 for many years. The three Evanston teachers being trained this year will join ten others in District 65 who are already trained. These teachers continue to refine their instruction by participating every year in “behind the glass” observation, dialogue, and coursework with Linda Shusterman.

When asked about their experience in District 65, one Northbrook teacher explained that they really appreciate working with District 65. “This has been a fabulous experience because . . . with RTI [Response to Intervention] and Reading Recovery, they [District 65 teachers] are more seasoned and we are learning a lot from them.”