Marie Clay
Marie Clay

Reading Recovery is an extraordinarily long-lived and successful innovation. The story begins in 1946 when Marie Clay began graduate studies for a Master of Education in Wellington NZ and ends with the development of the early literacy intervention in the late 1970’s.

Marie Clay’s research revealed that the typical students identified as requiring extra literacy classes in 1947 were 10 years old. These children had experienced 5 years of failure in mainstream classes and still had a further 5 years of compulsory schooling.

She also found that there was meagre support for struggling readers and a lack of resources.

Marie Clay sought to find ways to prevent difficulties from occurring.
She realised the need to be able to observe and record early acquisition of reading development and developed the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement.

This led to the development of Reading Recovery to cater for children who failed to make good progress for different reasons.

Reading Recovery has been responsive to the changes in evolving literacy theory and research, such as the reciprocal gains of reading and writing, onset and rime, phonics, fluency, comprehension and oral language.

Since beginning, Reading Recovery is one of the most researched literacy interventions world wide.

Timeline of Marie Clay’s research

1962 Early research-pilot study
1972 Wrote: “The Patterning of Complex Behaviour”
1976 Reading Recovery begins in New Zealand
1981 First group of tutors trained in New Zealand
1983 National implementation in New Zealand

Reading Recovery in Australia

1983 Joan Smith was the first Australian to train in New Zealand as a Trainer
1984 Reading Recovery began in Australia
Three trial training programs for Tutors were conducted in Bendigo, Latrobe University and Melbourne University.
1994 First trainer in Australia: Heather Turpin
1996 Early Years Literacy Project
1998 CLaSS project
2005 Reading Recovery in most schools in Victoria.

World Wide Implementation

Reading Recovery also operates in the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Bermuda, The Republic of Ireland, Jersey and Denmark.

Reading Recovery manuals have been translated into Spanish, French and Danish.

About Marie Clay

Marie Clay, “Simply by Sailing in a New Direction: You Could Enlarge the World.” (Allen Curnow, 1943)

Marie Clay was born on the 3rd January 1926 in Wellington, New Zealand, and died on the 13th April 2007.

She was an inspirational, passionate, and dedicated leader in research on children’s language and literacy. Marie Clay has been recognized worldwide through her work on child development and the prevention of learning difficulties in literacy acquisition. She spearheaded the practice in training teachers to observe children closely during early literacy learning in order to design and implement a series of lessons catering specifically to the strengths and needs of at-risk learners. Marie Clay was a leading light for teachers in the field of literacy and an advocate for young children learning to read and write. “We honour the research question that motivated and guided her life’s work: What is possible if?” (Watson and Askew, 2009)

Marie Clay’s research has influenced international communities of scholars in early literacy: early childhood, bilingual and special education: developmental, cognitive, and school psychology; assessment; teacher education; professional development; systematic implementation; and research design. Clay’s view of accommodating diversity by responding to individual children has permeated all aspects of her work. The constant in her perspective has been viewing the complexities of learning through an unfettered lens – the eyes of children (Gaffney & Askew p1 1999)

“A major contribution of Marie Clay’s has been to change the conversation about what is possible for individual learners when the teaching permits different routes to be taken to desired outcomes (Gaffney & Askew 1999)”.

“From her hospice bed, Marie said she wished her colleagues to continue with the work, the work in literacy which was fundamentally important to her. At the front of her book By Different Paths to Common Outcomes, Marie has a dedication to the people who contributed to her life: ‘to all my teachers – family, colleagues, teachers, and young learners – for they have all immensely increased my view of what is possible’. “ Jenny Clay (Marie’s daughter) from “Memories of Marie” 2009

Marie Clay – “You must forgive a long-term clinician for believing it was imperative to pick up the children who were floundering as I fumbled my way through the debates and controversies. I focused on an outlier group, a minority group, but I have enjoyed sailing in new directions in the company of staunch supporters who have chosen to navigate the same route.” (Clay, NRC Yearbook, 2004)

For more on Marie Clay


Gaffney, J. & Askew, B. (1999) Stirring the Waters, The Influence of Marie Clay Heinemann Portsmouth, NH

Clay, J. (2009) Memories of Marie, Reflections on the Life and Work of Marie Clay, Pearson Education, New Zealand

Watson, B. & Askew, B. (2009) Boundless Horizons, Pearson Education, New Zealand

Publications by Marie Clay

Some articles by Marie Clay

1967: The reading behaviour of five-year-old children: a research report. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies 2, (1) 11-31.

1968: Reading errors and self-correction behaviour. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 39, 47-68.

1970: An increasing effect of disorientation on the discrimination of print: A developmental study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 9, 297-306.

1971: Sentence repetition: Elicited imitation of a controlled set of syntactic structures by four language groups. Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development, 36 (No. 143).

1974: The spatial characteristics of the open book. Visible Language, 8 (3), 275-282.

1985: Engaging with the school system: A study of interaction in new entrant classrooms. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 22 (1), 20-38.

1987: Learning to be learning disabled. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 22 (2), 155-173.

1997: The development of literacy learning difficulties. In D. Corson (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Language and Education: Vol. 2: Literacy. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Some books by Marie Clay

1972: Reading: The patterning of complex behaviour. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann. (Other editions 1979, 1985)

1975: What did I write? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

1983: Clay, M. M., Gill, M., Glynn, T., McNaughton, T., & Salmon, K. (1983) Record of oral language and biks and gutches. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann.

1989: Quadruplets and other higher multiple births. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott.

1991: Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

1993: Reading Recovery: A guidebook for teachers in training. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

1996: Escamilla, K., Andrade, A. M., Basurto, A., & Ruiz, O. (1996). Instrumento de observación de los logros de la lecto-escritura inicial. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

1998: By different paths to common outcomes. York, ME: Stenhouse.

2001: Change over time in children’s literacy development. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann.

2002: An observation survey of early literacy achievement (2nd ed.). Auckland, NZ: Heinemann.

2003: Le Sondage d’observation en lecture-ecriture. Montreal, Quebec: Cheneliere/McGraw Hill.

2005: Literacy lessons designed for individuals part one: Why? when? and how? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

2005: Literacy lessons designed for individuals part two: Teaching procedures. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Contributions by Marie Clay to some publications

1994: Introduction. In R. B. Ruddell, M. R. Ruddell, & H. Singer, Theoretical models and processes of reading (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association

2003: Afterword. In S. Forbes & C. Briggs, Eds., Research in Reading Recovery, Volume II. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.