Part 5: Making New Discoveries

Literacy Pages: The Series presents the fifth post in an 8-post series related to Reading Recovery and Teaching with Discontinuation in Mind from Early Lessons. Click below to check out our previous post.

Self-Extending Systems: Teaching with Discontinuation and Independence in Mind

Part 1: Actively Self-monitoring

Part 2: Searching for Different Kinds of Information

Part 3: Syntactic Structures

Part 4: Rereading to Confirm

In her works, Marie Clay often refers to the idea of setting students up for “discovery”. Let’s think about the definition of discovery.

According to the definition of act of discovering something is _to see, get knowledge of, learn of, find, or find out; gain sight of knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown)_.

During a Reading Recovery lesson, we’re not striving to tell our students all there is know about the printed language. Instead, we plan for lessons that lead the student making their own discoveries. When learners have these “a-ha” moments it makes learning more memorable and they feel a sense of ownership for their learning.

Rules of printed language

Roaming around the known is a crucial time in which we are able to engage our students in copious amounts of reading and writing experiences. As students make discoveries we celebrate those moments with genuine excitement. Acknowledging a student’s discoveries helps the student take on the identity of a learner. They think, “Wow! I can figure things out on my own.” Students realize that through reading and writing they can use what they know to figure out what is unknown. Essentially they are teaching themselves. 

During RATK, we provide our students with an abundance of modeling and co-construction that can lead to discovery. Our students will develop an understanding of various concepts about print such as where to start reading, reading left to right and top to bottom, the concept of letters versus words, etc. When we plan for habitual responses with directionality, for example, this helps students discover that this is the way that readers and writers always need to look at print.   

Successful reading

The teacher sets the stage for students to make the discovery that when they take a particular action such as rereading, slow checking, and searching for information it helps them experience successful reading. 

One of the earliest behaviors that we can observe students partake in is self-monitoring. With the right prompting and reinforcement, students soon realize that noticing an error is a desired behavior. Once students regularly self-monitor their reading we can guide them to discovering how to use various types of information in a coordinated way to search, self-correct, and confirm or disconfirm their reading.

Learning new letters/words

With their teacher’s guidance, students will learn that letters have various features and that orientation is important. The discrimination between various letter features will help students to learn more letters and to differentiate between similar looking letters. There are many ways that we can help students to learn the full set of letters during their Reading Recovery lesson.

  • Create an alphabet book where a child chooses their own letter sound links
  • Sort magnetic letters 
  • Look closely at differences and similarities between letters
  • Match upper and lower case letters
  • Find letters within text 
  • Model the verbal path

With our consistent and careful modeling students will come to an understanding that directionality matters when looking at words. Clay reminds us that we don’t need to wait until children learn all of their letters before we start teaching them words. We can carefully choose words for our students to work on that we know they already know a lot about. With our guidance our students will develop a system for learning words through learning their very first words. It is also helpful, when teaching new words, for the words to come from what the child has been reading and writing about. Building up a core group of words that a child knows very well can help set the stage for many discoveries such as links to new words, problem solving, and self-monitoring.

Clay tells us that, no matter where are students are in their learning, we should not skip the procedures in LLDI on page 72 regarding breaking words into  letters and letter clusters. Early attention to this will be very helpful in habituating the way our students look at print.

While learning letters and words is important we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture – reading and writing as meaning making processes. Students will discover how they can use their letter and word knowledge as they are reading and writing. For our students, understanding how to apply item knowledge to reading and writing activities does not happen incidentally. We will need to strategically bring this to their attention without taking away from the meaning of the story.

Reading and writing are reciprocal

We cannot take for granted that what a child discovers in reading will be applied to their writing. Through intentional planning we can help our students see the reading and writing connection.

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In Summary 

With carefully planned interactions we can see our students developing a self-extending system in which they use what is known to solve new problems they encounter. This successful problem-solving will create new discoveries that can be used to problem solve on future texts.  Discoveries will be made with carefully planned interactions by the teacher. If we leave things for incidental learning our Reading Recovery students will not have the accelerated learning that they need to discontinue. 


Clay, M.M. (2015). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Clay, M. M. (2015). Change over time in children’s literacy development (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Clay, M. M. (2016). Literacy lessons designed for individuals (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

4 thoughts on “Part 5: Making New Discoveries

  1. Ginny Eaton

    Finding your blog is like winning the teaching lottery! I’m a second-year Reading Recovery teacher whose training year was cut short by COVID. Your posts are so well-written and helpful, and I just can’t thank you enough. I’ve been feeling somewhat lost, but you’ve provided a relatable map. I am grateful!


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