After a difficult remote kindergarten experience, Alexis Garcia needed to get on track in her reading skills, her mom Karla Silva said.
The now first grader at Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 has been getting tutored in the district’s evidence-based Reading Recovery program. Her daughter had a hard time learning sounds, but now she’s reading books to her younger sister. Silva’s thankful for the tailored assistance.
“She gets help where she needs it,” Silva said.
Mallory Keenan knows all about the progress children can make with specialized learning.
As the Reading Recovery teacher leader at District 47, she works with both students and teachers to accelerate literacy in the schools.
“I have this really great role in that I have the best of both worlds,” Keenan said.
In Reading Recovery, the lowest-achievement readers get a one-to-one tutoring intervention. Each lesson is designed especially for the child and what happens one day dictates the next.
Because her interactions are one-on-one, Keenan is able to get to know the kids. She hears about their pets, their friends, what fun activities they did over the weekend, and their interests.
It’s all fuel that provides an opportunity for an authentic teacher-student relationship, even while the intervention is meant to be short-term, she said.
“It’s so cool to see the transformation, those little clicks that show they’re learning,” Keenan said.
Her job also entails collaborating with the literacy team.
Keenan visits all Reading Recovery teachers twice each year and provides feedback. As a teaching tool, they participate in an activity called Behind-the-Glass, where they engage in a Reading Recovery session with a student while being observed by district administrators.
While implemented in 2001, the program shifted from a school-based model to a districtwide model this year to reach more kids. About 150 students districtwide have been served through the program during the 2021-22 school year to date.
The district used federal COVID-19 dollars to hire Keenan as an experienced, certified Reading Recovery specialist.
“The Reading Recovery program directly aligns to one of the goals of the district’s strategic plan, which is to assess and support pre-K through second-grade early learners who are delayed in their readiness,” Superintendent Kathy Hinz said. “We know Reading Recovery works and that early intervention is key.”
According to district officials, District 47 is one of few Illinois school districts to fully implement Reading Recovery.
The program is offered in English and Spanish. In Spanish, it’s called Descubriendo la Lectura, or DLL.
In addition to being a literacy specialist, Keenan has served as a teacher, university instructor, and founder of A to Z Literacy, a nonprofit that serves students locally and globally.
Through her nonprofit, Keenan advocates for equity, promotes social justice, and cultivates relationships to increase literacy skills to enhance students’ lives in and out of the classroom.
“Mal works tirelessly with students, teachers, and administrators to bring best practice literacy instruction to our classrooms,” said Anastasia Gruper, District 47 director of literacy and social studies and site coordinator for the Reading Recovery program.
Keenan said she couldn’t do what she does without her “army of crazy smart teachers who are invested in the students’ learning.”