Helen Diviney rsm
I loved the twenty years I spent working as a teacher of six year olds in Primary School and had no ambition to move out of the classroom. Then I was asked, by the Provincial Leadership team, to consider training as a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. I had never heard of the programme but the chance of going to London for a year to train clinched the deal for me!
Reading Recovery is an early intervention programme for children who are falling behind with reading and writing after one year in primary school. It involves a daily one-to-one lesson with a highly trained teacher for a period of between 12 and 20 weeks. At the end of that time, most children have accelerated their learning and caught up with their classmates. It is thanks to the work of Sisters Olive McConville (Northern Province) and Carmel Molloy (Western Province) that Reading Recovery became available in the Republic of Ireland.
Every year, when I was teaching in the classroom, I had two or three children who struggled with reading and writing and I struggled to support them. I wish I knew then what I know now about matching my teaching to the child.
Helen teaching an Reading Recovery lesson
My work in Reading Recovery has brought me to schools in the most deprived areas in the country. Every day I see children, who come from homes where survival rather than education is a priority, becoming competent readers and writers. Reading Recovery brings about huge changes in children, teachers and schools. Everybody reports on how these lowest achieving children become so confident and willing to participate in class activities, once they have been in Reading Recovery. The programme has given new hope and encouragement to teachers working in disadvantaged areas and has raised their expectations of what can be achieved. When schools see how well the Reading Recovery children do they want to raise standards in the whole school and they do. In 2015 I took early retirement from the DES but I still work as an associate Teacher Leader and teach two children in the programme in my local primary school. Catherine McAuley saw education as a way out of poverty and Reading Recovery is making a huge contribution to this.
Mother and child reading
Retirement has given me the opportunity to explore another aspect of early intervention. This time helping parents, who may have had a poor experience of education and not have much confidence in themselves as the first educators of their children, to prepare their children for pre-school. The Parent Child Home Programme vision is that every child enters school ready to succeed because every parent has the knowledge and resources to build school readiness where it starts: the home. Eligible families receive 2 visits per week (30 minutes) over the course of the school academic year. Each child receives a total of 92 visits. Families receives a selection of educational age appropriate books and toys. Although there is no monitory cost involved (Programme cost is free), there is an expectation for parents to participate in each session and use the books and toys as often as they can between visits. Trained Home Visitors model appropriate parent and child interactions, using a non-directive, child lead approach.
The Director of Galway Education Centre had heard about the programme and of its success in Dublin’s docklands and he invited me to co-ordinate bringing the programme to County Galway. We have trained home visitors and begun visiting families in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be allowed in to people’s homes and to see parents and children growing in confidence as they learn through play. Visiting people in their homes was an important part of my early religious life and now I have come full circle. I am reminded of the quote from T.S. Elliot… We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
Helen Diviney rsm