Clay, Marie M. 1926-2007 (Marie Mildred Clay)

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Clay, Marie M. 1926-2007 (Marie Mildred Clay)


See index for CA sketch: Born January 3, 1926, in Wellington, New Zealand; died April 13, 2007, in Auckland, New Zealand. Psychologist, educator, and author. Clay developed the Reading Recovery program, which is used worldwide to bring first graders with little or no reading skills up to their grade level of literacy. She earned her teaching degree at the Wellington College of Education in 1945; Clay next attended Victoria University of Wellington, where she completed a B.A. in 1947 and an M.A. in 1949. Her master's thesis was about teaching special-needs children how to read. Clay was a teacher in her native Wellington during the late 1940s, as well as a school psychologist in Wellington. Winning a Fulbright scholarship in 1950, she studied child psychology at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Welfare. Returning to teaching and school psychology back in New Zealand, she worked in Auckland and Wanganui during the 1950s. In 1960, she joined the faculty at the University of Auckland as a lecturer, becoming a professor of education in 1975 and serving several times as head of the department there. During this time, she completed her doctorate at Auckland in 1966. Interested in child development and literacy for many years, Clay began to believe that the common wisdom of the time was misguided. Most psychologists and educators believed that if children were behind in their reading skills in the first grade, most would eventually catch up with their peers by second or third grade. Clay, however, felt early language skill development was critical, and that waiting this long made it more difficult for children to become good readers. Coining the phrase "emergent literacy," she believed, too, that one could detect pre-literacy potential in a child by their early behaviors, such as how they interacted with picture books. In the mid-1970s, she developed her Reading Recovery program, which sought to identify first graders in the lowest twenty percent of their class in reading and subject them to intense tutoring and one-on-one teaching for a period of twelve-to-twenty weeks, depending on how well the student did. The program showed great promise, and by 1983 it was adopted nationally in New Zealand. Soon afterwards, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and the United States also started Reading Recovery programs. Clay claimed that her methods had an eighty percent success rate for students, but critics said the intense study was too costly and also complained of the de-emphasis of phonics. Nevertheless, the program has continued to gain adherents, and there are now well over two thousand Reading Recovery programs in the United States alone. Named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1987 for her education contributions, Clay was a former president of the International Reading Association. Her ideas on education are available in such books by Clay as The Early Detection of Reading Difficulties (1972; 3rd edition, 1985), Observing Young Readers (1982), Reading Recovery: A Guidebook for Teachers in Training (1994), and Change over Time in Children's Literacy Development (2001).



Chicago Tribune, April 22, 2007, Section 4, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2007, p. B7.

New York Times, April 20, 2007, p. C11.

Times (London, England), April 25, 2007, p. 66.

Washington Post, April 20, 2007, p. B7.