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Education Minister Ramona Jennex unveiled the new Succeeding in Reading program Tuesday at a news conference in Halifax. ((CBC))

A new program to replace Reading Recovery will give Nova Scotia's youngest students access to focused support to help improve their reading and writing skills, says the education minister.

Succeeding in Reading: An Early Literacy Support Framework will be introduced to Primary and Grade 1 beginning in September, and will include strategies to increase support for students in grades 2 and 3.

Education Minister Ramona Jennex unveiled the new program Tuesday at a news conference held at St. Catherine's Elementary School in Halifax.

"Government is putting children and learning first," Jennex said in a release. "That means providing crucial literacy supports for more of our youngest learners."

The Reading Recovery program was axed by the government last month because it was too expensive. It cost about $7 million or about $3,000 per child.

The new framework, which involved input from literacy specialists at the department and boards, will help schools quickly identify students who need assistance to improve oral language, reading and writing skills.

Succeeding In Reading will provide focused, developmentally appropriate instruction and support, Jennex said.

"This approach gives boards the flexibility they need to provide support to even more students," she said. "We are no longer taking a cookie-cutter approach, and instead are tailoring support to fit the needs of our students."  

The province is investing $5 million in the framework.

"Children learn best in a social context. The focus is on an early literacy teacher working closely with the classroom teacher, in the classroom with small groups of generally one to three students," Jennex said.

"There will also be opportunity for one-on-one instruction outside the classroom when necessary."

Highlights of the framework include:

  • Daily in-class support in small groups.
  • Flexibility to provide one-on-one support.
  • Students will receive focused support for a pre-determined block of time.
  • Support will be a joint responsibility of classroom and literacy teacher

"One of the greatest strengths of this approach, and what I believe will benefit students most, will be the improved working relationship between the early literacy teacher and the classroom teacher," Halifax Regional School Board Superintendent Carole Olsen said.

"That closer relationship will result in improved teaching and increased support to students."

But, a former minister of education is skeptical of the government's plan to replace Reading Recovery.   Liberal education critic Karen Casey said the new program is simply adding to the workload of already busy teachers.

"In many cases, and at no fault of the teacher, the time that goes to the neediest is taken away from the rest of the class," Casey said.

"So I don't see this as being any kind of a help to the teacher. I think it will cause the teacher's attention to be spread even thinner."

Casey said it's unclear how boards will be able to deliver this program since they have had to cut literacy specialist positions.

Laura Roblee, who recently retired after teaching for 35 years, is skeptical the new program will be effective.

"I don't think it's going to work in the classroom. I think it's just going to be something else for the classroom teacher to have to try to add to an already busy day," she said.

Roblee said that one-on-one time outside the classroom worked best to help those struggling to read.

The new program will begin in September.