Marie Mildred Irwin was born in Wellington, New Zealand on January 3, 1926. Her paternal grandparents were both educators, and her mother was a music teacher which paved the way for her own interest in education. Marie's parents separated when she was five years old. This drove her to achieve her goals in school and furthermore to focus her life work on helping others whose life didn't go as planned.
As an adult she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New Zealand. She attended the University of Minnesota where she studied postgraduate developmental psychology and clinical child development. She went on to earn her Doctorate degree from the University of Auckland in 1966. Marie Clay passed away in 2007.
Basic Biographical Information
Marie Irwin attended the University of New Zealand, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree and awarded the Senior Scholarship in Education in 1946. She then began teaching at Thorndon Primary School, and further moved on to take "city positions teaching children in Junior Special Classes" at Thorndon and Newntown Schools. In 1949 Marie earned her Diploma of Education and Master of Arts with Honours (New Zealand spelling) in Education. That year she began working for the Department of Education Psychological Services. In August she was promoted to "Psychological Assistant. In 1951 Marie was awarded the Fullbright Scholarship to the University of Minnesota. Here she studied developmental psychology and clinical child development. Before she completed her degree here, she married Warwick Clay on June 14th, 1952. They moved to Wanganui, New Zealand. Here Marie taught "children in standard three and four" (third and fourth grade). Her head teacher noticed that she had an interesting "scheme" that was different than the current trend in New Zealand. On Monday through Thursday she had students working through centers that included book reading, word study, comprehension, and one on one instruction. In 1954, Marie and Warwick had their first child Alan. Soon after, she made the decision to move her family to Auckland. There she worked in the primary schools part-time and with the school Psychological Services part-time. In 1956 she had her second child, Jenny. In 1958 she returned to work part-time with the Department of Education as a psychologist. During this time Marie also tutored two preschool students in remedial reading. One of these children grew to become an internationally renowned yacht designer, who published articles in a national magazine, and further went on to own his own business. In 1960, Marie began teaching Developmental Psychology at the University of Auckland. In 1966 Marie completed her Doctorate degree from the University of Auckland.
Marie's greatest contribution to the international world of education was the development of the Reading Recovery program. The development of this program began in 1976. Marie had just landed the role of professor and department chair at the University of Auckland. Her students wanted to know how to identify students who were struggling and furthermore what to do to help them. Marie set out to develop a system that would do just this. Through case studies involving a group of teachers and students, the Reading Recovery intervention program was born. According to research conducted by affiliates of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, Reading Recovery has benefited over one and a half million children here in America. This number does not include the number of children that her program has benefited around the world in such countries as Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Spain, England, and Denmark. She has served as the International Reading Association (IRA) president, the chair of the Department of Education at the University of Auckland, and has written numerous books, and articles. Some of her books include "Change Over Time", "Becoming Literate", "An Observation Survey", "Literacy Lessons I", and "Literacy Lessons II". Conclusion
Marie Clay is a woman of outstanding achievement who was not only able to make a difference in the lives of the children that she personally worked with, but also the children that her students worked with. She has given teachers the tools to identify young students who are struggling in reading and writing. Furthermore, she has identified some of the most effective teaching activities for these children. The research of Warwick Elley shows that one of the common features of effective teachers is that they have been trained in Reading Recovery. Having said this, it goes without saying, that Marie Clay has impacted the lives of a countless number of teachers and children internationally. You can read more about Marie Clay in "Memories of Marie" by Jenny Clay and "Stirring the Waters" by Janet Gafney and Billie Askew.