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Webcam Program Targets Struggling Readers in Rural Schools

A new program developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brings webcam-based coaching technology into the rural classroom. According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the strategy, called Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI), has the potential to help students in rural classrooms dramatically improve their reading skills.

Teachers use their laptops to connect to a remote literacy coach, who provides real-time, one-on-one enriched instruction. Each 15-minute session focuses on reading for fluency, guided oral reading, and other learning approaches that help kindergarten and first-grade students manipulate, say, and write words. The strategy also helps schools keep costs down. Because coaches can be located off-site, it eliminates the need to hire additional staff; and the use of inexpensive laptop computers and free applications such as iChat and Skype also help curb costs.

The study, which included research conducted at 16 schools from five rural counties in Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina, indicated that TRI webcam technology in the classroom has the potential to make a significant impact in remote communities where access to education resources has traditionally been limited. Compared with children who do not receive the TRI, the technology helped struggling readers progress more rapidly across a wide range of reading skills. Struggling readers progressed at the same rate as their non-struggling peers in measures of word reading and spelling of sounds.

"These results are quite surprising, because the gap between readers who struggle and those who don't typically widens," said Vernon-Feagans, a fellow at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and William C. Friday Distinguished Professor in UNC's School of Education, in a prepared statement. "This is a strategy that helps close that gap."

North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) is a public research facility and the second largest university in North Carolina.

More information can be found on the Targeted Reading Intervention site.

About the Author

Sharleen Nelson is a freelance journalist based in Springfield, Oregon. She can be reached at snelson858@comcast.net.

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