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Remote P.D. Program Yields Results With Struggling Readers

A webcam-based professional development program for rural teachers in high-poverty schools has the potential to help students dramatically improve their reading skills, according to a new study.

The program, Targeted Reading Intervention, began as part of the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, and it now is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and supported by federal funding. A study about the program was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which only is available with a subscription, but THE Journal, an education technology news magazine, published an article describing its results.

The Targeted Reading Intervention program uses what it describes as inexpensive and scalable webcam technology to allow university-based literacy coaches to provide one-on-one, ongoing support to classroom teachers in multiple states, according to its website.

Here's how it works: Teachers involved in the program work with struggling readers daily during intense, 15-minute sessions. Those meetings initially are one-on-one and later transition to small groups.

Teachers use diagnostic, evidence-based reading strategies to help students, and they change those daily, depending on students' needs. Their coaches have reading expertise and are based offsite, and they observe teachers' lessons using webcams. Teachers and their coaches have quick conversations after each lesson about students' literacy needs. THE Journal said the program saves schools' money by eliminating the need to hire additional staff and using inexpensive computers with free applications such as iChat and Skype.

The study published in THE Journal involved 16 schools from five rural counties in Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina. Researchers compared students who had the Targeted Reading Intervention to those who did not, and "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," according to THE Journal.

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