Faculty News

Lynne Vernon-Feagans receives $3.4 million from U.S. Department of Education to support rural K-1 teachers’ work with struggling readers

A $3.4 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow Lynne Vernon-Feagans to extend her work with kindergarten and first-grade teachers as they help children in low-wealth rural schools who are struggling to learn to read.

Vernon-Feagans, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood, Intervention and Literacy, began developing the Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) in 2004. TRI combines elements of dozens of teaching strategies. In the TRI program, a consultant works with one classroom teacher and one struggling reader at a time. In biweekly coaching sessions, the consultant and teacher formulate instruction for that child, based on the diagnosis of the child’s reading difficulties. Guided by the TRI consultant, the teacher provides 15 minutes of one-on-one interaction with the child every day until the child shows marked improvement.

Since its inception, TRI has been implemented in a series of small, randomized clinical trials. Results to date are encouraging: Students who have received TRI have shown significantly greater gains in reading ability than control students who have received other forms of reading instruction.

In 2007, Vernon-Feagans began exploring whether the TRI consultants could deliver the intervention effectively from a remote location through laptop computers and webcams, rather than needing to be onsite in the schools when working with the teachers. Doing so would allow the TRI consultants to work from a home base, such as UNC-Chapel Hill, rather than needing to travel continuously to the school sites. Again, results to date have been very encouraging, such that struggling readers caught up with their non-struggling peers in the same classrooms.

The new funding will allow Vernon-Feagans to conduct a large randomized controlled field trial of the effectiveness of TRI. She and her colleagues will implement the TRI in 25 Title I rural schools in North Carolina and elsewhere. They will deliver the intervention via webcam.  In this new grant, teachers will receive one and then two years of practice with the TRI, with the goal that students who receive the intervention when teachers have had two years of practice will gain even more in reading than when teachers have had only one year of training.

The first year of the new four-year grant will be a planning year. The investigators will find 25 schools that are willing to participate in the study for the subsequent three years. They will pretest the teachers and prepare for implementation. The plan is to work with four teachers at each school, randomly assigning two of them to the TRI condition and the other two to a control condition. Teachers in the control condition will be given a laptop computer and will have access to online curriculum. Three struggling readers will participate in each classroom.

“We are very pleased to be able to take this work to scale in a large field trial,” said Vernon-Feagans.

“And we are eager to learn whether teachers’ experience with TRI makes a difference. The teachers who have participated in TRI so far have been really good at helping us understand what we need to do to get better. This investigation will clarify whether two years of teacher participation result in greater gains for students.”