Fast ForWord provides an evidence-based language and reading intervention program for struggling readers. It has proven to be a successful intervention for English learners (ELs) who lack basic literacy/language skills in their first language, students who are two years or more below grade-level in reading, students with dyslexia, and students with auditory processing deficits. This program will be used in intervention classes, reaching our lowest readers in special education, English language development, general education, and students on 504 plans for dyslexia.
Developed by neuroscientists, Fast ForWord targets the root causes of poor or slow academic development in the brain. Children with language learning difficulties have been found to struggle with recognizing and sequencing auditory and visual information. This is the foundation of language learning. Fast ForWord uses modified speech algorithms, i.e. slowed down speech, to help develop and strengthen the language centers of the brain.
The software includes three learning series: language, literacy, and reading. The language series focuses on developing the brain’s language center and overcoming those deficits which make reading and literacy difficult. The literacy series is designed for struggling readers in middle- and high-school who have fallen seriously behind in reading for reasons other than a lack of basic language skills. The language and literacy series also include exercises to increase memory, attention, processing, and sequencing skills. Finally, the reading series is a reading intervention program designed to increase fluency and comprehension. Students are assessed and then placed in the learning suite that best addresses their literacy level and learning needs.
Fast ForWord will primarily benefit students in tier three literacy/reading interventions, usually about five percent of the school population. (Tier one is classroom based reteaching and/or differentiation, tier two is typically eight to 12 weeks of small group instruction, and tier three is smaller groups or even 1:1 instruction.) Research conducted both independently and by Scientific Learning, the company that developed Fast ForWord, has found that the most struggling readers tend to make the most progress with the program in a short amount of time. Positive results are typically seen within 16 weeks.
In Nevada, Fast ForWord is considered a “high gain program,” with an average achievement gain for students using the program of 22% (reported in 2010). Not only do students improve in reading, but they make gains in other academic areas as their memory, attention, and auditory processing skills improve.
At our school site, out of 435 students who took the STAR reading test in September, 5.7% (25 students) are reading four or more grade levels below their grade level. An additional 9.4%, or 41 students, are reading 3-3.9 grade levels below their grade level. As special education and intervention teachers, we notice a high number of struggling students who subsequently become behavior problems in the classroom. This can be attributed to the fact that they are not really able to comprehend the material and/or meet the academic demands of their classes. If we can begin to improve these students’ literacy and academic skills, we believe all students will benefit as behaviors improve. More students will be able to participate in speaking and listening activities, and more students will feel empowered and able to do the work in their classes.
Multiple measures of improvement will be used to track and determine the success of the program. The use of Fast ForWord for our literacy/reading intervention will be considered successful if 90% of our Tier 3 students meet the two or more of the following goals after one year:
Reading level gain of two or more years, e.g. a student who begins at grade level 3.4 finishes the year reading at a level of 5.4 or higher.
Improvement on the STAR Reading assessment of 2 grade levels or more for Instructional Reading Level.
Overall improvement in individual grades in core courses by one grade, e.g. going from a 1 to a 2 in math, or 2 to a 3 in Social Studies.
Improvement on CAASPP by one achievement level, e.g. from not meeting standard to nearly meeting standard, in both math and English language arts (ELA).
The program will be considered successful if these struggling students begin to access the learning provided by through our existing curriculum in math, ELA, science, and social studies.
If students report feeling more confident and better able to comprehend the content in their classes, as would be evidenced by improving grades, we would consider this to be an effective and successful intervention program.
Five students have been using the software for four weeks, about 4 days/week (minus minimum days), for 30 minutes per day. The first week was spent on orientation and the initial screening. Based on the first month of using the program, I believe we will see these students make significant progress by the end of the four month trial.
Three of these students have specific learning disabilities, are English learners, and are 4 or more grade levels below their grade level in reading. These three are struggling but remain motivated and have made progress. They have completed, on average, 4% of the language series. Completion, in the reports generated by the software, refers to successful completion. Those three students report that they are getting used to the program and feel like they are successful. This alone is progress, as these students typically have given up in the past with other reading programs.
One student is an 8th grade English learner who is in general education. His current reading level is 1.8 according to STAR, and 2.3 as assessed by Fast ForWord. He is motivated to work in the software and is feeling successful. He has completed 2% of the language series, but is "on target" to complete the series within their target time frame.
The last student is a 7th grader with dyslexia who is reading at a third grade level. She has completed 7% of the language series, and reports that she likes the program "better than anything else" she has participated in the past. She also reported that she thinks "it's working," as she was able to read a "whole paragraph without stopping" the other day. She added that she even understood what she read. I have not had a chance to do a reading screening with her, but plan to after she works in the program a few more weeks.
Plan: Tier three students will be identified through our ongoing data collection and analysis. They will then be placed in a small intervention classes for Fast ForWord. These students will be screened for reading level with a teacher, and then assessed within the software for reading/language levels. They will begin using the software at the recommended level based on the pre-assessment.
Students will be motivated through tracking charts for level completion, as well as reading fluency. Within the intervention class, data will be tracked and monitored on a bi-weekly basis. Students who are still struggling will receive further off-line interventions, one on one with the intervention teacher, provided by Fast ForWord. The nature of these lessons will depend on the student and his or her needs.
Timeline: We have been using Fast ForWord on a trial basis for the past three weeks. It takes two to three days, using the 35 minute RTI period, to get students oriented and working in the software successfully. After securing the software licenses, we would schedule and complete one day of training. We would spend two weeks identifying and screening students for reading levels, and present levels of performance. At this time, we would set up their data folders for monitoring and tracking progress. During this two week period, we would also schedule students into RTI classes. By week three, we would be ready to introduce the students to the program and begin the orientation. Week four is when the "real work" would begin with intervention classes.
Students would work with Fast ForWord four days per week during the RTI class period. Some of the most critical students may also work at an additional time in the intervention room with Joelle Alexander, most likely during specials. Ongoing progress monitoring, through Fast ForWord reports and external reading screenings, would identify students still struggling. Extra lessons to support learning in the software would be provided, and those students may be pulled for additional time to work in Fast ForWord. Every sixteen weeks, each student’s data (grades, Fast ForWord level progress, reading fluency/comprehension) will be reviewed in order to decide if the student will remain in tier three intervention.
This grant will be shared with all four grade levels at North Tahoe School. Students in general education, special education, and English language development will all have access to the program, depending on intervention needs.