3 Day Fast ForWord Protocol Research

Research Briefing

A new 3-day a week, 30 minute a day protocol was added to Fast ForWord software last month.  This makes the program much more accessible for busy families and for children who struggle with the rigor of the 5 day a week routine.

Scientific Learning, the founders of Fast ForWord software, are nothing if not thorough and dedicated to sound science and positive outcomes for their students.  And so this decision to add a reduced time protocol was not taken lightly and not done without research.

And so, to support the efficacy the 3 day Fast ForWord protocol Scientific Learning has just published a research briefing.  The briefing shows substantial gains in just 3-4 months.

This shorter 3 day protocol for Fast ForWord is recommended for struggling readers and learners only.  For children with a more severe learning diagnosis, including dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, we will continue to recommend a 5 day routine.


The Educational Goal Posts Are Moving

chaning educational goals

Is your child moving with them?

It used to be that all educational goals related to acquiring knowledge.  Scientia potestas est, knowledge is power.  There is even a charter school changing educational goalsnetwork called KIPP, Knowledge is Power Program, that draws on this famous Roman saying.

In many parts of the world, that is  no longer the case, and the US is moving in that direction also.

There are actually three types of educational goals, as described by Biggs and Collis (1982),  and re-stated by John Hattie and others:

  1. “Surface knowledge” — the acquisition of facts, content.
  2. “Deep understanding and critical thinking.”  The ability to put knowledge in context and connect to prior knowledge, etc.
  3. “Self-regulated learning and metacognition.”  University and beyond requires the ability to self-monitor and adjust while learning. It means having a student recognize he is his own best teacher.

Things have changed since “Scientia Potestas Est” in Roman times.  For one, we now have Google.  Surface knowledge is freely available everywhere.  We don’t need to memorize Civil War dates anymore.  We can Google them.   We don’t need to know causes, reasons, outcomes.  We can Google those also.  Even professions that used to rely heavily on rote learning, such as medicine, are requiring more critical thinking.

This is why most OECD countries have moved beyond surface knowledge as an end goal for their education system.

However, US education is proving to be a hard ship to turn — it is still primarily a surface knowledge based system.  Many parents insist on schools teaching facts as they themselves were taught, and tests are still largely multiple choice and fact-based, and with teaching to the test still rife in US schools, these tests drive lesson content.

This is the where the Common Core State Standards have the potential to be a game changer.  While there a lot not to like in the Common Core, it is at the very least an attempt to propel US educational goals and students into the #2 category of learning by emphasizing these reading comprehension and thinking skills at a very early age, 1st grade.

Higher Educational Goals Lie Ahead

However,  before US students can engage in critical thinking (#2) and self-regulated learning (#3) they need improved literacy skills. Being able to read with fluency and with literal comprehension falls short of the minimum requirements for deep understanding.  To put facts in context, compare to other domain knowledge and to draw implications from these connections and comparisons students require advanced reading skills, inferential reading comprehension.

It seems inevitable that the US will transition to this higher learning plane.  And this means the literacy and numeracy requirements will be raised.

How To Help Your Child Become A Self-Regulating Learner

Most importantly, make sure your child is thinking while reading from the outset.  This does not necessarily mean starting your child reading at an earlier age — the best readers in the world, the Finnish kids, start reading at 7  —  but it does mean activating your child so that he is always thinking, questioning, while listening and of course while reading.  It’s not about reading speed anymore.  If you are reading with him, try to ask questions that require some thinking, connection to prior knowledge or another part of the book.

Bear in mind though that thinking while reading is not easy.  It requires automatic decoding for starters, a skill that eludes up to 40% of 4th graders. Quite often, automatic decoding just requires practice and in this regard it is important to make sure your child is reading books in his appropriate reading range.

If your child is reluctant to read, most likely because it is too hard, then you need to be proactive and seek outside reading help.  Deep understanding and critical thinking are learned skills, and that learning cannot even start until your child has mastered thinking while reading.

Examining Medical and Natural ADD Remedies

add remedy needed

The Brave New World of ADD Therapies


ADD Treatment Can Be a Drug Free Zone

For several decades ADD has been treated as an incurable medical condition, primarily managed with narcotic-grade drugs. Despite research about the adverse side-effects, according to a Center for Disease Control study  in most of the US, >75% of children diagnosed with ADD are taking meds. This use of ADD drugs is continuing despite many new natural ADD remedies becoming available based on advances in neuroscience, nutritional, cognitive and medical research in two categories:

  • Managing the symptoms
  • Treating the underlying causes of ADD

Natural ADD Remedies That Manage Symptoms

There are several ways to manage the symptoms of ADD including neuro-feedback, nutrition, meditation, and focus exercises.  These approaches can help improve focus while they are in use, but once stopped, symptoms of ADD tend to return.  In this regard, these therapies are directly comparable to meds.

  1. Neurofeedback, also called biofeedback, uses real-time displays of brain activity to teach self-regulation of focus. Sensors (or a helmet) are placed on the scalp to measure activity with changes in focus being represented as movement on a screen.  This gives the student real-time feedback on changes in concentration, focus and lack of focus.  While some providers of neurofeedback claim this is a one and done learned skill, there are no studies to back this up, and most anecdotal evidence suggests that the effect is more akin to exercising for fitness — once you stop exercising, fitness declines.
  2. Nutrition. There are two strategies related to diet.  One is so called elimination diets as recommended by Dr. Eugene Arnold and others, where foods are eliminated from the diet of an ADD child, looking for signs of improvement.  Arguably, avoiding sugar, is part of this approach.  Second, there are a growing number of dietary additions, omega 2 in fish oil being the most famous, being recommended to help improve focus.
  3. Meditation and focus exercises.  Meditation or “mindful awareness” — as put forward by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and others — improves your ability to control your attention. In other words, it teaches you to pay attention to paying attention. This is a tough skill to teach children but has had some success with adult ADHD.

Managing symptoms to change daily behavior can be successful short term, the remedies, natural or medical, are only helpful while they are in effect. There are not lasting impacts.  Also, most of the natural approaches — exercises and meditation — require quite a significant effort from your child that is perhaps not commensurate with the long-term reward because of the temporary nature of the gains.

Natural ADD Treatments That Target The Causes

There are several approaches that aim to resolve ADD once and for all. They include a variety of learning software, sensory exercise, and brain training. No doubt, treating the cause of ADD in children is somewhat speculative mainly because pinpointing the exact difficulty is complicated. However, if the ADD remedy is successful, it has a lifetime impact — no more taking drugs or doing exercises –surely worth taking a chance on.

All children with ADD should be tested for nutritional allergies and remedies. Beyond that, your choice of remedies depends mainly on the suspected cause and that is best detected using non ADD related symptoms:

  • Sensory integration issues that cause ADD. If your child has hand to eye co-ordination, balance or spatial issues (e.g., gets lost on a sports field), chances are there are sensory integration issues behind the ADD.  Your best natural remedy choices here are Interactive Metronome, occupational therapy (including Brain Gym) or possibly Learning Breakthrough (Balametrics) which uses balance board-based exercises.
  • Learning delays that cause ADD. If your child has had speech issues, processing delays, difficulty following directions, learning or reading issues, chances are he will not be an engaged learner either in class or when reading or doing homework.  This lack of engagement in something that he finds difficult, even tortuous, is often diagnosed as ADD.  The remedy for these ADD like symptoms is to tackle the underlying learning difficulty, and in this regard, the best approach are treatments that take advantage of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire.

The two leading brain training programs that target learning delays are Learning RX and Fast ForWord software.

Learning RX is a chain of learning centers that uses intense in-center exercises to improve a wide range of learning skills.

Fast ForWord is more narrowly focused, using adaptive exercises that target language based cognitive skills — processing, attention, working memory and sequencing — to improve reading and learning efficiency.  Gemm Learning is the leading provider of Fast ForWord as a program for ADD  in North America.  It uses Fast ForWord to tackle the underlying learning issues as well as train attention skills — improving attention stamina as well as reducing distractibility and impulsiveness and BrainWare Safari, which helps ADD using exercises that build sensory integration.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition: DSM-5. Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Evidence-Based Information on the Clinical Use of Neurofeedback for ADHD.  Tais S. Moriyama, Guilherme Polanczyk, […], and Luis A. Rohde


Keeping Up With Common Core Reading Proficiency

Reading To Learn

Changing Definition of Reading ProficiencyReading proficiency

Reading proficiency for elementary age children in the US has long been measured in words read per minute. But proficient reading is much more than that. As identified in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), students across all grade levels are now expected to read with comprehension and use critical thinking and abstract thinking in their reading practice.

Thinking and Reading

Consequently, “reading proficiency” actually refers to all of the thinking behind reading; what happens in our brains before, during, and post reading. The different ways in which we think critically about what we read is the skill now being measured. Proficient readers preview text, make predictions, activate prior knowledge (commonly referred to as schema), and even set a purpose for their reading (what am I trying to figure out?).

Proficient readers think beyond the text and the Common Core Standards support this practice from an early age. Readers are encouraged to make connections with other texts, themselves, and the world around them. Good readers don’t stop when the story is over or the book ends, either. They ask questions and respond to what they read, exercising their brains to think abstractly both during and post reading. Often readers take lessons or morals from what is read and then apply what is learned in a form of problem solving.

Think about adults as readers. We practice critical and abstract thinking when reading, without even realizing it. We read to evoke emotion, empathize, learn something new, achieve self-help, etc; all of which require the use of critical thinking skills.

The Common Core Standards require that students are now expected to think while reading, making connections, inferences and/or predictions from 1st grade.  While phonics, fluency, and decoding need to be practiced, so do the higher level skills which Common Core emphasizes. The brain needs to be trained to think critically and not just attempt to read words on a page.  This is a very new way of thinking about reading instruction for elementary age children.

Literacy & The Broader Curriculum

The Common Core State Standards are introducing another important aspect of literacy, used overseas but not so much in the USA until now.  It is the idea that the curriculums of all subjects should include the opportunity to improve literacy.  Instead of teachers feeding information to students in the classroom, they will include large amounts of “read to learn” content.  This approach of course takes longer, but it exposes students to a real value of reading, i.e., as a way of learning new material and new ideas.

While this will inevitably lift US reading proficiency levels over the long-term, it raises the near term risk of lost momentum in these subjects where reading skills are not good enough to handle the material.  It raises the stakes of getting to reading proficiency at an earlier age, by 4th grade when read to learn will start to appear throughout the curriculum.

New Reading Programs

This dramatic change in the thinking around reading proficiency in the USA will lead to a new wave of reading programs that have a  reading comprehension focus from an early age.

It should also lead to more aggressive reading interventions.  Programs and therapies based on word lists and other work arounds that help reading fluency but not reading efficiency  are no longer good enough.  The new reading comprehension standards can only be achieved when decoding is automatic and efficient — anything less is not going to cut it.

Existing programs are adjusting to these new reading proficiency requirements.  One interesting development in this regard was the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent awarded to Scientific Learning for the development of a novel method for building critical thinking and vocabulary knowledge through the use of analogies in the Fast ForWord exercise, Gator Jam.

Our recent blog highlighted this news and expanded on the patent and  its significance in relation to the Common Core Standards. This game challenges the student to think analytically while reading, a skill that transfers to critical thinking for comprehension. This analytical thinking while reading technique exists in many other Fast ForWord exercises, at all age levels. For instance, Quail Mail in Fast ForWord Reading Level 1 uses a categorization task to teach reasoning and abstract thinking while reading. Twisted Pictures in Fast ForWord Reading Level 3 focuses on critical thinking through a comparing and contrasting task that requires matching similar sentences to a picture.

No doubt, the Common Core State Standards is taking reading in the US to a new level, requiring high level thinking and deep comprehension at a much earlier age than prior standards. This puts an emphasis on mastering reading decoding skills at a younger age and creates a demand for reading programs that can go beyond reading fluency. Our online reading program, Fast ForWord, as signaled by its recent patent win, is well placed to lead that movement.

Fast ForWord Reinforces CCSS Reading Skills

New Patent Issued

Educational technology continues to advance and make a difference in the lives of children and adults who are challenged with learning differences. Recently, Scientific Learning continued to make their mark in this field with a patent awarded by the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). This patent focused on the development by Scientific Learning for a method of learning based on analogies.

In the Fast ForWord reading exercise, Gator Jam one of the Fast ForWord Reading Level 5 programs, focuses on higher-level thinking and reading skills. Gator Jam poses an analytical challenge, asking the participant to complete a valid analogy while reading. This promotes critical thinking while reading, a primary Common Core State Standard (CCSS) reading standard as outline at  www.corestandards.org.

CSCSS Reading Standard

The CCSS assesses and requires higher-level reading and analytical skills. These exact skills are reinforced through FastforWord which has proven successful for those students preparing for exams such as the ACT, SAT and other standardized tests across middle and high school. This program teaches targeted vocabulary in the context of analogies, while helping to build skills in analyzing their relationships.

This most recent Fast ForWord  patent marks the 80th received by Scientific Learning in their 18-year history. With continued innovation in the field of educational technology, it is programs such as Fast ForWord who use neuroscience at its core to address learning differences, which are making a difference for students and adults across the globe.  This is particularly important now, given the higher CCSS reading standard, which now requires reading comprehension at an earlier age.

Our reading comprehension software can helps students as early as 1st grade by adding analytical thinking skills as is used in Gator Jam, the newly patented exercise.  The idea is to train children to perform an analytical task while reading, such as putting a word into a category.  This helps build the skill of thinking while reading, training for reading comprehension.