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Gemm Learning Disclaimer – About Our Claims

The Two Claims We Make, And Two We Don’t

Gemm Learning provides brain training (or better said, cognitive skills training) software to help reading and learning.  While we look like a routine learning intervention — online software with remote teacher guidance — we make learning claims some find controversial. Namely:

  1. Brain training can help reading growth
  2. Our program can help resist the impact of certain learning disabilities

Claim #1. Brain Training (Cognitive Skills Training) Can Help Reading

The accepted way to help reading is direct reading instruction, such as word lists, spelling drills and reading practice — aloud and silently. Our software works very differently. It builds the cognitive skill foundation required for reading, pre-reading skills. We claim that by improving these skills we can lift reading performance.

Part of the controversy here is that we claim that gains in cognitive skills do transfer into reading. We don’t train spelling, then test spelling and show a gain. That’s easy!  Instead, we train cognitive skills, but measure our effectiveness by testing what parents care about, reading skills. That’s a much tougher standard, but it is how we measure our success.

Claim #2. We Can Help Students With Diagnoses Some Consider Fixed or Permanent

Many parents are told by educators, clinicians and others that learning disabilities and the behaviors associated with those disabilities are permanent. We disagree. We claim that we can often help language-based learning disabilities, including dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and inattentive ADD. Of these disabilities, the dyslexia claim is the most controversial.

The reasons this is a controversial claim are many-fold. First of all, “learning is fixed” is a bedrock educational principle. To some extent, clinicians, teachers and tutors have hammers and so everything looks like a nail. They know how to manage and work around learning disabilities and so that’s what they do.  Second, there are so many influences in a child’s learning that it is hard to segment one influence, such as a learning intervention, and prove definitively — to a clinical research standard — that it was the difference maker. And finally, so many learning disabilities are intractable leading to a popular perception that nothing can be done.

However, routine fMRI imaging shows quite marked changes in brain activity at various stages of life, indicating that the brain changes.  Therefore learning can change, it is not fixed.

The Claims We Don’t Make

We do not claim that we can help all students equally. Nor do we claim we can make a difference in every case. Each student is unique. We see that daily in our progress tracker dashboard — each student takes a unique path. And so while we do sometimes refer to average gains on this website, we understand that your concern is only your unique case. And with a sample of one, nothing in learning is 100% certain.

Also, you should note we are an educational program, not a medical intervention. Our software works by exercising cognitive and reading “muscles” — there are no drugs, surgery or other medical actions. However, we fully hope and expect to make a difference in every case, which is why we  have no problem offering a guarantee.

Furthermore, our program is like a piece of gym equipment. It might be really good equipment, but if it isn’t used it will not help you get fitter or stronger. Therefore, child maturity and scheduling issues play into our assessment of a child’s candidacy for our program. And so, as part of our enrollment process we insist on a consultation starting out where we set appropriate expectations.

What Makes Us Confident In Our Learning Claims

We rely on four planks in making our claims:

  1. Fast ForWord studies
  2. The science
  3. Our internal results
  4. Parent feedback
– Fast ForWord studies

The Fast ForWord developers are world-renowned neuroscientists. They are subject to scientist peer pressure and skepticism for creating a commercial application out of neuroscience and cognitive research. And so they are careful with their claims.

There are 240+ studies.  While leading universities conducted a few studies, most are school district pilot studies. While these studies do not meet the clinical research gold standard of reproducibility, there are two reasons for this:

  • Educational research is notoriously inconsistent as children and environments vary so dramatically
  • Creating control groups, etc. adds expense and complicate most schools don’t want to incur

Arguably though, the school district studies are helpful because for them, there is a lot at stake — a buy/not buy decision at the end of the study. An internal analysis of 70+ of these trials that cover 14,000+ students produced an average gain of over 1.09 years in 60 sessions. That’s about 3 months for the average Gemm Learning student. This represents our low-end outcome average expectation.

– The Science

There is a mountain of every-day evidence that the brain can change. For instance, stroke victims regain speaking abilities, some dyslexic children grow up to be writers, and fMRI’s that track brain activity show changing patterns over time.  There is no question in our minds that neuroplasticity is real. The brain is self-organizing — it can change like a muscle can change.

What settled it for us was the Stanford study in 2003, which tracked brain activity changes on pre- and post-fMRI’s. Importantly, the post-fMRI images showed change in the direction of the reading patterns seen in competent readers. Now of course, the fact that brain activity changed does not prove that reading changed in lock step.  But in our minds it confirms the science behind the Fast ForWord software, that cognitive skills will respond to exercise.

– Our Internal Results

On this website we make two learning claims: “1-2 years of growth in 4-6 months” and “2 years of gain” — both based on our internal results.  Unless a parent requests otherwise, we assess Gemm Learning students every 2-3 months.  Our average gain is consistently in the 1 year to 1 year 3 month range per 3 month period.  Our average student enrollment period is over 6 months, meaning our average gain is over 2 years.

One indicator of our internal results is our guarantee experience. We guarantee that as long as the protocols are followed, parents will either observe gains or that we will pick up reading gains in our testing. Over the past 5 years, only a handful of clients — far less than 1% — have exercised this guarantee option.

About Our Testing

For pre- and post-testing, we use the Reading Progress Indicator (RPI), an online test our students complete at home. Since the release of RPI in 2007, validation studies have mapped it to a number of widely-used, standardized reading measures, including high-stakes state assessments.  Downloadable overview of RPI

To be fair, our internal testing does not meet the high standards of clinical research. The tests come up in our routine at certain milestones, meaning students complete the tests often without supervision.  However, we think if anything the RPI understates our results. For starters, that test is not timed and yet the first major target of our program is to improve fluency. Secondly, we often have to contend with parents helping the student in the baseline test, which obviously impacts our gains, a headwind we just have to live with.

– Parent Feedback

There is nothing scientific about anecdotes and it is possible we benefit from a massive placebo effect, but the stories we hear from parents in most cases exceed the gains we see in our RPI post-testing. The positive stories start around 4-5 weeks into the program and forward. They continue for years after program completion, when we follow up with our students.

We have a testimonials page with comments that are:

  • cut and paste from emails sent by parents,
  • comments made in our Satisfaction Survey or
  • summaries of conversations with parents.

The results of the satisfaction survey we send to clients supports the anecdotal feedback we receive. It’s a rolling number, but consistently 95%+ of clients answer yes to the question: “Would you recommend us in the right circumstance?” This is an indication at least of client confidence in what we are trying to do. It is also possible that there is a bias in our responses in favor of those with a positive experience.

While bias in responses may exist, once our families see the logic of what the software is trying to do and how we can manage the home experience they tend to engage positively in our service.  The satisfaction survey tells us they see it as worthwhile.

One last note in this anecdotal feedback section is the attitude of Gemm Learning staff. They all see first-hand or hear about our client successes. And so, uniformly, as soon as their children are of age, they are anxious to get them onto our program!

Why We Have Grown Bolder Over The Years

The idea of Gemm Learning arose when the founder saw the impact of Fast ForWord on his 7-year old son in 2005. The decision to start occurred after attending the Fast ForWord Visionary Conference in early 2006. At that conference, our founder met clinicians from all over North America with amazing success stories about their Fast ForWord students.

Starting out, we relied on the changing fMRI images (the science),  Fast ForWord’s study results and the feedback from clinical providers. However we were cautious. We would only take students with reading difficulties and clear language processing delays, the main target of Fast ForWord.

Along the way though, we had parents press us to let their child try it — perhaps due to success of a neighbor — with less defined suitability.  This includes traumatic brain injury cases, mainly pro bono due to our concern that our treatment was speculative at best. Very often when we widened the net, our families were rewarded.  Despite our success however, we still and always will consider traumatic brain injury, stroke and like cases to be speculative and only recommend participation on a case by case basis.

In a recent case study, the mother of a 15-year old car crash victim told us how they left the hospital without hope, but that now, because of Gemm Learning, he is going to graduate high school.  Ironically, early on we would have turned this woman away because we would not expect to be able to help.

Therefore over the years we have learned to be bolder and to expect more of Fast ForWord.  However, we still only recommend the program to children and adults who have struggles consistent with areas we believe we can positively impact.