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Maximizing Fast ForWord: How We Get Results

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Getting the Most From Fast ForWord Software

Gemm Learning has used Fast ForWord protocols to help over 8,000 students – with a wide variety of ages, diagnoses, attitudes, time availability and goals. Here’s what we are thinking about when we advise clients on protocol plans to fit their situation.

Our goal is to help your child become a confident and independent learner and reader, using Fast ForWord to start. At its core, Fast ForWord has three phases:

  1. Creating learning momentum, the first 4-6 weeks. This is the most intensive phase and the most important.
  2. Cognitive skill development, the next 8-12 weeks.
  3. Address reading skill gaps/bad habits to develop reading comprehension, 12-24 weeks.

Generating Change – Creating Momentum

Creating learning momentum where there is none/very little is no simple task. Here’s why.

The brain by nature is a self-improving organ. If learning is not progressing, that means the brain is not finding pathways to acquire the skills required for reading and learning. Think about how you teach a child to hit a baseball, you start with slow pitches. The brain is more than willing, but it needs slow pitches to start.

A struggling brain is likely only seeing fast pitches – mainly language that is too fast to process, i.e., too fast to understand, and too fast to break apart so as to recognize language conventions, etc.  When it’s all coming at you too fast, there is no way forward and so learning growth stalls.

Our “Slow Pitch” Software Machine

Our software presents exercises that involve all of the foundational cognitive and language skills for reading and learning – probing for your child’s skill gaps, her impediments to learning growth.

learning intervention protocolThen the software starts with slowed down versions of the processing, sequencing, attention and working memory. These are the skills that need to eventually be mastered at (much faster) natural language speed for learning and reading.

This is the heart of our program. Finding those skill delays, then presenting slowed versions of exercises that will help, getting the brain to interact with those exercises and slowly start to respond correctly – i.e., learning movement! (albeit at slow speeds).  Then a little faster, and a little more complex – the idea being to pull these skills up step by step to natural language speed at each student’s own pace.

This initial “find the gaps, then start momentum” process takes 4-6 weeks for most students, typically less for middle school and older children, typically a bit longer for younger children and children with a dyslexia or APD diagnosis.

Everybody Starts at the Start!

The first 2-3 weeks is the source of most of our success. It’s why we have pages and pages of positive testimonials, it’s why Fast ForWord is such an effective reading and learning program.

If you can get your child to attend to the program in those first few weeks, a success testimonial likely awaits.  The good news is that the software has a computer game feel. And so while it is probing areas of genuine difficulty for your child starting out, there is a honeymoon period where most children rise to the challenge.

You might think your children actually has these basic skills mastered – there were no speech delays early on, your child can rhyme and is attentive.  That might well be true, but children are masters at disguising their delays.  They want to please you, they want to please the teachers, and so they fake it, they cover their tracks.

Children With No Diagnosis

If your child is struggling at some higher level – reading with comprehension, thinking critically while listening in class, failing to plan or think ahead – chances are the problem lies in a delayed or inefficient fundamental skill, a skill we touch on this first few weeks.

And as a reminder, the software is adaptive.  And so if your child indeed does have a sound cognitive skill foundation, she will sail through this first phase in just 2-3 weeks and then will be presented with more sophisticated exercises, seeking to build higher level reading and thinking skills.

Cognitive Skill Development – 20 Hours to Cement All Gains

Unfortunately, there are no real short cuts here. The science says that even though we are almost always able to start marching cognitive and learning skills up to natural language proficiency in a few weeks, a student needs at least 20 hours of activity in these skills to permanently integrate the gains.

At 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, that’s 8 weeks at least.

Plus, the pinnacle of learning, critical thinking while reading with comprehension, is a sequential process – it takes time.

Fast ForWord Protocols

We will select 2 or 3 program sets (depending on age and diagnosis) with exercises that build in speed and intensity in hundreds of tiny, but incremental steps.  For instance, Sky Gym in Foundations I exercises processing using a high and low sound sequencing game.  It starts with 2 sounds at about 5 sounds a second, quite slow. By the end, its successor exercise (Space Racer in Foundations II) is asking the student to sequence 5 sounds (not 2) at a speed of 40 sounds a second (not 5), lightning fast!  There are hundreds of steps in the middle. Most brains are able to climb the ladder to natural language processing speed, step by step.

For Fast ForWord to be a “one and done” program for you or your child, for the skills to stick, we need your child to complete those 20 hours. At the end of this phase, our goals for your child:

  • Pre-phonics skills mastered, phonics much easier
  • Attention skills improved
  • Able to follow instructions, remember assignments
  • Reading starts to be easier
  • Test taking starts to improve

Note, there is no text in any of the first set of exercises, it’s all cognitive and language skills.  But because this program does such a phenomenal job of improving phonemic awareness, most children see reading gains in this period.

Correcting Bad Reading Habits and Skill Gaps – Another 20 Hours

Once the brain has learning momentum, once the impediments to learning have been removed, in most cases it’s like a dam bursting.  Learning progress from then on is significant and continuing.  At this point, our goal is for your child to be a healthy learner.

And it’s fair to say, you could stop our program at this point, as your child has the skills now to develop normally as a reader. However, because at that point, most children are still behind in reading (although catching up fast!), most clients do the reading skills programs. These exercises do accelerate the reading progress and specifically address poor reading habits that develop when a child is struggling with reading.

Introducing New Skills

Left to right reading. For instance, one exercise helps a child migrate from skipping around a page looking for words they recognize, to a left to right process reading every word. After our first two phases, your child now has the tools to decode every word and so we help your child’s brain put that into practice with a left to right reading style, reading every word. To support this transition, we also teach those so-called “red words” like “right” that are not phonetic – so that red words don’t cause your child to start skipping words again!

Thinking while reading is another skill your child’s brain will likely benefit from being shown.  Struggling readers put every ounce of brain power into figuring out every word.  After the first two phases of Fast ForWord, this process is automatic for your child. The brain now processes the sounds much more accurately, it can easily match them to the letter sounds.  And so the brain now has free capacity to think, it’s just that some brains take a nudge to recognize that.  Several exercises connect added tasks to words, e.g., putting the word into a category, e.g., read the word Apple then select a category – building, place or fruit – thinking while reading.

The Fast ForWord reading exercises are fantastic, and at the same time challenging.  Most of our students go as far as they can go (generally to grade level), and then families take a break and will often come back a year or so later or over summer and try to progress further, and to more deeply integrate good reading habits.

Postscript After Gemm – Practice Makes Perfect

Because we help a wide range of children, our client testimonials detail all kinds of benefits. However, if we had to bring it all back to one overarching goal, it would be to make reading easier.  If reading is easier, it is likely more engaging for your child, hopefully leading to more reading, reading mastery leading to a lifelong reading habit – and that is a thing of beauty!  It’s why we do this!

Ditto for learning. If test questions are easier to read and process, if better working memory and attention skills makes the selection of choices more efficient, then the attitude to learning, to test taking and to school can improve. That starts a virtuous cycle – better attitude, better effort, better results, better attitude…

Check out how Gemm Learning’s service works here.  If you are wondering if we can help your child, contact us for a free consult.

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