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Improving Literacy with Fast ForWord Brain Science

Posted by Peter Barnes on August 20, 2015 at 6:05 PM

NAPLANAustralia is not the only country unable to improve overall student reading achievement – the NAPLAN 2015 results have shown little or no improvement for eight years.

In the USA reading achievement has largely remained the same for the past 30 years, despite various efforts.

USA reading specialists, Dr Timothy Rasinski and Dr Martha Burns discuss this problem in The Science of Learning Blog.   Their article describes the scientific foundation for effective reading instruction, and how advances in brain science offer some new ways of thinking about reading instruction. They make these key points:

5 critical factors for reading competency

The USA National Reading Panel (2000) identified five critical factors that students must develop competency in and that teachers should emphasise in instruction.  After reviewing the existing scientific research into reading and reading instruction, the panel identified: 


1.  Phonological Awareness 

Phonological and phonemic awareness refer to the ability to perceive, segment, blend, and otherwise manipulate sounds, particularly the sounds of language. Research has demonstrated that this competency is required for effective phonics instruction. If students have difficulty in perceiving and manipulating language sounds, they will certainly be challenged when those language sounds become associated with written letters as in phonics.

2.  Phonics or Word Recognition

Phonics or word recognition refers to the ability of readers to produce the oral representation of a written word using, primarily, the sound symbol representation of letters and letter combinations.

3.  Fluency

Fluency is the ability to produce the oral representation of written words effortlessly so that readers can direct their attention to the meaning of the text. Fluency also includes the ability to read with appropriate expression that reflects and enhances the meaning of the written text.

4.  Vocabulary

Like phonics, vocabulary refers to competency with words. However, vocabulary deals with the meaning of the oral and written words rather than the ability to “sound out” words. Clearly, comprehension is not possible if readers do not know the meaning of words, even if they can sound them out correctly.

5.  Comprehension

Comprehension refers to the ability of readers to gain meaning from a written text. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading and requires meaning-making effort and strategies on the part of the reader.

Brain plasticity & reading

Brain science offers some new approaches to reading instruction. One of the first new approaches came in greater understanding of phonological awareness and auditory processing.

Research indicated that many children with language and reading challenges had difficulty processing the “fast parts” of speech - common combinations of consonants and vowels that are pronounced quickly (e.g., the plural suffix that distinguishes the word cat from cats).

It is the ability of the brain to perceive rapid auditory input that lagged behind other aspects of language use. This results in difficulties in distinguishing differences in similar sounds as well as perceiving grammatical prefixes and suffixes in some contexts.

Fast ForWordScientists and educators developed Fast ForWord, a program that trains students in sound perception by using technology to initially slow down or enhance the production of the “fast” sounds.

Through frequent, repeated, focused and sustained practice with reinforcement, the sound production is gradually modified until it approximates normal speech speed. 

Clinical research indicates that students put into an enhanced auditory processing program make significantly greater progress in speech discrimination, language processing, and grammatical comprehension than students in similar programs using natural speech production.

Listening and language skills for effective classroom communication

As well as helping students' language and reading, enhanced auditory processing also improves their ability to understand what they hear (an aspect of listening). Fast ForWord works on underlying phonological and specific language deficits (such as auditory discrimination and sound-letter association) which can cause communication problems between teacher and student.

Evidence from students' reading achievement

The real proof for educators and the general public is the extent to which an intervention can affect actual reading outcomes in students.

An early clinical study (Temple et al., 2003) of the use of the Fast ForWord Language program with dyslexic students found that they made significant improvements in word reading and passage comprehension.

School-based studies provide even more convincing real world evidence. For example, Thomas Gibbs Elementary School in St. Mary Parish (state of Louisiana, USA) implemented Fast ForWord over the course of two years with fourth-grade students. Their performance on the statewide reading achievement test increased dramatically, with the percentage of students identified as reading at a Basic or above level increasing from 19% to 81%.

During the same period, the statewide average of students identified as Basic or above readers increased from 51% to 69%. The Thomas Gibbs school students went from performing well below the statewide average in reading to substantially above the average in two years.

Time for educators to use science & technology to improve reading

Albert Einstein was famous for, among other things, defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Major educational publishers have been offering the same generic type of reading program for students for years, and the result has been no improvement in reading achievement for decades in USA.

Is it time to consider new approaches to reading education and intervention, approaches that tap into informative uses of technology and new understandings about how the human brain works, while at the same time holding on to understandings of the competencies students need to master in order to become fully literate?

Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant appear to offer some new ways of thinking about and approaching reading instruction that use technology and an understanding of the workings of the brain and brain functions, and that correlate with our knowledge of what is important in learning to read. 

Want to read the complete article


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Topics: Reading, Fast ForWord, Literacy, NAPLAN

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