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The Learning Success Blog

Struggling Readers Need Programs Based on Science - Melbourne Age & Fast ForWord

Posted by David Stanley on September 16, 2015 at 2:14 PM

struggling readersA recent article in the Melbourne Age newspaper titled “Children with learning difficulties need programs based on science, not anecdote and neurobabble”makes some valid points but misses key information about how the neuroscience-based program Fast ForWord helps with Dyslexia.

The author focused on children with reading difficulties, including dyslexia.

These comments made sense:

  • Parents whose children are struggling to learn to read and spell are faced with a bewildering array of possible intervention options.
  • The typical struggling beginner reader/speller has difficulties with sounding out words. Breaking words up into individual sounds is not a skill evolution equipped us to do, and perhaps 20 per cent of children find it very difficult.
  • They must be explicitly taught how to stretch out words and listen for the sounds when spelling, and to blend sounds together into words when reading.
  • They must systematically work through the system by which our 44 speech sounds are represented by over 200 spellings of one, two, three or four letters, with many spellings representing more than one sound.
  • Reading skills are not highly correlated with intelligence as measured by IQ, so almost everyone, including most children with mild intellectual disability, can learn to read and spell words, if patterns are taught systematically and sequentially, and they get enough structured, well-planned reading and spelling practice.
  • Once children can get words off and onto the page (encode/decode), the teaching emphasis should shift to ensuring comprehension and fluency, and building vocabulary.
  • But if you skip putting the foundations in properly, your literacy house won't stand up.

What she misses about Fast ForWord

By writing about the perceived lack of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the Arrowsmith program as a reading intervention, and her comments about the use of brain images and parent feedback by other program providers to explain their offerings, the author seems to imply that there are no neuroscience-based programs, such as Fast ForWord, that can help struggling readers. 

Here is some of the research on how Fast ForWord has helped explicitly those with Dyslexia.

Some background you should know about Fast ForWord and then I will address some specific points from the article:

  • While it is not designed solely as an intervention for struggling readers (it builds the Learning Capacity of students of all abilities), there is lots of evidence that students who do the Fast ForWord brain training (language) programs and the Fast ForWord reading development programs, improve their ability to learn to read. 
  • Fast ForWord improves the ability of struggling readers to access the explicit reading instruction they need to learn to read. This makes it easier and faster for them to learn to read.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Fast ForWord does not claim to teach a child to read. They need to be taught to read! But Fast ForWord gets their brain more ready to learn by improving their language skills and key cognitive skills such as attention and working memory.
  • Fast ForWord is one of the very few programs that is based on fundamental neuroscience research. Most others were designed and then attempts made to retrofit science to explain how they work.
  • Fast ForWord is one of the most researched programs of its type in the world (over 250 published studies including independent peer reviewed ones).

To specifically address some of the points in her article:

The Age article- (students) must be explicitly taught how to stretch out words and listen for the sounds when spelling, and to blend sounds together into words when reading.

My comment – Yes, and Fast ForWord is the only software that has been specifically designed to stretch sounds to give struggling learners time to process them, and then to progressively move the sounds back to normal speech speed.

The Age article- Contrary to popular opinion, reading skills are not highly correlated with intelligence as measured by IQ, so almost everyone, including most children with mild intellectual disability, can learn to read and spell words, if patterns are taught systematically and sequentially, and they get enough structured, well-planned reading and spelling practice. 

My comment – Yes, and there is extensive of published research and case studies on how Fast ForWord does this for students of all abilities – from learning disabled, including those on the autism spectrum, to gifted students.

The Age article- Once children can get words off and onto the page (encode/decode), the teaching emphasis should shift to ensuring comprehension and fluency, and building vocabulary

My comment – Yes, and this is why Fast ForWord’s Reading Assistant is so helpful. It is the only online voice recognition reading tutor software that helps students build their oral reading fluency, comprehension and vocabulary.

The Age article - If you skip putting the foundations in properly, your literacy house won't stand up.

My comment – Yes, and Fast ForWord can build the language and cognitive skills foundations faster than any other method, allowing reading teachers to more effectively teach their students to read.

The Age article- Parents, teachers and funding bodies need to politely sidestep programs with marketing based on anecdotes, testimonials, pictures of brains and neurobabble, and find programs that actively and directly teach children the skills they lack, and are based on peer-reviewed, scientific research.

My comment – It is not that simple. I agree there are plenty of unscientific, ineffective programs especially for dyslexia. Be wary of anyone who claims that their program “cures” dyslexia.

However, there are programs that can help, including Fast ForWord and Cogmed, both based on neuroscience, and which have their effectiveness documented by published scientific research, including independent peer reviewed papers.

The problems is that most people find scientific papers too dry and hence don’t read them. In fact, unless you are a scientist or know study design and statistical analysis, many papers are difficult to understand easily.

So we do provide parent & teacher testimonials to simply illustrate the many, many stories of improvement that have occurred in the over 2 million program users. I know this is not the same as ‘research’, but if you need research, we have it too.

See All Skills Strengthened by Fast ForWord

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Topics: Learning Difficulties, Brain Science, Dyslexia, Reading, Literacy

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