We Asked the Fast ForWord Experts About Back to School

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 08:00
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA


Back to school already?  Our Professional Development Managers (PDMs) spend weeks - months - years(!) on the road working with schools all across the country. We asked these experts their top suggestions, ideas, and tips to make this the best Fast ForWord year ever. Have you tried all these yet?    

1. What is the most creative way you have seen to motivate students?

Ann and Sheila:  Wall of Fame!  

Sheila: I worked with one 2nd grade teacher who displayed the whole solar system and all the planets along a very long hallway, and the students were each represented by a rocket ship so they went from planet to planet as their completion scores went up by 10% increments (the sun was included, as well as the former planet Pluto)!  

Joel:  One teacher told me she can get her kids to do anything for a bag of chips. 

Andrea:  One of my favorite things is a reward system that takes into account both Fast ForWord and general habits of mind/soft skills. I saw a secondary teacher in Starkville, MS who built structured free time into the class period on a Friday every three weeks or so. To attain this structured free time, students had to be up to date on their CAPSs (no flags), have no misbehavior in class (no infractions), and no disciplinary write-ups from any class (no referrals). I think it’s so cool because many of our students see social gains before they may see numerical/test gains, and this system is a great way to reward those social gains. 

2. What’s your TOP piece of advice for schools getting started this fall? 

Ann:  Communicate progress and struggles with the students through MySciLEARN reports.

Christina:  Strategy! Strategy! Strategy! Take the first week of school to reintroduce Fast ForWord! Remind students of the purpose of Fast ForWord and go through each exercise and show strategies for each. Have fun with it. You can do classroom activities and have students practice in demo mode to help them get back their Fast ForWord groove! 

Andrea: Communication is KEY! Make sure classroom teachers, administrators and parents are on the same page. 

3. You travel a lot to schools all across the country. What do you see?

Laura: I see teachers and principals that want all of their students to be excited about education and grow.  I see so many “do whatever it takes” attitudes.  It is hardly ever easy, but schools are not giving up.

Andrea: No matter where you go, kids are kids. They all want to do well. They all want to be acknowledged. They all need someone to tell them that they are doing a great job, or that we can work together to get through a problem. I also get to see really cool intervention and motivation ideas! Half my phone’s pictures are pics I’ve taken of room decorations, and it’s always really cool to see how each campus comes up with an individual way of doing things.

Sheila: I see amazing administrators and building leaders taking great care to ensure that our products are utilized to the maximum usage, helping them to make great gains.  The real success comes when they see their own data change for the positive year over year.  It’s amazing!

4. What motivates YOU to get up every day and coach people about Fast ForWord?

Andrea: Getting to work with products that I believe in and I know work and having such a great team and support system make it super fun!

Laura:  I love being able to share the successes from one school to another.  Showing them how a school that faces their same hurdles can succeed, and offering practical, tried and true advice about how to accomplish these goals. I also love that every day I get to see the good in education.  So much of what we see and hear about education is negative, but I don’t see it that way.  I see the students that have not always seen success being successful and growing.

Lastly, the most powerful stories our PDMs share are often from the students themselves:

Joel:  I've seen Fast ForWord change people's lives. Years ago, I was consulting at an elementary school in South Texas near the US/Mexico border. A newcomers' class had just finished their Fast ForWord protocol, and students were asked to speak quietly until the bell rang. I was behind two young boys, who were maybe 3rd graders, who were speaking Spanish. They didn’t even know I was there.

One asked the other, "How do you like Fast ForWord?"

The second boy said that he liked it and that he liked computers.  

The first boy seemed disappointed with his reply, so the second boy asked, "How do you like Fast ForWord?"

"I love Fast ForWord," he said. "I love Fast ForWord, 'cause I'm not the dummy in my class anymore." 

He went on to tell of how he now raises his hand in class because he knows the answers to many of the teacher’s questions.

If you ask any of us why we work with Fast ForWord, we all say it has to do with helping struggling learners.

Our program is only as effective as the coaches and educators who bring it alive to students! A warm welcome back to school for you and your students! We are pumped up, focused,  ready to meet you, and to have fun making this your best year yet. 


Underperforming Student Success Strategies

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 08:00
  • Eric Jensen, Ph.D.

Dr. Eric JensenSome low-income schools are wildly succesful while others continue to struggle. Dr. Eric Jensen has researched this phenomenon, studying what makes one Title I school a place where students are as successful as their high-income peers, whereas others continue to be low-performing. Following is a transcript of a portion of his Underperforming Student Success Strategies webinar, in which he outlines some game-changing, yet simple tips. Watch the full webinar by clicking here.

7 Secrets to Accelerate Underperforming Students

We've got lots to do, so let's roll up our sleeves and get started. First things first; here’s an overview of what we're going to cover:

  1. Relationships matter the most. Learn how you can create relationships with struggling students.
  2. Understand the REAL problem.  Part of succeeding with struggling students is learning how to hear what people are not saying. Sometimes it looks like there's one problem you're solving but it's really a different problem altogether.
  3. Shift mindsets and expectations. Learn what kind of expectations are realistic with the struggling student.
  4. Build cognitive capacity relentlessly. How do you build cognitive capacity? And why is this important? [Hint: Dr. Jensen recommends Fast ForWord!]
  5. Teach grittiness for the long haul. Learn how you can teach grittiness.
  6. Work on social and emotional skills. How do you teach social emotional skills?
  7. Coaching for life. How do you become a coach for your students to be successful in life?

I've worked with many underperforming students and of course, you can come up with a different list of seven but I think this list is solid gold, so let's get started.

Be Conscious of How You Start Your Day

One suggestion is every time you begin working with your students, always ask yourself:

  • What's the posture your students are in?
  • What's their metabolic state?
  • How are they feeling at the moment?

You and I know when we feel tired, we feel grumpy, we aren't very excited about what's coming up next. At the end of a long day of work, sometimes, you and I would go, "Aah, I don't feel like going out tonight." When you're psyched up, it's different.

*Classroom Activity: Attitude of Gratitude and Skills of Optimism

A first activity I would always offer to your struggling students is to write the answers to these two questions in ten words or less:

  • What’s the attitude of gratitude?
  • What are the skills of optimism?

Ask them to find a partner and partner up and do an activity like this. If you do this with your students just once or twice, it will probably be treated by their brains as sort of a novelty like, "Oh okay, I did it" but you won't get any lasting change in the brain. The mantra you're going to hear over and over from me is this: steady consistency that pushes the envelope is what is going to get you changes.

Meaning, it's got to be a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit hard but every single day keep pushing, keep pushing. This should be a hard thing for them to do, which means you're going to need to create a little bit of buy-in before you ask them to do that. You'll maybe give them some ideas for it. Initially they just won't have the mindset, they won't have the ideas, they won't have the thoughts and they won't even know how to verbalize it or what to write down. You know differently.

Get your students in a good state for learning.

How you can do that is… get them up and moving around! Use a quick energizer. I like to have students be the ones that generate it. Help them start to get into a better thinking frame of mind. Now that they are ready to learn, life is good. You're going to get better results.                

Become the Go-To Adult

Let's begin with relationships and how important they are. You and I know that most students care more about if you care about them (vs. your content). What are the things you can do to kind of bump this up? First of all, many of the students that struggle have been let down by adults, so they've lost hope. Many feel alone. They don't have a partner, a brother, a sister, a parent. Many have been misdiagnosed. What students need is an ally, a go-to adult. You become that person. This means starting and building relationships has to be number one or else they're not going to even go to the next stage. How do you actually do that? There are many ways.

Start with simple things to build relationships:

  • Do you call them by name?
  • Do you notice when they come and go?
  • Do you ask them questions?
  • Could they use someone to listen just for a few moments?
  • Do you know their hobbies?
  • Do you know about what their challenges are?

Many people hear that relationships are important and then they go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, heard that before." Actually good relationships diffuse stress. Good relationships provide hope. That's important to you because without good relationships, not much good is going to happen.

When you make eye contact with your student and they contribute something, do you say thank you with eye contact? Do you smile at them? I had a person in one of my trainings stay at the end of the training and she sat near the front row and she said, "Can I talk to you about something for a second?" Everyone had left the room and I said, "Of course." Well then she said, "I get the feeling that you don't like me." She said, "When you looked towards me you didn't acknowledge me or smile or anything." I realized this was amazing feedback for me and I felt terrible and I went, "Wow, everybody notices." The answer was no, I didn't have any dislike of her but this shows you how perceptive people can be. Make sure you know your students' family situation and visit their neighborhood.

These are all the beginnings of building the relationships that you want. Never blow it off. To students these are a big deal. The effect size 0.72 which is almost a year and a half worth of gains. Remember, they work harder for you when they know you're on their side.

*Classroom Activity: Share something personal about yourself once a week for a year.

Sometimes you forget how much they care about you -- how much they would like to care about you. That's why the first tip on the list is to share something personal about yourself once a week for the whole year. Do a favor at the beginning of the year that's so strong that people remember it. Listen for a couple minutes a day. Make it a goal. Learn three things for thirty weeks of the year about a student other than their name.

These are the kinds of things that you can use to build up your own relationships skills. First on that list is build the relationships. As I said, without those nothing is going to work. The students are everything. When they come to school every day, here's their question: are you on my side or not? Are you a friend or a foe? You're an ally or adversary. They have to feel that you are an ally.

Understand the Real Problem

Here's a student for you. A boy who is eight years old seems kind of scattered and impulsive. He forgets a lot of what he hears. When teachers ask the student to get organized, he fools around. In class he's unable to predict the next sequence of tasks. He doesn't reflect on his behaviors. His older brother has many of the same symptoms and they both came from poverty. The teacher is pretty sure that he has what? What's your diagnosis?

Many teachers would have written down ADHD or ADD. What you should know is that for a lot of students who have these kinds of symptoms, it's easy to label someone but unless you actually are a medical doctor or a psychiatrist, you might get surprised by it.

healthy brain scan

Here you're looking at a healthy version of the brain. Actually this is my own brain using SPECT technology. You're seeing four different views of it. The bottom is on the upper left hand corner and then the right hemisphere is on the top right. Left hemisphere lower left and then the top of the brain on the right. Here is what you should know. This brain looks like it's pretty healthy because smooth surface shows even activation in the brain is standing alone. Now check out the same brain when I am stressing out like crazy.

underactive brain scan

What you now see is my brain doesn't look so good. This is actually very similar to what you'd see in a student who has serious ADHD. All of this happened from stress. Let's go back to the student we introduced.

Possibilities for this student include:

  • If he grew up poor, it means greater likelihood of increased chronic stress disorders.
  • Stress disorders mimic the exact same symptoms of ADHD.
  • Impulsivity, poor memory and achronica (which is a Greek word to mean out of sync with time).

As long as he keeps being labeled as ADHD, he will never get the intervention that he needs.


Interested in what happens next? It takes just a little less than an hour to get pumped up by his message. Watch or Listen Now! Turn it on in your car, while you're cleaning, or traditional-style at your computer. 

For over two decades, Dr. Eric Jensen has synthesized brain research and developed practical applications for educators. Dr. Jensen has authored over thirty books including Teaching with Poverty in Mind, Tools for Engagement, Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain and Different Brains Different Learners. Jensen is a member of the invitation-only Society for Neuroscience, the President's Club at Salk Institute of Biological Studies and the New York Academy of Sciences. He co-founded the first and largest brain compatible academic enrichment program now held in 14 countries with over sixty five thousand graduates.


5 Tips For Success from Your Fellow Educators

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

NCOL 2014On November 6 and 7, in Dallas, TX, customers from across the country – and even China – came together to share and learn from others the best tips for success with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant. Here are 5 tips you can learn from them!

  1. Try a new way to motivate your students: “I got great ideas about motivating my students  - I didn’t know about the ‘beat the teacher’ intervention and am really excited to start using it with my students.”  Download the Beat the Teacher intervention in SciLEARNU.
  2. Include speech-language pathologists in your communications: “I realized I should be sharing a lot more information not only with our special ed teachers, but also with our speech language pathologists. I’m going to start including them in my district-wide communications.”
  3. Make use of all progress reports: “Now I know which reports to ask for from coaches to show results with students – I would ask and not really get what I was looking for. Now I know about all the reports available and I’ll start asking for more detail so we can make our RTI program stronger.”
  4. Use the products at home and after school: “I learned how so many other schools and districts are using the products at home, before and after school. The flexibility will make a real difference for reaching more students at my school.”
  5. Choose the right coach – it makes ALL the difference.  “I have a new understanding of the power and value of having the right coaches working directly with students. I am going to get more involved in choosing coaches from here on out.”

And beyond all that was learned, here’s what else people had to say:

“This is the best conference that you all have had. I really loved this year’s keynote speakers, the Murray County educators. I learned a lot from their session and from talking with them during breaktime.”

“It was great to connect with others who are having the same challenges as I am having – I got some great tips on how to gain support from parents and other teachers.“

“The breakouts were great – they allowed us to ask questions and were more collaborative than if everyone were in the same sessions at the same time. Helped me to learn more.”

“This has been great!”

We loved seeing you all there and came back with some great suggestions for ways we can help you more. One big takeaway? You need a video that helps tell the powerful Fast ForWord/Reading Assistant story to your parents, teachers and students!   Keep your eyes on your inbox in early 2015; we’ll be delivering just what you need to help share these powerful tools.

Related reading:

Meet the 1st Queen of Literacy, Dr. Linda Nash!

Congratulations to the 2014 Champions of Literacy!



Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 21:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

When a child struggles to learn to read, we often look to social or economic factors, access to books, or the home environment for an explanation. While each of these factors can play a part, treatable brain differences are often part of the equation.

Click the infographic to view full-size

Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

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Neuroscience-based interventions like the Fast ForWord program create specialized learning conditions that can rapidly improve reading and cognitive skills in struggling readers. These interventions work because the brain can actually reorganize itself, changing its internal wiring in response to learning. This ability does not “turn off” after infancy as once thought, but remains active throughout our lifetime.

Many struggling readers who have fallen behind or thought it was “too late” have overcome their reading difficulties. The journey to proficiency starts inside the “plastic” brain.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

The Neuroplasticity Revolution With Dr. Norman Doidge


10 Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher This Year (Don’t Forget Cognitive Skills!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 17:15
  • Norene Wiesen

It’s back to school…again! Your child is getting to know a new teacher and facing a host of new expectations. How can you be sure that you are prepared to help your child navigate the school year and get the most out of every day at school? It helps if you know what questions to ask. Here’s a list you can use as a starting point for talking with your child’s teacher.

Parent Night Questions

Many teachers provide a Parent Night handout or a website with detailed information about classroom expectations or procedures. See what your child’s teacher has prepared for you, and if it doesn’t answer the following questions, be sure to ask the right questions yourself.

  1. Student Feedback & Support - How do you like to provide feedback to students? Are there any interventions to help children who need a little extra attention? When are you available if my child needs extra help?
  2. Home Support - How can I support you, as a parent, so that my child gets the most out of this school year? What lessons can we carry through into our homelife?

Conference (or “As-Needed”) Questions

  1. Reading – When working in a small group with my child in reading, what is an area of strength or weakness that you notice? How is my child’s decoding? Fluency? Comprehension? Vocabulary?
  2. Writing – What are my child’s specific strengths and weaknesses in writing?
  3. Math - What are my child’s specific strengths and weaknesses in math?
  4. Cognitive Skills – How would you say my child is doing, as compared to peers, in these areas:
    1. Memory: How well does my child learn and remember new information? Does he or she require more or less support than peers? How easily is information retained?
    2. Attention: How is my child’s attention during different types of activities? One-on-one? Small group? Whole class?
    3. Processing: How well is my child able to “make connections” as compared to peers? In reading: decoding new words, making educated guesses about the meaning of a new word, using background knowledge, or predicting and inferring. In math: during computation (is it labored or slow?) or retrieval of simple number facts. In writing: able to generate coherent ideas without a lot of support and begin to put them into words (orally or on paper, depending on grade).
    4. Sequencing: How well is my child able to organize his thoughts for writing or explain his understanding of a new concept?
  5. Expression of Thoughts & Language Skills – How often do students have an opportunity to share their thoughts with the class (i.e., “think out loud”)? What do you notice when my child participates (or not)?
  6. Motivation – What does my child find motivating? What can I do to support this?
  7. Social Skills – How does my child do without direct supervision? How does my child handle conflict with other students? What one thing could my child do to improve his or her social skills?
  8. State Testing & Advancement – Do you have any concerns about my child’s ability to prepare for and take the state tests? Or his or her advancement to the next grade?

If you have concerns about your child’s cognitive skills or academic performance, don’t wait until conference day to let the teacher know. Use the teacher’s preferred method of communication to request a special meeting. For any area where extra help might be needed, or even if your child has reached proficiency, be sure to ask, “What can I do to support my child at home?” And then really do it. That school-home connection can make a huge difference in student achievement. Here’s to a great school year!

Related reading:

The Parent Trap: Getting Your Struggling Learner to Do Homework Independently

Instilling a Love of Reading: What Every Teacher and Parent Should Know


4 Ways to Use iPads in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Use iPads in Classrooms The iPad has made rapid inroads into the K-12 school tech environment – and that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. As we saw in a recent blog post, when students work with iPads at school, the result can be increased student engagement, greater collaboration, and heightened perseverance – all great things for learners. And less “techie” teachers need not fear – students can teach each other what they need to know. Asking for and giving help provides valuable oral language practice and can build learner confidence.

So what are some ways that teachers can use iPads in the classroom, besides having them work on literacy apps during tech time? One great option is to assign projects that require learners to construct their own multimedia presentations using free apps that come pre-installed on the iPad.

Most learners love working on multimedia projects to share with teachers and classmates, and projects like these have a lot to offer. As they actively combine still imagery, video, audio and text to communicate and illustrate concepts or ideas, students are able to:

  • Learn at their own level and speed
  • Practice language skills and synthesize learning
  • Connect academic learning to the bigger picture of life outside the classroom
  • Express themselves more fully

iPad Project Ideas for Students

Getting students creating with the iPad is as easy as knowing what tools are available and imagining how those tools can be used to support classroom learning. Teachers who aren’t sure where to begin can try one of these ideas, easily adaptable to learners of different ages:

  1. Plan a Party with Numbers and Keynote

Learners can have a lot of fun and learn a ton planning a party with the Numbers appParty Planner tool. Working in small groups, they can discuss what kind of party to plan. Younger learners might enjoy planning a Valentine’s Day class party or holiday celebration, while older learners might like to plan an Oscar party or presidential inaugural ball. Students gain practice reading and writing as they decide on food, entertainment and guest lists; create to-do lists with dates, tasks and notes; and research local prices (e.g., how much would it cost to rent a jumpy house for the Valentine’s Day party, or tents for the inaugural ball?). They apply math skills as they work to balance their vision against an assigned budget and real-life costs. Learners can create spreadsheets and generate interactive charts with Numbers, then insert the charts into Keynoteto present to the class along with sample menus, photos of food, music samples, videos animations and more.

  1. Create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) with iMovie

Students begin by studying the elements of a PSA before creating their own. Learners can watch a variety of examples on the SchoolTubeand AdCouncilwebsites and then work individually or in groups to select and research a topic, decide on a message, write the script, select a location for the video shoot, and record and edit the PSA. SchoolTube is also a great place for students and teachers to upload student work to share with the world!

  1. Create Digital Books with iBooks Author

Authoring an ebook is fun for learners and can feel like a significant achievement. With the help of the iBooks Author app, learners can create ebooks with photos, audio, video, web content (e.g., Twitter or blog feeds), and fully formatted slideshow presentations with animations. Learners can use ebooks to deepen their learning about topics covered in previous assignments, offer study advice to other students, or to explore an area of personal interest. Once created, the ebooks can be distributed via the iBook app available in the Apple App Store.

  1. Student Stories with iMovie or Garageband

Audio and video are powerful mediums for storytelling. Students can record a video narrative of their family history or their own personal history, or pick a family member to interview. Photos from the family album can be scanned and sprinkled in with the video footage in iMovieto make the past more real and provide a multigenerational perspective. Or, students can also record audio-only versions of family stories using Garagebandfor insertion into a Keynote presentation or ebook.

Setting the Stage

No matter how learners use iPads in school, it’s important to establish and enforce routines for use right out of the gate. Students need to understand check-out and check-in procedures, how to handle and maintain the iPad, whether they may take their assigned iPad out of the classroom, and what counts as appropriate use (e.g., are learners allowed to change settings, download apps, visit social media sites, IM their friends, etc.?). Using the iPad in a structured way benefits both teacher and learner by ensuring that classroom goals and learning needs are met.

As important as structure is, it shouldn’t take the fun out of using the iPad to learn. Fun is part of its appeal. Teachers should let the iPad be different and special, making use of it for activities that can’t be done on paper. Use it for all of the bells and whistles that draw students to it in the first place. Encourage learners to use the camera, sound, video, and internet – and let the learning come to life.

Related reading:

Using Twitter in School: 4 Ways Students and Teachers Can Connect With the World

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?


The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA

iPads and student engagement

When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?

Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1 stand 2 ndgraders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.

Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:

  • iPads benefit learners of different ages, sometimes in different ways
  • iPads have special benefits for learners in the very early grades
  • The iPad makes typing easier for 1 stand 2 ndgraders

More generally, results indicated that:

  • iPads improve student engagement
  • “iPad buddies” collaborate more
  • iPads boost perseverance

The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.

These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.

In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.


Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator.Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom

Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow


Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA

Self-regulation strategies When a student with a learning disability struggles academically, it’s logical to think that the issue is related to the student’s deficit in a specific ability. And while that may be true, there might be more to it. Students with learning disabilities often encounter academic difficulties, at least in part, because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.

One effective tool that students can use to improve academic performance, regardless of ability, is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the process by which students take charge of their own learning, monitoring their behavior and progress and making adjustments along the way to get from idea to execution. It’s the transformation of thought into purposeful action. Here are several strategies teachers can introduce for use in the classroom and at home:

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an important part of self-regulation and can be foundational to other self-regulation strategies. When used effectively, the process of goal setting gives students an opportunity to observe their own behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement. It helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.

Students should set goals for themselves that are specific and challenging, but not too hard. A goal should be quickly attainable so students can experience a sense of accomplishment and move on to tackle the next one. For example, when two students are struggling with homework, each might need to set a different goal to see improvement. The first student might identify time management as a problem and decide to cut out a leisure activity in order to achieve the goal of completing homework before dinnertime each day that week. The second student might realize that he needs to bring his class notes home from school every day so he has the information he needs to achieve his goal of completing all of his homework assignments for the week.


Students self-monitor by asking themselves whether they have engaged in a specific, desired behavior. Building on the goal-setting examples above, our students might ask themselves, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime?Or, Did I put all of my homework assignments in my backpack to take home?Students may find it helpful to self-monitor for behaviors like paying attention, staying on task, following strategy steps, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.


Self-instruction is also sometimes called “self-talk” and is part of normal development for many younger children. It can also be quite powerful when used by students of any age to purposefully self-regulate and direct learning behavior. For example, a student who is struggling to comprehend a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.

Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, to reinforce positive behaviors, and more. Teachers can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements. A little advance planning can be helpful here. Coming up with the right phrase in the heat of the moment – when focus has been lost or frustrations are running high – is unlikely to help. But taking a little time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.


Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be used over shorter and longer timeframes and can tie into goals. Our student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.

Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.

Purposeful Learning

Becoming a better self-regulator isn’t a panacea for academic difficulties, but students with learning disabilities who learn effective self-regulation strategies will have some advantages. They will have tools in their toolbox that they can try out in a variety of situations before seeking outside help, or when help is not immediately available. They will understand how their behavior influences their results. And they will understand that their learning is a purposeful, active process in which they play the leading role.

Best of all, these self-regulation strategies can benefit all learners, not just those who are struggling. Why not give them a try?


Reid, R., Lienemann, T.O., & Hagaman, J.L. (2013). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities,(2nd ed.) .New York: Guilford Press.

Self-Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cehs.unl.edu/csi/self.shtml

Related reading:

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function


Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen


You can teach your students 10 vocabulary words the usual way – one at a time – or you can teach them 100 vocabulary words with little extra effort. The second approach seems like the obvious choice, and in Dr. Tim Rasinski’s recent webinar, Comprehension – Going Beyond Fluency, he makes the case for greater adoption of the accelerated approach.

Going Beyond Fluency

Rasinski is known as a passionate advocate for teaching fluencyas a bridge to reading comprehension. But there’s more to comprehension than just fluency. Vocabulary plays a big part as well, and Rasinski talks about how to teach students “the meaning of words,” knowledge that is not only practical for everyday and academic life, but is also required by the Common Core.

Teaching Morphology

Morphology is a technical term that refers to the part of a word that carries meaning. It’s the Latin root “spect,” for example, in words like “introspection” or “spectacle,” that signals not only a commonality in spelling but also a kinship in meaning.

Knowing that “spec” means “look” makes it relatively easy for a student to understand (or figure out) that “introspection” means “to look inward” and “spectacle” means “an eye-catching occurrence.” The list of words built on the root “spec” is long, and by learning just one root, a student knows or can more easily interpret the meanings of many new words.

Rasinski calls this the “generative” or “multiplier” effect of morphological vocabulary study: the fact that Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes have a one-to-many correspondence that dramatically increases access to vocabulary. And it’s not just Rasinski’s opinion that this approach gets results. Research has shown that during the early grades, morphological knowledge is a better predictor of reading comprehension than vocabulary levels.

Faster Learning

The more you do something the better you get at it. It’s how the brain works – practicing a skill rewires the brain to perform that skill more efficiently and effectively the next time. The online Fast ForWord®intervention program has the capacity to give students much more intensive, targeted practice in most aspects of reading – including morphology – than other programs or methods. That’s because Fast ForWord delivers nearly 35,000 learning “trials” in the same amount of time that other software programs deliver just over 5,000 trials. The result is often significant learning gains for even the most struggling students.

Rasinski hands the webinar over to Cory Armes, who demonstrates Hoof Beat, an exercise in Fast ForWord Reading 4 that develops morphological skills such as recognizing and understanding Greek and Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. It also works on word analysis, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and more. With a fun video game style format that keeps students engaged while challenging them with in-depth practice.

Armes goes on to present statistically significant results from several studies of students using the Fast ForWord program, including increased reading achievement for elementary learners, improved comprehension for secondary learners, and over 2 years of improvement in reading grade level for ELLs.

The Nitty Gritty

Check out the full webinar and get all the rich details:

  • How many words students can learn weekly by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words students can learn over the course of their K-12 education by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words are in the English language (HINT: it’s probably more than you think);
  • How Fast ForWord develops vocabulary through morphology (see the product in action);
  • How – and in what grade – teachers can start teaching morphology to accelerate vocabulary learning; and
  • The details of Rasinski’s 5-day plan for using morphology to teach vocabulary.

If you’re not yet using roots, prefixes, and suffixes as a mainstay of vocabulary instruction – or if you’d like to explore how technology can help – don’t hesitate to watch the webinar. Your students will thank you…someday.

Related reading:

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Squelching Curiosity: How Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Stifles Learning


Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

flipped classroom special education

For many teachers, the words “flipped classroom” are nothing more than a synonym for having students watch pre-recorded lesson videos at home and then do related assignments – formerly homework – during class time. There’s no doubt that that is exactly what the flipped classroom typically looks like on the surface. But when flip teaching is done right, what matters is that it uses time differently and more effectively, in ways that can profoundly benefit all learners, including students with learning disabilities.

The flip teaching model:

Extends the learning day.

The ability to extend instructional time is a huge benefit for learners who grasp new concepts more slowly, or who aren’t able to process information as quickly as it’s presented. With flipped learning, they can rewind and re-watch a video as many times as needed until they understand the material – or perhaps until they understand what they don’t understand so they can get help in that area the next day.

Makes precious teacher time more available to students.

With instruction now happening at home on students’ time, teachers have more time to observe students as they apply what they have learned. As a result, teachers have more opportunities to watch students at work, so they can better identify student learning challenges and support struggling students with differentiated activities or targeted intervention.

Levels the playing field.

Flipped instruction puts students with learning disabilities on more equal footing for effective classroom participation. Learners who formerly may not have immediately grasped their teacher’s in-class instruction may now feel empowered to contribute to classroom discussions and ask informed questions instead of worrying about “looking dumb.”

The Naysayers and Their Challengers

Critics of the flipped classroom approach to blended learning say that access to videos can be a problem, especially in communities with a large number of learners from low-income households. Students may not have a computer or internet connection at home, may have to share already-limited computer time with other family members, or simply may not have time at home to watch lessons for the next day. The concerns are valid, but one visionary school is demonstrating that they can be overcome.

Clintondale High School, just outside of Detroit, is the first U.S. high school to move to a flipped model of learning school-wide. With a large population of economically disadvantaged learners, the school dealt with access concerns head-on by making extra time available in computer labs during the school day for learners who need it. One student who has limited time at home because of a long bus commute watches most of his lesson videos on a smartphone as he rides home from school. In just a few years, standardized test scores have gone up and the school’s failure rate has dropped dramatically from 52% to 19%.

Clintondale’s teachers note that the process is not as simple as just rearranging where and when direct instruction takes place; it’s essential that teachers get on board with mastering the technology and creating great lessons and learning activities. That way, students can get the most from every moment they spend learning and teachers can get maximum results for the time they spend creating content and supporting learners in the classroom. 

Where Gen Ed & Special Ed Meet

A big boon for schools that move to flip teaching is that general ed technology can do double time as assistive technology for special ed. It’s a benefit for everyone, helping to reduce technology expenditures, the cost of managing technology, and the time that teachers spend adapting to learners’ assistive devices.

Still, flipped classroom veterans warn that setting high behavior standards for students is a must. Students need to know how they are expected to use their time at home and at school, and what specific behaviors will enable them to achieve their learning goals. Some students with learning disabilities may need additional help allocating their time and using it effectively. But when teachers, students, and parents are all on board, flipping has the potential not only to move more students to proficiency, but also to take more students beyond proficiency to the desired goal of mastery.


Can Special Education Students Benefit From Flipped Classrooms?

Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom

For Further Reading:

How to create a ‘flipped’ video lecture for at-home study

Related reading:

The Flipped Classroom: A Pedagogy for Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Essential Skills

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities



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