Dec 21, 2010 by Carrie Gajowski, MA

Fast ForWord skeptic

I often hear from customers and other Scientific Learning employees that our company is distinguished by the passion and commitment of those who work here.  One reason for that palpable passion is that many have been personally and deeply touched by the life-changing experiences that their own family members, students, or customers have experienced with Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ products.  We have seen children’s lives be changed forever by these products.  Students who may not have had opportunities in school now can succeed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even 15 years ago.

I have my own story to tell—about my nephew—and I will tell it here soon, but today I want to share a personal story from Cory Armes, one of our Education Consultants, who was so impacted by her experience with the Fast ForWord products that she left her teaching job to work for Scientific Learning:

“ I began my experience with the Fast ForWord products, or in my case, product, several years ago.  On a cloudy afternoon in February 1999, our Special Education Director gathered the diagnosticians (of which I was one) and speech pathologists to hear a presentation about a new product called Fast ForWord.  After the presentation, my mind was spinning to think that there might be even a modicum of truth to the researchthat he had shared…

As a certified skeptic, I had some serious questions about the claims he made that day.  After all, I knew as a teacher that if I made a year’s gain with my students in a year’s time, we were doing a good job.  My problem was that many of the students I worked with throughout my career came to me two-to-three years below grade level.  If we made a year’s progress in a year’s time, it was great but they stillwere two-to-three years behind.  So to have someone tell me that there was a product available that could help students make one-to-two years gain in a few weeks time was questionable at best.  I couldn’t imagine that brain fitness exercisesactually could change a student’s ability to focus and retain information much less improve the way the brain processes.  But we had a recent article from ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) that supported his claims along with other research information so decided to implement Fast ForWord as our summer school program.

After the meeting, I called the Special EducationDirector to ask if there was something that I could do, beyond the pre-and post-testing, to learn more about the program and how it worked.  She very graciously said, “Of course.” and promptly put me in charge of the implementation for the district.  Now, there were a few things to consider: first, I wasn’t convinced that this program would even work and, second, I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  So, I decided that there was only one thing to do and that was to run the implementation exactly as the company suggested with a strict fidelity to the protocol and a good motivational system in place so if we didn’tget the results they advertised, it wouldn’t be my fault!

Our first implementation included 25 first to eighth graders who had been through multiple reading products with little improvement.  I had a great team who loved kids and we had a blast for the six weeks that we ran the program.  I learned a lot about running Fast ForWord (such as you don’t need to allow ten minutes between exercises for breaks because you can’t get them to stop working!) and at the end of the fourth week at 100 minutes a day; we had some students reach completion.  In week five, we began post-testing those students and could not believe the results.  By the end of the six-week session, our students averaged a 1.5 year gain in language (using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization assessments) and 1.5 years in reading (Gray Oral Reading Test)!

The rest, as they say, is history.  An eighth grader with an extremely high IQ but who, as a student with severe Dyslexia, had been reading on first grade level now tested at the fifth grade reading.  One of the third graders who essentially was a non-reader, went to fourth grade with improved reading skills and, after completing the second Fast ForWord product the following summer, was reading on grade level in fifth grade and passed the state reading assessment.  A fifth grader who was reading on first grade level became engaged in school the next year and after completing additional products over the next two school years, was on the A-Honor Roll, no longer required Resource assistance and, according to her mother, read everything she touched.  Many stories, many changed lives and my sincere regret that I didn’t have Fast ForWord much sooner in my career. 

After two years of supervising and implementing Fast ForWord for the district, I believed so strongly in the products that I joined Scientific Learningas a trainer.  Over the last ten years, I’ve seen wonderful product additions, large numbers of students using the products and a worldwide impact in accelerating learning

As my 4 -year-old granddaughter would say, “How cool is that”?