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Language and the Reading Puzzle: 5 Steps Towards Fluent Reading

Fluent reading

Dr. Virginia Mann's recent Scientific Learning webinar, "Language and the Reading Puzzle – Part 1" focused on the way families, schools, researchers, and technology can work together to create a "circuit for success" by helping students attain the goal of fluent reading (reading at the right speed, with few or no mistakes and good expression).  The information in Dr. Mann's webinar is extensive, covering both the research data on the barriers to fluent reading and the various solutions parents and educators can employ to demonstrably improve reading readiness and fluency.

Here are five steps that can help steer beginning readers and struggling readers of all ages towards fluent reading:

1.   Identify barriers.

Most readers begin as "hearers" of language, and written language is fundamentally a transcription of spoken language.  Dr. Mann identifies poor oral/spoken language skills as a common barrier to fluent reading, a barrier that involves a lack of phoneme awareness and morpheme awareness (the subject of a separate webinar to be covered in a future post).  She also dispels any lingering belief in the myth that visual "reversals" in writing or reading (e.g., mistaking a b for a d, confusing bad with dad) are a predictor or cause of poor reading skills in any way. Identifying the real barriers to fluent reading is the first step in determining how to best assist struggling readers.

2.  Build phoneme awareness. 

The data Dr. Mann presents in this webinar tell us that phoneme awareness, which develops with age and exposure, is directly related to reading ability. Activities which promote phoneme awareness include learning the ABCs (especially the letter sounds), matching and sorting words by phonemes (e.g., noting that the beginning sounds of cat and cup match, while the beginning sounds of cat and dog do not match), and manipulating phonemes (e.g., substituting an s for the c in cat to create a new word with a new beginning sound—sat). Understanding how the letters c-a-t spell the aural word cat takes a kind of “mental surgery” which can only occur with strong phoneme awareness.

3. Enrich vocabulary exposure and oral language skills.

Research shows us that students with weak oral language skills in kindergarten have a substantially more difficult time learning to read or reaching the appropriate reading level for their age group. A difference of 5.2 years between age and reading level is not uncommon in young people who begin kindergarten with deficient oral language experience. A great way to support and build on a strong foundation of phoneme awareness is through cumulative oral language experiences, which provide new and struggling readers with incremental exposure to letter sounds and vocabulary, laying the groundwork for better language comprehension and reading.

4.  Encourage literacy activities.

A powerful example of a literacy-oriented activity that can boost phoneme awareness and reading readiness is dialogic reading, a practice that encourages interactivity over passive listening when engaging with the written word. The main technique when practicing dialogic reading is the "PEER Sequence," which asks the adult reader to:

  • Prompt the child to comment about the book
  • Evaluate the child's response in some way
  • Expand the child's response by adding new information
  • Repeat the prompt to reinforce what has been learned

Dialogic reading is an active, dynamic workout for hearing, speaking, critical thinking, and working memory skills, which all play a part in building a better reader.

5.  Use technology.

In the fast-moving 21st century, technology has an important role to play. Today, cutting-edge educational tools can help accelerate reading acquisition, with enormous benefits for learners and busy educators. Educators will benefit by embracing the available technology that produces better readers who can learn more effectively in the classroom.

Fluent reading is a significant goal: a challenge for beginners, and a persistent problem for some struggling students. These five steps are really just a glimpse of what Dr. Mann covers in her presentation. Click here to view the full webinar!

Related Reading:

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

Students Who Struggle in the Mainstream: What Their Homework Patterns May Tell You

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Fluency and comprehension strategies

Every student seeks to be a confident, competent reader—regardless of grade level or starting fluency—and parents, teachers, and tutors want to help. To be fully functional in our society, we need to be capable of engaging with a variety of texts, some of which may be more technical, more abstract, or in some other way more challenging than our regular reading diet.  When encountering an unfamiliar kind of text, even “good” readers need to learn how to read it and practice reading it in order to read it fluently and actually understand it.

Whether the text exists on paper, as a website or even as an e-book, the strategies for developing fluency and comprehension are the same. When students encounter an unfamiliar, difficult, or unusual piece of text, coach them through these fluency and comprehension strategies:

  1. Preview the text – Examine its structure, any illustrations, and unfamiliar vocabulary words before reading;
  2. Listen to a fluent reading – If possible, listen to a model for correct pronunciation and expression;
  3. Engage in the act of reading – Make predictions, ask questions, and reread confusing parts. Students can “talk to the text” to get a better understanding.
  4. Practice reading it aloud – Read the text out loud (sometimes repeatedly) and attend to phrasing and punctuation as guides;
  5. Answer/Ask questions about the text – Check comprehension after reading to ensure that the meaning of the text has been understood.

Using a similar approach can be helpful for students today as they endeavor to meet the Common Core Standards that set requirements for reading not only for English language arts, but also for reading in the content areas of history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This means that students need to be able to read a variety of genres – and not only narrative text, but informational text as well. By doing so, they can gain familiarity with various text structures and elements, as well as literary, cultural and background knowledge that can be applied in their subsequent reading experiences.

Through instruction and practice in reading a variety of texts, students will become fluent and able to comprehend all genres and all school subjects - and achieve the vision of what it means to be a literate person in the 21st century!
 

 

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

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Categories: Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters

The reading ready brain

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an accomplished reader.  In fact, you’ve most likely forgotten by now how much work it took you to learn to read in the first place.  And you probably never think about what is happening in your brain when you’re reading that email from your boss or this month’s book club selection.

And yet, there’s nothing that plays a greater role in learning to read than a reading-ready brain.

As complex a task as reading is, thanks to developments in neuroscience and technology we are now able to target key learning centers in the brain and identify the areas and neural pathways the brain employs for reading. We not only understand why strong readers read well and struggling readers struggle, but we are also able to assist every kind of reader on the journey from early language acquisition to reading and comprehension—a journey that happens in the brain.

We begin to develop the language skills required for reading right from the first gurgles we make as babies. The sounds we encounter in our immediate environment as infants set language acquisition skills in motion, readying the brain for the structure of language-based communication, including reading.

Every time a baby hears speech, the brain is learning the rules of language that generalize, later, to reading.  Even a simple nursery rhyme can help a baby's brain begin to make sound differentiations and create phonemic awareness, an essential building block for reading readiness. By the time a child is ready to read effectively, the brain has done a lot of work coordinating sounds to language, and is fully prepared to coordinate language to reading, and reading to comprehension. 

The reading brain can be likened to the real-time collaborative effort of a symphony orchestra, with various parts of the brain working together, like sections of instruments, to maximize our ability to decode the written text in front of us:

  • The temporal lobe is responsible for phonological awareness and decoding/discriminating sounds.
  • The frontal lobe handles speech production, reading fluency, grammatical usage, and comprehension, making it possible to understand simple and complex grammar in our native language.
  • The angular and supramarginal gyrus serve as a "reading integrator" a conductor of sorts, linking the different parts of the brain together to execute the action of reading.  These areas of  the brain connect the letters c, a, and t to the word cat that we can then read aloud.

Emerging readers can build strong reading skills through focused, repetitive practice, preferably with exercises like those provided by the Fast ForWord program, that "cross-train" all the reading-relevant areas of the brain.

Independent research conducted at Stanford in 2003 and Harvard in 2007 demonstrated that Fast ForWord creates physical changes in the brain as it builds new connections and strengthens the neural pathways, specifically in the areas of reading. After just eight weeks of use, weak readers developed the brain activity patterns that resemble those of strong readers.  And, as brain patterns changed, significant improvements for word reading, decoding, reading comprehension and language functions were also observed.

It’s never too early to set a child on the pathway to becoming a strong reader.  And it’s never too late to help a struggling reader strengthen his or her brain to read more successfully and with greater enjoyment. 

It’s all about the brain.  Have you hugged your brain today?

Related Reading:

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

Why You Should Read With Your Child

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Categories: Brain Research, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Why You Should Read With Your Child

Why you should read with your child

You probably already know that you should read to your children, but do you know why? Here are three important reasons to not only read aloud with your child, but also to make it a shared activity:

  1. Reading exposes your child to rich language and diverse content.  Book language uses a larger vocabulary and more complex grammatical structures than the short, one-way communication we tend to use in feeding and caring for our children [i]. Books allow parents to expand the language environment as they become their children’s first and most important teachers.  They help parents to immerse their children in rich and varied language. Books of narrative fiction spark children’s imagination as they entertain and inform them about their emotions.  Books of informational non-fiction answer questions, providing concepts and knowledge that are the cornerstones of science and math. Both types are important and all of their benefits can be realized with books in any language. Parents should feel empowered to read aloud in Spanish, Chinese, or whatever their native language.
  2. Reading with your children helps prepare their minds to succeed in school.  The benefits of shared reading know no age limits.  Babies are soothed by their parents’ voices; school children reading to parents can show their new accomplishments or seek their parents’ help. Books for toddlers can help children get ready to learn to read, as we are proving in two school readiness programs, ‘HABLA’ and ‘Jumpstart,’ that I brought to the University of California, Irvine.  I recommend books that provide nursery rhymes, songs and verse as they help children learn to appreciate the sounds within words. Children are used to listening to language for its meaning, but reading demands that they also pay attention to the sounds of language.  Hearing words in terms of syllables, consonants and vowels encourages phoneme awareness, which is the first step towards reading phonetically.  Nursery rhymes and songs leap from the page when parents remember them from their own childhood and make them a part of family life.  When said in English or Spanish, traditional nursery rhymes and songs help attune children to what the alphabet is all about. [ii]
  3. Reading with your child can enrich family ties and intimacy.  Its virtues are strongest when parents read ‘dialogically’ by taking the book as an opportunity to enjoy a conversation.    Reading together is family time; it is fun time, cuddle time, a time to share your passions, perspective, and your values but also a time to listen. It creates a time for children to express themselves as well as an opportunity for parents to show their willingness to listen. When we build a conversation around a book we encourage our children to communicate with us. [iii]


 

[i]Research has shown that parents pressed for time and patience fall back on short speech like ‘wash your hands’ “Bedtime!’, ‘stop it?’  or ‘Because I said so.’ This is particularly true of parents who are educationally and economically disadvantaged.  For a summary of a study about the importance of providing rich language to children, and evidence about the profound language deficit that surrounds children living in poverty see Hart and Risely, 1995, summarized here.

[ii] To learn more about teaching children to read as summarized in the National Reading Panel report on phonics as the favored method of instruction, see: Teaching Children to Read by Dr. Martha Burns.  For information about UCI’s  HABLA program, ands it work to increase parent child literacy activities in Spanish speaking homes, click here.

For information about Jumpstart and its goals, see the official Jumpstart website and https://sites.google.com/site/jumpstartatuci/. For some excellent points about informational text, see Drs. R and H. Yopp’s Preview-Predict-Confirm: Thinking About the Language and Content of Informational Text.

[iii] For more information about dialogic reading, see Dr. G. Whitehurst’s Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers

Dr. Mann may be reached at the following address:

Dept. of Cognitive Sciences
3151 Social Science Plaza
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697

Related Reading:

5 Things Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Early Childhood Brian Development

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Fifth Graders Make Significantly Greater Gains than a Comparison Group Across Multiple Subjects After Fast ForWord

The Grand Forks Public Schools in Grand Forks, ND, wanted to evaluate the effects of the Fast ForWord® products on the academic achievement of their students. A study was designed such that students at one elementary school used the Fast ForWord products and comparable students at a different elementary school served as the comparison group. Both elementary schools fed into the same middle school and the study participants were in the fifth grade at the time of Fast ForWord use.

Students used the 30-minute protocols, which call for students to use the Fast ForWord products for 30 minutes a day, five days per week for 12 to 16 weeks.  Students used the products for an average of 132 days across 11 months.

The Measures of Academic Progress, abbreviated as MAP, are state-aligned computerized adaptive tests, administered by the district each spring.  They accurately reflect the instructional level of each student and measure growth over time. The Grand Forks Public School District uses the MAP to assess students in third through eighth grades.

A comparison of the fifth graders at the two elementary schools showed that students at the school using FastForWord products made significantly greater improvements in all areas tested compared to the students at the school that did not use the products. The areas tested were reading, language, and math, with the study results demonstrating that the products can positively impact achievement across multiple subject areas.

Related Reading:

Longitudinal Study Shows Significant Fast ForWord® Gains Endure Over Time

Students Exceed State Average on TAKS after Fast ForWord, Maintain Gains

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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Scientific Learning Research

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BrainFit Studio Accelerates English Learning with Brain Fitness

BrainFit Studio

BrainFit Studio is a Singapore-based network of learning centers designed to build brilliant brains and keep them fit. More than 8,000 children have passed through its classes over the past 10 years accelerating their learning, building fitter brains, and achieving continued academic success.

Five Brain Pillars

BrainFit Studio has designed a total brain fitness training program that builds five brain “pillars”:

  1. SMART Moves enhances the Sensory Motor Pillar
  2. SMART Vision strengthens the Visual Pillar
  3. SMART Focus develops the Attention Pillar
  4. SMART Emotions builds the Socio-Emotional Pillar
  5. SMART Listening (the Fast ForWord® program from Scientific Learning) optimizes the Auditory Pillar

SMART Listening, SMART Vision

In May 2011, BrainFit Studio launched the first of its four BrainFit Classrooms in Singapore. BrainFit Classrooms provide brain fitness training in fee-based learning centers to students from 4 to 12 years old who seek to improve their English language learning. 

The threefold English learning course curriculum is aligned with the Singapore Ministry of Education’s English Language Syllabus, brain fitness training activities, and the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant™ products.  Students learn via a blended approach including both instructional contact time and online learning.  Just six months in, students are already showing improvements, including an increase in school examination grades.

BrainFit Studio’s latest offering, the Brainy Programme for preschoolers, was launched in September 2011.  BRAINY SAM and BRAINY TAD are two modules which, using an early childhood education approach, bring little ones through BrainFit Studio’s hallmark SMART programs.

BrainFit Studio has eight BrainFit Studios and ten school collaborations across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. The work of training fitter brains continues each day through these centers, with parents and teachers reporting significant changes and improvements in their children.

BRAINY SAM and BRAINY TAD are trademarks of BrainFit Studios.

Related Reading:

Scientific Learning Around the World

Unlocking the Potential of English Language Learners

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Categories: Brain Fitness, English Language Learners, Fast ForWord

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Joel’s Story: My Nephew’s Reading Skills Improved 1½ Years in 3 Months with Fast ForWord

This post is the fifth in a series aimed at sharing the success stories, both personal and professional, that Scientific Learning employees witness every day.

Joel’s Story:

“The story is about my nephew.  He has moved around a bit because his father is in the military.  He has had a little bit of a break up in his school experience and his first several years of school.

They could never quite pin down what wasn’t working for him, but he just wasn’t maximizing his potential.  His mother knew that and my sister knew that but they couldn’t ever get him long enough in one place to ever nail down what was going on. 

Finally they got a test done in the 4th grade that showed he was two years below reading level.  He could read pretty well but he had a hard time comprehending what he was reading and understanding what it meant.  We also uncovered that sometimes he struggled with unfamiliar words so we suspected that there might be some decoding issues as well.  I said to put him on [Fast ForWord] Language v2.  He ran through Language v2.  His initial RPI scores indicated that he was two years below grade level and he was struggling with decoding and reading comprehension. 

He finished Language v2 in just over 3 months and his RPI—Reading Progress Indicator—scores went up one and a half years.  He finished his way through [Fast ForWord] Language to Reading v2 and he now is reading on grade level. 

He is in a small, small school district in the Midwest and may not be there long because of the nature of his father’s job.  Both his father and mother were amazed by the results of the Fast ForWord programs.”

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

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Categories: Family Focus, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

Oral reading practice

In my former work as a teacher, one of the best moments of the day in my classroom took place when I read aloud to my students.  It was a magical time for all of us as the words on the page and the characters in the story seemed to come alive right before us as I used different voices and accents. Sometimes I read very fast and other times I created long pauses that kept my students hanging, wondering what would happen next.  I wanted them to love reading as much as I did – to enjoy that excitement you feel when you solve a mystery, are saved from catastrophe, or discover a wild and wonderful new world.  Sharing this gift with my students was possible only because I am a fluent reader.

In his book The Fluent Reader, Dr. Timothy Rasinski says that fluency is a critical but sometimes ignored link between the basic reading of words and achieving comprehension.  With fluency, the foundational skills of phonics and word recognition have progressed to the point that only a minimal amount of cognitive energy is needed for decoding so that the reader can focus on understanding what is being read.   When you are a fluent reader, you are able to read easily and efficiently with prosody, or meaningful expression, and that enhances your comprehension. 

Students must have some degree of fluency in order to comprehend text, so if you have students who easily understand what is read to them but have difficulty when reading independently, fluency may be the source of that problem.  A study of fourth graders sponsored by the US Department of Education demonstrated that the most fluent readers had the strongest comprehension scores.  In addition, every decline in oral reading fluency in the study had a corresponding decline in reading comprehension.[i]  The study was replicated ten years later with about 1,500 students and had similar results.[ii]  In both studies, close to half of the students who were not adequately fluent in reading also demonstrated significant problems with comprehension.

Practice is essential to learning and mastering any skill – sports, music, cooking, etc. - so it makes sense that this also would apply to the skill of reading.   By including consistent oral reading practice during the school day, the reading process becomes transparent so it can be observed, examined and supported until students become independent readers.   Readers must transition from being tied to the individual words so they can achieve higher levels of comprehension as they read.  A great way to encourage this is through repeated oral practice of the same reading selection, which helps students with word recognition, fluency and prosody as well as general reading and comprehension. 

There is something special about reading aloud regardless of who does the reading.  Oral reading is a powerful tool that can help students not only learn to read fluently but also to experience the joy of reading. 

The transition from rote to rapture - that’s what fluency can do for you.

Want to learn more?  Check out Dr. Rasinski’s free on-demand webinar on scilearn.com, Teaching Fluency:  The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program.

[i] Gay S. Pinnell et al. Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4, 1995.  http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/permalinkPopup.jsp?accno=ED378550

[ii]Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje. Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading, October 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006469.asp

Related Reading:

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Longitudinal Study Shows Significant Fast ForWord® Gains Endure Over Time

Every spring, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, abbreviated CRCT, are administered to students in Georgia.  The CRCT is designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge described in the Georgia Performance Standards.

Students are tested in reading, English/language arts and mathematics. This summary will concentrate on the reading results from the Clarke County School District in Georgia.  The CRCT is given every spring to all students in grades 1-8, and the students included in this study were first through eighth graders during the time of the study.

A longitudinal study is a type of study that follows the same subjects over time. Clarke County students who used the Fast ForWord products generally started with the Fast ForWord® Language or Fast ForWord® Literacy series, with students then progressing through the Fast ForWord® Reading series. Students started on the products during different years, with some starting as early as the 2006-2007 school year, and others starting aslate as the 2010-2011 school year.

The first wave of Fast ForWord participants at Clarke County started using the products in the fall of 2006 and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2007 CRCT with continued improvements in 2008 and the following years.  Students in the second wave started using the products in the fall of 2007 and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2008 CRCT.

After a third group started in 2008 school year, the group’s CRCT scores significantly increased and then continued to go up.  Similarly, students who began using the products in 2009 and 2010 also started to show increases in their reading scores after Fast ForWord participation.

Each cohort exhibits a similar pattern in that after Fast ForWord participation started, on average, the group showed a steady increase in their CRCT reading scores with each passing year.

Looking at the students who started using Fast ForWord products in 2010, there was an increase in the percentage of students reaching reading proficiency, with 55% of students who were not proficient in 2010 crossing the proficiency threshold in 2011.

In addition to longitudinal results, data were also analyzed for certain demographic groups, including students who were receiving Special Education services and students with Limited English Proficiency. Both groups achieved statistically significant improvements on the CRCT Reading Test after Fast ForWord participation.

If you have questions on this study or any other Fast ForWord study, please feel free to contact our Customer Service Team.

Related Reading:

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

My Nephew Was a Struggling Learner (Not Anymore!): Carrie’s Story

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Categories: English Language Learners, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Scientific Learning Research, Special Education

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My Son Announced He Was Dropping Out of High School: Mary’s Story

This post is the fourth in a series aimed at sharing the success stories, both personal and professional, that Scientific Learning employees witness every day.

Mary’s Story:

I was hired at Scientific Learning in 2007 to educate people about the products as an Account Manager in the Midwest.  At the same time that I got the phone call to find out if I had interest in talking to Scientific Learning, our ninth grade son announced to us that he was not going to high school and he was going to drop out.  It took my breath away. Both his father and I have been educators for many years and we both hold advanced degrees. 

I said, “Todd, you have to go to high school,” and he said, “But I don’t want to go.” I said, “But you have to,” and he asked, “Well, what would happen if I didn’t go?” I said, “It’s the law, Todd.” Then he said, “I can’t read.  I can’t keep up with it.  You guys have done everything for me that is possible but I can’t read.  I can’t read at grade level.”

I called my son’s teacher (we convinced him to go to school) and I said, “Here’s the carrot.  My son doesn’t have to do any homework until he finishes this product.  This is his homework at night.”  And every night he came home and did Fast ForWord

And what he did is committed to doing 90 minutes a day and he was done is less than 4 weeks, and he did the post test and when I looked up the score my son had gone from seventh grade, one month reading level to tenth grade, two months reading level. He was a year above grade level and for the very first time in his life he said, “I love to read.”

All I can say is thank you to all the scientists that did all the work to bring this product to not only my son but to the parents and kids out there in America who need it so desperately.

Related Reading:

Language Skills Increase 1.8 Years After 30 Days Using Fast ForWord

Implementation Fidelity: Maximizing Your Fast ForWord® or Reading Assistant™ Investment

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Family Focus, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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