The Fast ForWord program is an online and remote-capable reading and language solution that targets the root causes of reading difficulty using a revolutionary brain-based approach. By building the foundational cognitive skills required to read and learn, any struggling student can make 1-2 years reading gains in just 40-60 hours of use.
Gemm Learning has been a certified provider of the Fast ForWord program since 2006. It started with in-center and remote services but is now exclusively a remote provider, serving over 650 students each year as they use Fast ForWord at home.
Gemm Learning (Westport, CT / Remote-only services)
Geoff Nixon has witnessed over 1,800 student success stories over the years, and the first was his son’s. He reflects, “It started when I saw Fast ForWord dramatically impact the language and vocabulary of my 7-year-old, who was quite significantly speech-delayed.” Nixon was inspired to found Gemm Learning to help other children make the same improvement.
Although Gemm Learning began as an in-center service, Nixon soon recognized the onerous scheduling and transportation obstacles that made consistent in-person attendance a challenge. He transitioned Gemm Learning into a fully remote provider in 2014. Fortunately, Fast ForWord was already designed to be implemented for remote use, without sacrificing its efficacy, ease of use, or progress reporting.
Remote Success with Robust Monitoring
Students who use Fast ForWord through Gemm Learning typically work on the program 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days week. Coaches remotely monitor students’ progress and keep them engaged and on track with regular check-in calls. According to Nixon, “We are all over our families all the time, checking activity every day.”
Fast ForWord’s detailed reports allow coaches to see students’ attendance, time online, participation, gains (based on student performance on the exercises as well as on pre- and post-assessments), and a staff favorite: errors. Nixon says, “We love the error reports, as they help us understand the child. They are generally interesting to parents and can make a good discussion point.”
The reports present vast data on student performance in easy-to-read graphs and tables. Nixon attests:
“The Fast ForWord software captures every keystroke and presents a child’s progress in charts and error reports that give remote monitors an amazingly clear idea of how a student is doing—where they are doing well, where they are having difficulty. This interface is the key to our confidence in supporting Fast ForWord remotely.”
Fast and Lasting Improvement in Reading and Confidence
Over a typical use period of about 7 months, students have averaged 2.5 years of reading gains. Such fast growth is crucial because students have precious little time to catch up to grade level, especially when school closures have disrupted in-class learning.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“These few months on Fast ForWord built a launching pad—cognitively and emotionally—for a better learning trajectory for many years to come,” Nixon states. “When a child goes from ‘reading is mission impossible’ to ‘I can do this,’ it’s a profound change that impacts self-esteem and a confidence boost that makes a child a learning risk-taker, which is the key to future learning success.”
Undeterred by School Closures
Recent school closures have not obstructed student progress, since students can continue using Fast ForWord remotely. Kim says of her 3rd grade daughter, "I can see her reading has improved since school has been closed."
In fact, parents report that their children are making even better progress on Fast ForWord during school closures, since students are working on the program earlier in the day, when they are fresh.
Enhanced Independent Learning and Student Agency
Fast ForWord also fosters independent learning and student agency. Empowering students to exercise autonomy and choice in their learning is especially important for secondary learners. Ginny, the parent of an 8th grader and a certified elementary educator, raves, "I love Reading Assistant Plus. [My son] struggles through the longer passages, but I love this program! He chose super easy passages earlier this week. Today he ‘accidentally’ clicked a passage about skateboarding. I told him he could do it! I really love how this is providing pre-reading, fluency, and comprehension."
Reading Assistant Plus is a popular component of Fast ForWord that provides real-time corrective feedback on oral reading. Other Fast ForWord components and exercises also offer immediate corrective feedback, along with built-in, just-in-time interventions that appear when students struggle.
Effectiveness for Diverse Learners
Hundreds of students’ lives have changed through Fast ForWord, varying in age and learning needs. Nixon states:
“It did not take us long to recognize what we call our ‘bullseye’ students, those cases where we feel sure we will make a difference: younger children with decoding issues, older children with comprehension delays, slow readers and children who avoid or disliked reading. Add in a history of speech delays, ear infections early on or a clear disparity between reading and success in other subjects, and we fully expect to make a significant difference in every case.”
Fast ForWord has also profoundly impacted students who do not have learning challenges. A 14-year-old who was a good reader couldn’t follow the teacher in class, and Fast ForWord built his executive function skills. Another child was reading at grade level, but his mother knew he was under-achieving relative to his potential. A few months after starting the program, he exceeded expectations and scored in the top 1% on the TACHS (Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools).
“I have seen the results firsthand,” Nixon states, “and the robustness of Fast ForWord to help in a range of cases I did not fully expect has been one of the positive surprises from this journey. Many of these kids live in my neighborhood and are now doing great, and their learning issues are a distant memory.