A newly implemented computer activity program is giving students in Albany County School District No. 1 a fun, interactive way to work on their reading skills.
About a month ago, the district began using Fast ForWord — a program created by the Oakland, California-based Scientific Learning Corporation — to improve student reading scores and get more students reading at their grade levels, said John Weigel, ACSD No. 1 assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability.
The program is primarily geared toward students who struggle with reading or who are on individualized education programs, Weigel said. He and Superintendent Jubal Yennie both had experience with Fast ForWord in previous districts and recommended it to the ACSD No. 1 administration.
“It has some scientific research about it in terms of executive functioning and hearing certain sounds,” Weigel said. “It kind of retrains your brain to hear those different sounds, maybe a little slower, that’s the whole science behind it.”
Most of the Laramie schools in ACSD No. 1 have 10-20 licenses for the program, while Linford Elementary School has a site license, he said.
“Once students are behind and we’ve tried some core instruction in the regular classroom, this is kind of a next step, a research-based intervention with some proven results,” Weigel said. “So, it’s an individualized program. So, the students continue with their normal instruction in reading and then during the intervention time they’d actually go and do this program.”
Linford Principal Dave Hardesty said he hoped the program would boost student reading scores at the school.
“What we’ve done is we’ve basically staggered how we’re giving it to students and the students that we’re giving it to based on their need,” he said.
Jami Herrick, a certified tutor in charge of the Fast ForWord program at Linford, said students in grades 2-5 work with the program once a week, while a smaller group of about 20 students participates in two additional 30-minute sessions during the week.
“Before they even start the program, they do a pre-assessment, which is a reading progress indicator,” she said. “And the pre-assessment kind of guides where the program will take them. So, depending on how they scored with the reading progress indicator, they get pushed into different categories.”
Students can choose from several different activities, which focus on building skills such as sound discrimination, listening to directions and decoding words.
“Our main targets are the decoding piece, so the phonics skill — and also, hopefully, it’s going to be helping with vocabulary and comprehension,” Herrick said.
One activity, “Hog Hat Zone,” shows students a series of sentences with missing words and encourages them to fill in the blanks with the grammatically correct choice. In another activity, students listen to statements from a robotic elephant; if they repeatedly select the images corresponding to the sentences, a peanut appears on the screen.
“With a computer voice, they can stretch out the sounds so that they’re still the sounds that we’re supposed to be saying,” Herrick said. “So, they’re not manipulated. ’Cause when we stretch out sounds — for example, ‘b’ — you can’t really stretch it out. You say ‘bah.’ ... That’s one of the main points that Fast ForWord has over a person talking, because you can’t stretch out consonant stopping sounds like that.”