Reading well relies on four foundational cognitive skills, and Fast ForWord® builds them.
Ready to dive into how literacy and cognitive skills work hand-in-hand?
As I discussed in a previous post, strong reading relies on the five pillars of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, phonics, comprehension, and fluency. But as crucial as these literacy-specific skills are, the underlying cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing–we call them MAPS skills–are just as important for building strong readers and learners.
Moreover, research suggests that students benefit most when they learn literacy and cognitive skills alongside each other. But this can be a lot for a teacher to juggle.
The good news is you don’t have to do it alone.
Keep reading to learn how the online, adaptive reading and language program Fast ForWord strengthens your students’ literacy and cognitive skills in tandem and sets them up for success in your classroom and beyond. Once you’ve read about each exercise, open each sample to try it out for yourself.
Strong long-term and working memory help us understand and retain information, build sound/letter correspondence, and support fluency and comprehension–all integral skills in reading well.
Fast ForWord builds phonological working memory by asking students to remember sounds long enough to identify and match them. In more advanced exercises, Fast ForWord asks students to remember whole words, sentences, and paragraphs long enough to answer questions and use deductive reasoning.
Phonological working memory involves storing phoneme information in a temporary, short-term memory store that can be accessed at will. In Hoop Nut, students are presented with a target syllable, “ba” or “da,” for example. The screen shows two squirrels hidden in acorns. One says the same syllable the student has just heard, and the other makes a sound that ends with the same vowel but starts with a different (but similar sounding) consonant. The student must then select which squirrel said the proper syllable.
Note that sometimes the squirrel on the left says the proper syllable, and sometimes the one on the right does (and often in a different order), so students have to listen closely and shift their attention from one squirrel to the next to identify the correct syllable. This takes not only memory but processing power! Note, too, that sequences get longer as the student progresses, which helps build memory as well as attention and phoneme discrimination.
Verbal working memory allows students to store words and phrases in their short-term memories long enough to apply the information as needed. Book Monkeys presents students with a story doled out in paragraph-long chunks. Students read each paragraph and then answer questions that require them to use the content they have just read. When they answer a question incorrectly or are asked a particularly difficult question, the paragraph is presented again, and they can reread it if necessary. As students work through this program, the paragraphs resurface less frequently, and they are required to hold information in their working memories for longer and are even asked to recall information from several previous paragraphs.
The ability to focus on specific information, sustain that focus, and ignore distractions while carrying out a task is essential to building strong literacy. Fast ForWord builds attention skills by requiring students to attend to directions, phonemes, words, and sentences in every exercise. As they progress, activities become longer, so students transition from simply paying attention for a short task to building sustained attention.
For example, in Flying Fish, a pelican says a word that kids can hear and see written out. Then, flying fish appear above, each with a different word on them. When students see the fish with the word the pelican spoke, they click on it. Students need to pay attention to the fish as they move across the screen, left to right, to answer correctly (as a bonus, they also have to remember the initial word). As students progress, it takes longer for the fish with the correct word to appear, meaning that they are paying attention (and remembering) the words for longer.
Our processing skills allow us to integrate and make sense of auditory and/or visual information. We know from reading science that phonemic awareness (connecting letters and their sounds) is critical for reading, but some children struggle to perceive and process sounds. Luckily, processing is a skill that can be strengthened.
Polar Planet is an exercise in Fast ForWord that uses acoustically modified speech to help students distinguish between similar sounds, such as those made by “P,” “B,” and “D.” A word, let’s say “bad,” is shown on a block of ice. Other words, such as “sad” and “mad” follow on their own blocks of ice. When the student hears the original word, “bad” in this case, they click on the block of ice, and the penguin can add it to the sled. As with all Fast ForWord exercises, sequences get longer, and the processing tasks get more challenging as the student progresses.
Sequencing is the ability to track the order of things, such as the sounds in a word, the words in a sentence, the sentences in a paragraph, or the events in a story. There is no aspect of literacy that isn’t directly tied to sequencing.
Fast ForWord includes sequencing as a natural progression in all its exercises. In some activities, students sequence sound sweeps to determine the pattern of the sounds (high-low, low-high, high-high, or low-low). In others, they follow ordered steps, such as “Touch the blue circle, then the red square.” In other exercises, they follow sequences as they spell words and complete reading tasks. These activities help students learn that there is an order to most tasks, reading included, and to complete them correctly, you must follow a sequence.
Graphophonemic sequencing is the attaching of sounds to letters (or groups of letters) to learn new words, an essential skill for decoding. Magic Bird teaches students to identify graphophonemic sequences and attach sounds to letters to create new words. In Magic Bird, a word appears and is broken into several parts. One part goes blank, a new word is spoken aloud, and learners must choose which letters will make the new word. Students must correctly sequence letters to spell words as they work through the exercise.
Morphology is the study of words and their parts, such as prefixes and suffixes. This helps us determine such things as present, past, or future tense–is something happening now, has it already happened, or will it happen later? Grammatical sequencing is one of the basic building blocks of comprehension, as students need to decipher, from the order of words in a sentence, what sequence of events those words depict.
Fast ForWord’s Scrap Cat teaches students to identify prefixes and suffixes and determine how these word parts change tense and make meaning. A bottle is released with a word written on it, let’s say “disorder.” Students much choose the best description of the word among four choices, such as “Has a prefix meaning ‘not’ or ‘reverse’” or “Has a suffix meaning ‘happened in the past.’” As students complete Scrap Cat, they see how words are built and ordered and how these sequences impact tense and meaning.
Cognitive Skills Are the Building Blocks of Literacy
Whether the road is long and winding or short and direct, learning to read is a journey for every student. But the path to confident, joyful literacy can be made smoother with Fast ForWord, especially for students who need to build stronger cognitive skills.
Want to keep learning how Fast ForWord can simultaneously build strong readers and agile, flexible thinkers? We invite you to download the info pack.
Cory Armes has eighteen years’ experience in K-12 education as a general and special education teacher and educational diagnostician, specializing in working with students with learning disabilities and behavioral issues. She has worked in Texas throughout her career and is glad to be on the ELAR team at Carnegie Learning.Explore more related to this author
Research suggests that students benefit most when they learn literacy and cognitive skills alongside each other.
Cory Armes, M.Ed., Special Education Teacher and Educational Diagnostician for 16 years