The first step is building cognitive and literacy skills in tandem.
When I was an educational diagnostician, most of the students I tested had difficulty with reading.
But one student, in particular, stands out.
He had the highest IQ of any student I tested during those years. His performance skills on tasks like picture completion or arrangement, block design, and object assembly were so high that they compensated for his weaker verbal skills. He was “off the charts” intelligent—and severely dyslexic. In 8th grade, he was reading at a 1st-grade level.
Despite the best efforts of his mother and all his teachers, no intervention could move the needle on his reading.
Until Fast ForWord®.
We got him working on this adaptive reading and language program, and after just a few weeks, he moved from a 1st-grade to a 5th-grade reading level.
There was something special about Fast ForWord that worked wonders on my student’s dyslexic brain. In fact, during the years we used Fast ForWord with our students with dyslexia, they averaged 1.5 years of gains on both language and reading assessments after completing the first component.
Here’s what I want every educational diagnostician, reading coach, and educator to know about how Fast ForWord helps students with dyslexia learn to read.
Dyslexia and Phonological Processing
While dyslexia was long thought to be a visual processing issue, we now know that dyslexia is a specific learning difference with a neurobiological origin. Those letter and word reversals are more related to difficulty remembering letter configurations and word patterns than actually seeing things incorrectly.
While auditory processing disorders need to be diagnosed separately from dyslexia, it’s almost impossible to discuss teaching kids with dyslexia how to read without first discussing phonological awareness since, in English, difficulty with phonological awareness is a strong predictor of dyslexia.
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in sentences and words. Examples include identifying rhymes, recognizing alliteration, segmenting sentences into words, and identifying the sounds and syllables in a word.
A student’s phonological awareness impacts success with decoding, spelling, and writing. And although research shows that between 45 to 60% of students aren’t ready for the beginning phonemic awareness activities found in foundational reading programs, learners with dyslexia often struggle even more than average with processing sounds in letters and words.
The good news is that phonological and phonemic awareness can be strengthened, and kids with dyslexia can use Fast ForWord to practice clearly perceiving and piecing together sounds.
How Does Fast ForWord Help Build Phonological Awareness?
Fast ForWord teaches readers with dyslexia how to process sounds and build essential phonological skills. You may be thinking, “Well, a lot of programs now work on phonemes.” And you’re right…but they don’t do it like Fast ForWord does.
Fast ForWord has patented technology that stretches the phonemes that are difficult to perceive because they are so fast or very similar to other language sounds in English.
For example, the sounds /ba/ and /da/ are difficult for many children to differentiate because the /b/ and /d/ sounds are very similar and are only 40 milliseconds long. Moreover, they cannot be stretched out because they are stop consonants. With stop consonants (b,d,p,t,g,k), the air is briefly blocked from leaving the vocal tract by the tongue or lips, so the sound itself is stopped.
Let's test this out with an exercise I would use to teach caregivers why their children were struggling to hear and process stop consonants:
Take a good breath and make the /m/ sound. You can continue with the sound as long as you have breath. How long can you hold that sound?
Now, take another breath and make the /b/ sound. If you can continue the sound, think about what sound you are making. Are you holding out the /a/ (ahhhhhh) rather than the /b/? That doesn’t count—try just stretching the /b/ sound by itself.
You couldn’t do it, could you?
Humans simply can’t stretch stop consonants, but the right technology can. And that is where Fast ForWord comes in with its acoustically modified speech.
Some students need that modified speech to help train their brains to process some English phonemes accurately because those phonemic pathways are not fully developed…yet. The stretched sounds gradually shorten as the student progresses, so their brains begin processing at more typical speeds by the end of the exercises.
How Do Executive Functions Help Kids With Dyslexia Learn To Read?
Auditory processing skills are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to teaching students with dyslexia how to read.
Executive functions are cognitive skills that help students sustain attention, remember what they’ve learned, avoid distractions, and organize their time and tasks. In many language and literacy programs, they are what’s missing—an unfortunate oversight since executive functions pave the path to deep and meaningful learning.
How Does Fast ForWord Teach Students with Dyslexia Cognitive Skills?
One thing that made a big difference for my students is that Fast ForWord uses the science of learning to teach executive function skills rather than just depending on them. This explicit focus on cognitive skills within the context of literacy instruction means that Fast ForWord doesn’t just build better readers; it builds better learners.
Combining a language and/or reading skill with one or more cognitive skills is a neuroscience principle called simultaneous development. Building skills that work together strengthens learning.
While all the exercises in Fast ForWord strengthen executive functions, here are two of my favorites.
Book Monkeys builds reading comprehension and verbal working memory by requiring students to store words and phrases in their short-term memories long enough to apply the information as needed. Students are presented with a story doled out in paragraph-long chunks, which they read and answer questions about. When they answer a question incorrectly, the paragraph is presented again, and they can reread it. As students work through the exercise, 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 previous paragraphs.
Flying Fish, a Fast ForWord exercise mainly focused on building automaticity with high-frequency words, relies on attention, memory, and processing skills. 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. 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 periods of time.
Want free samples of Book Monkeys, Flying Fish, and other Fast ForWord exercises? Great! We can’t wait to show you how Fast ForWord can help all your students read and learn better.
Fast ForWord Can Turn Reading Struggles Into Reading Successes
In independent studies from Stanford and Harvard Universities, both focused explicitly on learners with dyslexia, researchers documented that Fast ForWord can create physical brain changes as it builds new synapses and strengthens neural pathways, specifically in the areas of reading.
After just eight weeks of use, weak readers with dyslexia developed brain activity patterns that resembled those of strong readers. As brain patterns changed, significant improvements were observed in word reading, decoding, reading comprehension, and language functions.
How Do I Know That Fast ForWord Helps Students With Dyslexia Read Better?
Fast ForWord wasn't quickly built in response to the science of reading movement. For over 25 years, it has continually focused on the science of learning and reading. It “rewires” the brain for reading by starting with the most foundational skills that help all readers but are particularly essential for learners with dyslexia.
My brilliant 8th grader proves that Fast ForWord helps students with dyslexia thrive. And his story is just one of many I could share about dyslexic learners growing into strong and confident readers with this program.
At Carnegie Learning, we believe that teachers are in the business of changing brains and developing strong thinkers…but we also know that it never hurts to have some help along the way.
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
Fast ForWord 'rewires' the brain for reading by starting with the most foundational skills that help all readers but are particularly essential for learners with dyslexia.
Cory Armes, Educational Diagnostician and Senior Content Specialist, Literacy