Mary Albers believes in Fast ForWord because she’s seen what it does for student literacy—year after year after year.
Mary Albers, Educational Consultant for Fast ForWord® at Smoky Hill Education Service Center in Salina, Kansas, has been using the language and reading program Fast ForWord for 20 years. And she has no intention of stopping.
“After two decades, I still believe in Fast ForWord because I’ve seen the incredible results we have with our students,” Albers says.
Here are some of her most memorable stories.
A family matter
Albers’ passion for helping others is clear to all around her. She’s devoted her career to supporting students, many considered ‘at-risk,’ to develop the literacy skills they need to lead fulfilling, successful lives.
Albers’ desire to teach people how to communicate dates back to her childhood.
“When I was a little girl, my brother died of brain cancer, and I have always been interested in why he lost his ability to communicate,” Albers explains. “As I went through the Fast ForWord training, I realized that had this program been around when my brother suffered his brain tumor, he might have regained his ability to speak.”
Fast ForWord simultaneously develops reading and cognitive skills by leveraging brain plasticity, or the ability to create new neural connections given the right stimulus. The creators of Fast ForWord include Dr. Michael Merzenich, who is widely known as ‘the father of neuroplasticity.’
Many years after Albers’ brother left their family without the ability to talk to them, Ms. Alber’s son, Zachary, has been able to use the program to achieve his reading and learning goals.
Zachary’s Fast ForWord experience
During his elementary and middle school years, Mary’s son, Zachary, struggled with school.
“He couldn’t spell,” she explains. “His writing was horrific, and if he came across an unfamiliar word, he didn’t know what to do. As we later learned, he had not acquired his phonemic awareness properly because he had had ear infections as a little boy.”
The summer before his 9th grade year, Zachary worked on Fast ForWord 90 minutes daily and completed the program in 14 days.
Albers was shocked when Zachary’s first high school English teacher told her that her son had a 98% in English, was an excellent writer, and was an enthusiastic participant in class.
“I remember being handed one of my son’s papers, scanning it, and saying, ‘No, Zachary didn’t write this.’ But he had.”
Fast ForWord had made the difference.
“When I asked Zachary what had changed for him, he told me that his 8th grade teacher had talked too quickly for him to understand, whereas his 9th grade teacher spoke at a normal speed. But it wasn’t really that. It’s that Fast ForWord had trained his brain to process language effectively. It was incredible.”
Albers knew that the students at her district needed Fast ForWord too, so she brought it to them.
“A tool that helps students rewire their brains, make new connections, and become more confident in their ability to learn is what we were missing before implementing Fast ForWord,” she says.
Fast ForWord helps students with dyslexia
As a paraprofessional, instructional coach, and classroom teacher, Albers has used Fast ForWord with many students diagnosed with dyslexia.
“We see great results when we use Fast ForWord as a first step in a structured literacy program as something that trains the brain and gets it ready for direct instruction for our students with dyslexia,” she shares. “Fast ForWord is so effective because we are working on skills like adaptivity, phonological awareness, decoding, and word recognition simultaneously.”
“That’s what puts the ‘fast’ in Fast ForWord,” Albers adds, “The fact that students aren’t working on skills in isolation.”
In addition to literacy growth, Albers notices significant improvements in executive function skills.
“Maybe a student will suddenly have an easier time following directions, or they’ll be more organized at their workstation or more able to hold a conversation. These victories are just as important as any increases we see in reading. That’s why I stick with Fast ForWord. I completely believe in the program and what it can do.”
Albers isn’t the only one who believes in the program. She’s deeply grateful to the leadership at Smoky Hill Education Service Center, especially Executive Director Chris Moddelmog, for their long-standing dedication to keeping Fast ForWord available for their students.
Changing kids’ lives is a team effort among teachers and the administrators who support them.
Using Fast ForWord with the most vulnerable students
During her long career, Albers has worked with many different types of students, and she has seen Fast ForWord benefit everyone—including the most downtrodden.
“I taught at a maximum security prison for seven years and found that many of our students came to us with significant language and literacy gaps because of their lived experiences,” Albers says. “And this comes with a certain amount of shame. But Fast ForWord provided the remediation they needed and had never received.”
Albers shares the story of one young man, Mr. E, whom she worked with at a Kansas juvenile correctional complex.
“He was exhibiting severe avoidance behavior and was receiving disciplinary referrals for acting out in class,” Albers explains.
She recognized immediately that his behavior was coming from a place of frustration.
“He didn’t know how to read,” she states.
Although Mr. E was initially defensive, he agreed to try Fast ForWord.
When he took his first Reading Progress Indicator (RPI), Fast ForWord’s nationally normed literacy assessment, he scored 3.2, indicating he was an 11th grader with roughly a 3rd grader’s literacy skills.
After completing just one Fast ForWord component, he took another RPI assessment that showed he was almost up to a 7th grade level.
“His behavior began to change,” Albers shares. “He went from needing to be removed from school to just needing verbal reminders to stay on task.”
He continued to work on Fast ForWord, and a year and a half later, he graduated from high school.
When Mr. E’s social worker asked him what made the difference in his life and helped him set his sights on success, he replied, “Well, I could finally understand what was going on.”
“And from there,” Albers notes, “he no longer felt ashamed.”
The generational impact of Fast ForWord
Two decades in, Albers is excited to keep spreading the word about Fast ForWord because she’s seen firsthand its positive impact.
In fact, her son Zachary is now a 4th grade teacher, and his students are now thriving with Fast ForWord.
When he told Albers that some of his students were struggling with reading, they both knew that Fast ForWord could be the answer.
Zachary started three students on Fast ForWord. They made such tremendous growth that his school now has 400 licenses, and every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade student works with Fast ForWord.
Albers reports, “They’re seeing real and lasting change, not only anecdotally but on their state assessments as well.”
“The perfect recipe for success”
Why will Albers continue to advocate for Fast ForWord?
“Fast ForWord builds strong readers,” Albers states simply. “I saw it with my son, I saw it with Mr. E, and I’ve seen it with countless other students. And it’s no secret why. We know from Scarborough’s Reading Rope that word-recognition skills, phonological awareness, decoding, and sight word reading must become automatic for a student to comprehend language. And we also know that cognitive skills like memory, attention, and processing must often be intentionally strengthened.”
“We build all these skills with Fast ForWord,” Albers continues. “It’s the perfect recipe for success.”
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author