The newest Fast ForWord component speeds up comprehension skill development.
I have a confession to make. When I think about reading, I don’t think of it as a strand within English language arts. I think of it as the academic equivalent of breathing—an essential life skill for learners of all ages. And when it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to do anything.
For secondary students, low reading skills can be a barrier to learning in all of their subjects. To reduce this barrier, we work hard to continually improve Fast ForWord, which strengthens the cognitive foundations of reading and accelerates comprehension skills. I led the product development of our newest addition to Fast ForWord, Reading Comprehension, and I can’t wait for you and your students to start seeing the results of using it as you head back to school!
In my years on the Fast ForWord research and development team, I have seen the great results that secondary struggling readers can get from Fast ForWord use. I have also heard frustrations: “it’s boring,” “these exercises look like they are for little kids,” and “the sounds are weird.” So, it’s been exciting to gather input from teachers and students and combine it with scientific research to build improvements in the Fast ForWord Literacy secondary program. By including secondary students and educators in the process, we have built components that better meet the needs of secondary struggling readers.
How did we get to our recent release of Reading Comprehension?
The Reading Comprehension Fast ForWord component builds on two other new components of Fast ForWord Literacy that were released in the past year: Elements I and Elements II. These first two components of the Fast Forword Literacy program focus on strengthening the cognitive and language foundations of reading. The Elements exercises help students build skills in working memory, attention, auditory processing, and sequencing while practicing listening, following directions, vocabulary, and grammar skills.
After the Elements components were released, we heard a strong clamoring for exercises focused on reading comprehension. And we listened! We built the Reading Comprehension component by bringing together five exercises with a strong focus on reading fiction, nonfiction, and reference texts; using knowledge of English grammar; answering literal and inferential questions; and applying comprehension strategies.
All of the exercises in these components were redesigned for secondary students, based on input from students and educators, analysis of usage data, and insights from scientific literature. The student and educator input was gathered through multiple channels, including feedback that our customer success, support, and sales staff heard in the field; consultation with our Customer Advisory Board; site visits; focus groups; user surveys; and usability testing.
Ultimately, the design of Reading Comprehension offers three major areas of improvement to Fast ForWord Literacy.
1. Enhanced engagement
The new exercises are clearly geared towards middle and high school students, keeping them engaged and progressing. Instead of cute animal characters, each exercise has a unique STEAM theme, that is presented with age-appropriate graphics and animations and includes instructional audio for older students. Gamification features were carefully added to increase motivation and the use of successful strategies by linking rewards to progress. Students “level up” each time they complete 20% of an exercise, and the Autoplay and Streaks counters reward students for attaining high levels of accuracy.
2. Increased student agency
Adolescent students can own their learning more readily with the new features and design of Reading Comprehension. A consistent user interface design, tested with secondary students, helps students easily get oriented to new exercises so they need to rely less on a teacher or facilitator. Automated inline interventions help students get themselves unstuck, without always having to rely on adult intervention. The Help and Reread buttons give students control over accessing the information they need when they need it.
3. Speeded mastery
We’ve made several adjustments to help students make more efficient progress. An item analysis identified specific questions that many students struggled with. These were reviewed and revised to ensure that the questions are clear and that only one answer is correct. Changes to the progression rules have made exercises more adaptive so that students spend less time on material that is easy and more time focused on tasks and content at the right level of challenge. All of these changes were data-driven: they were guided by analysis of usage data from earlier versions of the exercises.
Every adolescent learner deserves the chance to excel in all subject areas, and they need strong literacy skills to do that. We hope that as your students work in Fast ForWord Literacy this year, you’ll see them work independently, make rapid progress, and stay motivated as they accelerate their reading skills. Let us know what you think and have a great back-to-school season!
Logan has been part of the Fast ForWord team since 2000, working on research, content development, data science, and product management. He contributed to the original educational design and content of the Fast ForWord Reading components, and he is currently involved in making data-driven product improvements. Mr. De Ley has authored or co-authored a number of whitepapers, chapters, and journal articles, and he is a listed co-inventor on several patents. His educational background includes a Master of Arts in Experimental Psychology from the University of California, Davis, and a Master of Science in Communicative Disorders from San Francisco State University.Explore more related to this author
Reading is the academic equivalent of breathing—an essential life skill for learners of all ages.
Logan De Ley, Senior Product Manager, Fast ForWord