Literacy Specialist Doug Rich knows that reading and cognitive skills work hand in hand—and that Fast ForWord helps students build both.
McKinley Elementary School is a small, diverse school nestled in the heart of The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco. Doug Rich, a literacy specialist and educator of 27 years, works with K-5 students with dyslexia and auditory processing disorders, English language learners, and other students identified as potential candidates for the school’s special education program.
“I work with kids who are considered ‘at risk,’” Mr. Rich explains. “The idea is to identify these kids early and start to strengthen their skills. Many of them might not end up needing special education. I start working with them in kindergarten and first grade to catch them up with their peers using structured literacy interventions, including Fast ForWord.”
Mr. Rich began using Fast ForWord, our adaptive online literacy and language program, more than ten years ago and has advocated for its use at the broader district level.
In his advocacy, Mr. Rich talks specifically about Fast ForWord’s ability to build cognitive skills as it strengthens literacy, a topic he is uniquely knowledgeable about, because not only has he seen the approach work in hundreds of his students, but he’s also seen it work with his own two children.
Fast ForWord: An Acceleration Close to Home
When Mr. Rich’s two sons were six and seven years old, they were not meeting learning standards in school due to speech, language, and processing challenges. The interventions provided by the school did not seem to be working, so Mr. Rich and his partner took matters into their own hands.
Mr. Rich looked for a program that would help his boys not just with their literacy skills but also with their working memory, processing, and other cognitive skills. With support from friends and family, Mr. Rich purchased a Fast ForWord license for home use. Both boys experienced immense growth in language, speaking, and reading, and at 18 and 20, they are now thriving.
“My youngest son’s working memory went from the 9th percentile to the 55th percentile after Fast ForWord,” Mr. Rich explains. “Fast ForWord was the only thing we added to his routine of other interventions. And after that, some things got easier in school. Work didn’t take as long for him to complete.”
“An audiologist diagnosed my older son with an auditory integration disorder,” Mr. Rich continues. “After using Fast ForWord, he was re-assessed and no longer met the criteria for having an auditory integration deficit.”
After seeing how Fast ForWord helped his children, Mr. Rich knew he had to bring it to his students, too.
Cognitive Skills: A Foundation for Reading
Mr. Rich attributes the effectiveness of Fast ForWord to its cognitive skill-building.
“Research has shown us that when you’re working on underlying skills with something like Fast ForWord, the circuits in your brain get stronger,” Mr. Rich explains. “So you start to read better and learn better. I saw it with my own kids, and I can’t tell you how many students I’ve seen have a smoother learning journey after using Fast ForWord.”
Over the years, he has seen many students surpass expectations in literacy achievement as a result of Fast ForWord.
“There just aren’t many interventions, or as I like to call them– accelerations—that improve memory, attention, processing, and sequencing—all skills necessary to become a proficient reader. But Fast ForWord does,” he explains. “It lets us work on the portion of the iceberg that lies underneath and get to the issues that may be bottlenecking progress.”
“I have many families and colleagues come to me with students who are getting quality instruction, yet they aren’t making the gains we thought we’d be seeing,” Mr. Rich continues. “When I talk to them, what typically comes up is how weak executive functions are impacting these kids. It turns out that 80% of kids’ working memories can be improved, so shouldn’t we be working on that?”
“And this is where Fast ForWord can be so beneficial,” Mr. Rich concludes. “It’s like a workout for the mind. When my students work in Fast ForWord, their brains operate better. They’re paying attention, they're processing quickly. They’re just stronger learners.”
Literacy Acceleration That’s Also Fun!
Along with being effective, Mr. Rich notes that his students enjoy using Fast ForWord and can complete multiple programs over the school year by working 30 minutes three days a week.
He also notes that students respond well to the game-like activities in the program and sometimes even get competitive with each other.
“They have their favorite Fast ForWord activities, and it’s different for each child,” Mr. Rich reports. “They like the points system feature where they get to track their progress, and the rewards features built into the program keep them motivated.”
A 110% Increase in STAR Early Literacy Scores
Third graders in Mr. Rich’s class have seen immense growth on the STAR early literacy assessment. From early October to early February, eight exceptional students saw an average 110% increase in their scores.
A 1000% Skill Increase for an EL Student
It’s part of Mr. Rich’s job to work with students who are new to the U.S. and still learning English. At the beginning of the year, one of his new students from Korea scored in the third percentile in an assessment that measures listening and reading comprehension and foundational literacy skills. In April of the same school year, she scored at the 33rd percentile, which is a 1000% increase, taking her out of the intervention category.
Mr. Rich credits part of this student’s success to Fast ForWord.
“The structured approach I use with reading combined with her persistent work in Fast ForWord is responsible for her success,” he reports. “Most of what she needs now is simply language acquisition, and I’m excited to see where she performs on the end-of-year English Language measure.”
Fast ForWord to the Future
In the future, Mr. Rich would like to see Fast ForWord extend beyond his classroom.
“When I think about the future,” he says, “I hope that educators in my district and other districts come to understand that executive functioning and cognitive skills directly impact reading. Fast ForWord is a necessary piece to [overcoming] all the challenges we’re facing with our literacy crisis today."
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
Fast ForWord is like a workout for the mind. When my students use it, their brains operate better. They’re paying attention, they're processing quickly, they’re just stronger learners.
Doug Rich, Literacy Specialist and Educator of 27 Years, McKinley Elementary School