A couple of years ago, I was told that a student of mine had started using Fast ForWord, a computer based reading remediation program. He was using it about 20 minutes a day so his homework was to be reduced to accommodate this extra practice. Not being familiar with the program I did some research, viewed a couple of webinars and became convinced that a) this program was useful for increasing reading skills, attention and memory, and b) it was unlikely that students would independently utilize it at the recommended level in order to achieve these results. The program is designed to be used for approximately an hour a day, five days a week for at least 6 weeks. This struck me as a summer school intervention rather than a program that would produce results at home.
Scientific Learning, the publisher of Fast ForWord, produced a study and reported on it in Improved Reading Achievement by Students in the Dallas Independent School District who Used Fast ForWord Products and/or Reading Assistant: 2007-2008 in Scientific Learning: Research Reports 13(8). When students in grades 5 through 11 used one of these products daily for either the 40-50 minute protocol or the 30 minute protocol (just add more time), the gap on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) narrowed 25% between struggling readers and the state average. The report does indicates that 90% of teachers thought these students improved in learning skills like listening, being able to follow a conversation and recalling a series of events in the proper order, but gives little evidence for this assertion- no indication of teacher surveys or pre- and post- intervention questionnaires.
As an intervention that requires little of teachers, this product seems like a good fit. As a potential summer school reading remediation device, it appears to be useful. As a tool for parents to help their children, we must be careful. Parents will need to monitor and insist upon participation over a long time, which many parents are not really willing to commit to. Family lives, extra-curricular activities and other parental responsibilities often get in the way of committing to either a half hour or 50 minutes a day of extra work that the child may not wish to participate in. This is especially true if, like many struggling readers homework is an issue by itself.
There may be other interventions that provide the reading support more efficiently. If however, the other learning goals, executive function concerns, are also a critical need, this program may be just what a teacher is looking for. This may be particularly true when staffing is a concern.