“It’s a lot of hard work but when you see the improvements in the kids, it’s all worth it and makes it worth doing all over again!”
Thornlands State School have been using the Fast ForWord program with their students since 2013, using a parent-funded model. Under this arrangement, parents receive a significant discount on the Fast ForWord program fees and the school coordinate supervision, technology and space for the children to train on the exercises. Sonic Learning interviewed Fast ForWord Coordinator and Support Teacher Cathy Hemmings to discover their secrets to success.
Describe how your students participate in the Fast ForWord program.
I run the program each day before school. We open the computer lab at 8:00 am and students come in between 8:00 and 8:30 to complete a 30 minute session, after which they join their regular class. At first we started with 5 students, and the role of supervising those students was shared between myself and two education assistants. Now we typically have around 20 students participating in the program and we have increased the time to 40 minutes per day to allow students to get more out of the program. I have some students who have participated in the program three years in a row and have managed to complete not only the processing modules but some of the reading modules too.
Since Fast ForWord requires 5 sessions per week, during the first year, I was running five sessions per week at school. This year we have trialled three before-school sessions, one session during class time (at two different times so they don’t miss out on the same class each week) and a minimum of once per week at home. This cuts down on staff time and encourages parents to be more involved too.
How does your school go about funding the program?
We usually have the students begin training on the programs during term 2 each year. So I ask parents to pay half of the fee by the end of term 1 to confirm their child’s place in the program. Then the other half is paid during weeks 1 and 2 of term 2.
How did you get the word out to the parents?
First I advertise in the school newsletter during term 4 to let parents know that we are winding up Fast ForWord for the year. I write about successes we’ve had with the program and that we’ll be running it again the following year. Interested parents can look at the Sonic Learning website and email me for more information. I include this information in 2 or 3 newsletters, and this allows parents to be able to think about it early.
Then in the first term I advertise again in the school newsletter that we have some spaces left, but some parents may not see the school newsletter so I also provide the teachers with a hard copy letter they can send home with children they judge as appropriate for the program. The letter has a tearoff slip to allow parents to register their interest in the program, and it advertises an information session parents can attend to learn what Fast ForWord is about. The response has been interesting, with parents enrolling children that I didn’t originally have on my radar. I’ve been surprised at the enthusiastic response of many parents.
Shahin Seker, education consultant from Sonic Learning, provided a parent information session for us. I think this is a very important opportunity for parents to learn more about the program. I also send parents links to the Sonic Learning website – before attending the session they must go on the Sonic Learning site and look at the videos.
What are the benefits to the school?
Because the parents are paying, the program is costing the school very little and we are supporting students in a way that we can’t do in the classroom. The principal is very supportive of the program so we have been able to continue running it.
What sort of results did you achieve?
It’s a lot of hard work but when you see the improvements in the kids, it’s all worth it and makes it worth doing all over again!
I use the Reading Progress Indicator, which is an assessment that correlates with well recognised normed assessments but can be administered via the computer at no extra cost. We see great results using this assessment and I collate the data and send those reports home to the parents.
We really enjoy recognising the achievements of the students on the program. One way we do this is to present awards on parade and we’ll include information in those awards like excellent attendance records or overall time completed so far in the program. Initially the other students had the attitude “you kids can’t play in the morning because you have to do that program” but we’ve been able to present the program in the light of “we’ve got games happening, people are putting in time to strengthen their learning” so there’s a sense of achievement amongst the students enrolled in the program.