Harristown State High School, QLD Interview with Yvonne Bidgood, Fast ForWord coordinator/ Head of Department - Effective Learning and Teaching
Yvonne Bidgood is the coordinator of the Fast ForWord program at Harristown State School. She has overseen three implementations of Fast ForWord so far and seen some students jump 2 years in their reading age. Currently Harristown State school has 90 students enrolled in the program, including some Year 8 and 9 students. She shares her experience with Fast ForWord with us.
Why did your school decide to use the Fast ForWord program? We were finding our lowest-performing Learning Support kids had really low reading ages. They were missing the basics. I investigated [Fast ForWord]; I thought, “I think this will work for our kids.” For our kids, it was about reading, confidence and concentration – we wanted to improve those skills to give them a good grounding. Our principal backed us; he knows I’m good at keeping data! I’ve got reading data for the last five years.
How did you select the children to go on the program? What learning difficulties did they have? We selected students who were behind two years or more in their reading age. We looked at NAPLAN, PAT reading, primary school results – this helped us decide which students need that big push. We’ve got twelve to fifteen kids at the moment who are going through Specific Language Impairment testing – we were told by the speech therapist that [Fast ForWord] was the best thing we could do for those children.
What improvements have you noticed with the students using the program? [Prior to using Fast ForWord] these kids weren’t moving at all in NAPLAN tests. Last year, according to our relative gains data, all our Learning Support students improved, none of them went backwards. Our better kids are jumping two years in their reading age, which is amazing – it was only a six-month program. The biggest thing is the kids tell you they’ve improved. They can concentrate better in class; they’re getting their assessments in on time, or actually attempting their assessments. Most of these kids were in a vicious cycle of learning; they didn’t want to try because they were scared of failure – kids who [are now saying], “I can do this.” We’ve had kids who have asked to do Fast ForWord before NAPLAN, to prepare for NAPLAN – they felt like it would help them concentrate, get their mind in the right zone. Another student feels like he can apply for a job now.
Do the kids like Fast ForWord? One of our girls said it’s the best thing that she’s ever gotten into to help her enjoy learning. Another boy gets on Fast ForWord at home, and even while he’s away, because he knows he’s going to improve. Another student absolutely has to see what his progress charts are like at the end of every session. It’s that affirmation: “I am improving”. Some kids don’t enjoy Fast ForWord at first because, I think, it shows them what they don’t know. Once they persevere, once they’ve achieved something, they’re OK. Some kids just get into it, they love; they absolutely love it. Overall, they’re all getting in and giving it a go. No-one won’t give it a go. Some parents want updates sent home every week – so they are supporting us as well. Here are some of the comments I had from the students on Fast ForWord: Marteeka – “Sonic Learning helped me because it has made more confident in class and it has helped me with the sounds in words so I can spell better. It was fun!” Thalia – “I feel confident and I have enjoyed the program.” Trent – “I can do the work in class.” Ryan – “I got a B on my exam and I never get Bs” Isabelle – “I really like doing Fast ForWord. I get excited when I have to do it for homework and I think I listen better.” Tong Tong – “I thought I listened well but I don’t all the time and sometimes I need help to make sure I am listening. Sometimes small words change everything.” Emily – “I think I am definitely remembering more. Josh – It helps me to listen to an instruction and then find the right thing to do. I used to be bad at it but I have gotten better. Ryan – It helps me with sentences.
Tell me about the support you got from Sonic Learning. Wonderful. Very quick to get back to us and help us, helping us make decisions as to when to move kids on; helping us with which programs will help our kids.
Would you recommend Fast ForWord to other schools?
Yes – I’ve spoken to about three. The hardest thing for a high school is timetabling issues, but we work around it. I’d say [to a school worried about timetabling] come up with a plan – have Fast ForWord sessions before school, after school; we’ve done it during lunch hours, and some kids will finish it at home. There’s options, you just have to work out what’s best.
Henley Beach Primary School, SA Interview with Michelle Stratton, Fast ForWord coordinator
Michelle Stratton is the coordinator of Fast ForWord at Henley Beach. She a qualified teacher, Child, Youth and Family Health nurse and counsellor and has over 10 years teaching experience at school and university levels.
She comments: “As the facilitator of the Fast ForWord program for the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to see many of the students increase in their confidence as they’ve progressed through their personalised program. It was always exciting to hear students call out ‘I’ve beaten my highest score’ and see a big smile appear upon their face and the faces of their classmates. Highlights include seeing all the students join together to play the Sonic Olympics and work as a team to achieve enough points for everyone to win a prize. In terms of ‘the ugly’ – getting ourselves to school by 8 am during windy, rainy and hailing days during winter would rate highly!”
St Patrick’s College, QLD Interview with Exceptional Learners staff
In 2013 and 2014, St Patrick’s College in Shorncliffe, Queensland has enrolled over twenty students from Years 5 to 10 in the Fast ForWord program. Elizabeth Gibb (Head Of Curriculum), Donna Flannagan, Anita Willis and Rosemary Butt (Teacher Aides) share their Fast ForWord experience.
Why did your school decide to use the Fast ForWord program?
Elizabeth, Head of Curriculum, comments: “I went to one of Dr Martha Burns’ seminars and—being a science teacher in my early career—I was so impressed. I looked into Fast ForWord and was offered a six month trial last year for a good price. I chose students of high need and put Fast ForWord through a trial run and was pleased with the individual student outcomes. So, offered it again this year.”
How did you select for the program? What learning difficulties did they have?
We selected children who were struggling with literacy, who may have had an attention deficit, auditory processing disorders, problems with reading and spelling. These students missed directions, their attention was poor and their concentration was marginal—kids who were just not progressing. We also have a boy with an intellectual impairment using Fast ForWord.
What improvements have you noticed with the students using the program?
We’ve noticed a difference in the concentration levels, the ability to sit still through an entire session. We receive reports from other aides and teachers that their concentration levels are better; the parents are saying they are seeing changes in their boys at home. Some of the students are now a lot more confident, some from last year are doing much better in the classroom; they don’t need as much assistance. [Fast ForWord] has helped them, definitely. The boy with an intellectual impairment using Fast ForWord—he’s working through it slowly, but he loves it. His graph line is going up. Some of the boys—who were on the program because their literacy levels were low—we realised needed glasses or their hearing and auditory processing checked. Fast ForWord helped us to identify problems and tell parents what needed to be done. Otherwise, it would have taken longer to identify these problems. We’ve got students with significant language problems on the program who don’t fit under the speech and language impairment category—it’s boosted these students’ self-esteem and they are now willing to take risks. They used to say, “I can’t do this, it’s too difficult.” We have boys who are 14 and cannot read and cannot write. Now, they’re actually putting pen to paper and spelling phonetically. This is the first time they’ve felt confident enough to try anything like this.
Tell us about the support you got from Sonic Learning.
Great—any time we’ve needed help. They’re there every step of the way.
Do the kids like this program?
A lot of them do, yes. They have their favourites. This morning several boys were asking, “Can I see my report? Can I see where I am up to?” The whole way through they are watching their levels go up, saying “I’ve gone up a level”, or “I’ve got a new high score.” Some of the boys if they play up and aren’t concentrating, we tell them, “You will be going back to class!” Then they say, “no, no, no, I want to do FastForWord!”
Would you recommend Fast ForWord to other schools?
Yes! [Fast ForWord’s] reporting [system] is great. There’s so much there you can analyse if you are looking for a problem with a particular student. If you are wondering why a student isn’t progressing, there’s a lot of ways to find out why. I challenge those who are hesitant to try it. See what it does—unless you try it, you can’t make a comment [on whether it works].
Northpine Christian College, QLD Interview with Linda Hunter, Learning Support teacher and Fast ForWord Coordinator
In 2013 and 2014, Northpine Christian College in Queensland has enrolled some of their struggling students—from Year 1 to 11—in the Fast ForWord program. Sonic Learning spoke with Linda Hunter, Learning Support teacher and Fast ForWord Coordinator about their Fast ForWord experience.
Why did your school decide to use the Fast ForWord program? I was quite familiar with [Fast ForWord] – when the trial opportunity came along I jumped at it. It was an opportunity to expose the other staff to Fast ForWord so they could see the benefits.
How did you select the children to go on the program? Initially we chose students with learning and reading difficulties that we wanted to give a bit of a push. We chose ones we thought would persevere with the program – regular attenders who were already putting in effort. A lot of these students prior to Fast ForWord had been putting in a lot of effort, with very little to show for it. We approached the parents and said, “Here’s the benefits as we see them, are you interested?” We had, I think, a 98% percent success rate of parents agreeing to it.
What learning difficulties did they have? We chose ASD children, ADHD children, some with Dyslexia. We chose some who had never been diagnosed with anything, but clearly had learning problems.
What improvements have you noticed with the students using the program? Some of our students, instead of taking six months to go up a colour level in the PM Reading Assessment, are now able to do it in one term. Some we’ve noticed are able to focus better and are more positive about their learning. A lot of parents are telling us their children’s attitude has changed – they’re trying harder, they’re concentrating longer.
Tell us about the support you got from Sonic Learning. Brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of the support, I think they never sleep! They make sure the people using the program get support.
Do the kids like this program? They do like it. The initial lure of half an hour off is incredibly attractive, but then they realise, “This is hard, I have to think!” Fast ForWord has very good protocols and systems to help them get over the “humps” when they find it difficult. All it takes is one student to get on the next game to fire them all up to try harder. “I want to get on the next game too!” and off they go again. The reports and charts are very good, because you can show the kids they only have to do this much more, and then they’ll be on to new games. It works, it keeps them going.
Would you recommend Fast ForWord to other schools? Yes, definitely. I think the flexibility of how you can set it up for your school – in terms of numbers of students, and even flexible payments – makes it very attractive for schools to do. As for the cost, I would say to parents that tutoring, on a per week basis, is far more expensive than Fast ForWord – and with Fast ForWord, you receive regular reports on how your child is doing.
Burnett State College, QLD Frances Conroy, Teacher, wanted to improve literacy outcomes for her students
“We are running Fast ForWord again next year,” says Frances.
“Our school decided to run the Fast ForWord program with eleven Year 9 students for the first half of the year and ten Year 8 students for the second half of the year.
“Our goal was to improve literacy outcomes. The training data we received coupled with NAPLAN results firmly established the positive impact that Fast ForWord had on our students’ learning.”
Townsville State High School, QLD Denise Reeves talks about their Fast ForWord experience
During 2013, Townsville State High School enrolled 20 students, from years 8 to 12, in the Fast ForWord program. Sonic Learning spoke to Year 12 teacher and Fast ForWord Coach Denise Reeves.
Denise, why did your school decide to use the Fast ForWord program? We have a lot of students with literacy problems and low self esteem – and with students who have ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] I wanted something that could unlock their communication problems. Another teacher sent some research my way [about Fast ForWord] and I thought, “maybe we should look into it.”
How did you select the children to go on the program? What learning difficulties did they have? We took some students who have English as a second language, students from our special needs program, and some students who have a speech language impairment. We had one student with ADHD who also had a lot of social and emotional difficulties. He was the number one student I wanted to see if the program could make a difference for.
What improvements have you noticed with the students using the program? Oh, heaps! So many. I had my Fast ForWord students PROBE tested before and after the program – they had all risen two levels. Our student with a speech language impairment (for whom English is a second language) is now speaking more clearly and can hold longer conversations. The student who has autism is more confident now – he’s tackling more words, his decoding has improved, as has his fluency. Our student with ADHD was a challenge at first. But I asked him if he had enjoyed the program – with tears in his eyes, he said “Yes!” By the end of the program, we found he could sit through most of the exercises – for up to 70 minutes – and pay attention. Another student with literacy problems asked me to read a passage to him – but my aide said “no, you can read this now!” So he did!
Tell us about the support you got from Sonic Learning. Great! The support has been fabulous.
Do the kids like this program? I’ve asked my students if they like the program, and they’ve said “I really like it and it’s improved me.”
Would you recommend Fast ForWord to other schools? Yes. Definitely. I got a lot of positive feedback when I rang other schools for advice about Fast ForWord, and now I’m giving positive feedback to others.
Have you tried the Reading Assistant program for any students? Yes – our student with autism who had very low literacy has tried it. We thought we’d give it a go with him – he found it really helped him. He just wanted to finish it!
Arahoe School, NZ Richard Limberick, Principal, used Fast ForWord as part of a learning support program
As a school, we were looking for programs that would support children who we saw as underachieving in the literacy area … we see Fast ForWord as an added advantage to sessional classroom reading … it works for us, and I’ve got no doubt that if it’s implemented in similar ways, it’ll work for all kids.
Kawungan State School, QLD Rachel Burke, Teacher, was very impressed by Fast ForWord's results
After finding out about Fast ForWord’s impressive track record, I jumped through hoops to run the program in our school. We finally managed to enrol a group of 20 students by approaching parents for funding.
Our goal was to improve general classroom performance and we mainly targeted students with auditory processing and phonological awareness weaknesses as well as students with reading and attention difficulties.
We followed Sonic Learning’s direction to implement the program well and were very impressed with the results. Next year we are again running the program with 20 students.
Westminster Junior Primary School, WA Peter Mulcahy, Principal, talks about their Fast ForWord experience
“The post assessments showed marked improvements in phonological awareness,” says Peter Mulcahy, principal.
“It’s hard to name one thing I like about the program most but one thing was the joy on the kids faces, the joy of the staff working with the kids, the sense of achievement that they got from seeing children succeed,”
Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, QLD Joanne, Teacher, reports on how Fast ForWord helped one of her students
“This program has turned his attitude around in all his learning areas,” says Joanne.
“[He] started [Fast ForWord] 8 weeks ago. He was highly motivated to be involved in the program from day one.
“The first couple of days he came back to class saying ‘My brain hurts!’ He has always been behind in reading and spelling and was a very reluctant writer.
“The biggest change came two weeks ago when he happily sat down and wrote a full A4 page of a story without any help or reluctance to do the work – which is usually what happens. I would be lucky to get 3 – 4 lines from him in the past, and this was often impossible to understand. He was so happy with his efforts and happily sat down with me to edit his work. He even recognised some of his spelling mistakes and didn’t always need my help to fix them.
“A remarkable turn around. Happy child, parents and teacher.”
Santa Maria College, WA Andrea Dopson, Teacher, wanted to help struggling students
“We decided to trial the program with a group of five students who were experiencing a range of learning difficulties stemming from weak working memory and slow processing,” Andrea told Sonic Learning.
“We found out about the Fast ForWord program after a member of our staff attended a seminar by Dr Martha Burns last year.
“We were very satisfied with the results achieved by this small group which has prompted us to enrol a larger group next year.”
Wynn Vale R-7 School, SA
A group of students aged 11-13 showed significant improvements in auditory processing skills after participating in the Fast ForWord program, with the group moving into the normal range on all measures.
On every area of the curriculum assessed by the NAPLAN assessment, the average growth from year 3 to year 5 of all the students who had completed Fast ForWord was greater than the average growth of the students who had not completed the program.
Click the image to the right to see inside the Yorkwoods Fast ForWord computer lab.
“The students are enjoying what they’re doing, and they’re working hard.”
“I’ve been in special ed for about 30 years, I’ve never seen a program like this…when a student starts to falter, we can see right away…I think the Fast ForWord program is spectacular.” – Robert Lines, Teacher
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