Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fast ForWord reading software

I'm not a fan of computer software as a tool for teaching my elder son. We've tried a lot of different packages over the years, but I think the cognitive burden of interacting with the software steals cycles from the key tasks. He does best when engaged with a teacher or therapist who genuinely likes him (he's very good at telling who likes him). He does less well learning with his parents, which I think is not unusual for any child.

On the other hand, we're stuck.

He's not making progress on his reading. I don't expect him to start reading Kant anytime soon, but I'd like to get to 4th grade level. At this rate we won't make it before adolescence hits.

So I'm ready to try something different. I like his school, but I think we've run through every trick in their books. We contacted a friend who occupies a chair in developmental pediatrics at some place in Boston, and he connected us up with a physician researcher with a particular interest in reading. She suggested a look at "Fast ForWord®". No, it's not "Fast ForWard". The very name is an exercise in phonetic reading. I misread it a dozen times before I parsed the letters.

We looked over the videos and I was not exactly thrilled. "Construction Pig" and the other cartoon characters are just right for a six year old who's having trouble keeping up with first grade, but they're pretty misplaced for a 10 yo who really wants to see Count Dooku being decapitated (no, he's not allowed to watch Star Wars II and III, but I think they show the damned movies at his after school program).

Unfortunately there's not much hope for improvement on that front -- my very generous de facto consultant talked with the scientist who created the program and she basically said it's "construction pig" or nothing -- until a student graduates to a high school level.

In other words, the social context for the software is matched to the reading level. The target group is obviously children who are falling behind (no child left behind), but who have not left the train completely. In other words, it's not designed for special needs children, it's designed for mainstream kids whose age level won't be too discordant from their reading level.


In one of my real lives I'm a software geek, and in another real life I'm a business guy. I think given a combination of grant money and business funding I could peel off the language engine from the presentation layer and, instead of having a moose spray paint food I could have a generic golfer (ok, he'd be asian-african but wouldn't look too much like anyone you know) whack the ball -- the better the reading, the longer the drive.

Unfortunately I'm still otherwise employed. Did I mention we're getting desperate?

We'll give a try. Maybe a promise to allow a viewing of Star Wars II will offset the demoralizing cartoons. The web site lists several providers in the Saint Paul area in 5-6 businesses:

Janet Jacobs, CCC-SLP
Associated Speech & Language Specialists

Sarah C Hanson M.A., CCC-SLP
Associated Speech and Language Specialists

Ms.Susan Imhoff, MA, CCC-SLP
Children's Hospitals and Clinics-Roseville

Diane Sineps
Partners for Effective Communication

Jessica Chamberlain MA CCC SLP
Family Achievement Center, Inc.

Shiloh Ricker MS,CCC-SLP & Jennifer Jensen MA,CCC-SLP
Family Achievement Center, Inc.

Jennifer Jensen MA. CCC SLP

I have heard about the Children's Hospital program but I think the waiting list is pretty severe. Any success will require a lot of chemistry, flexibility and inventiveness, so we'll do some visits to learn more.

I'll post on what we learn.

Update 12/18/08: We didn't pursue this one, but I've gotten a positive review from a trusted parent source. So we're looking again.


susan said...

John: I have been a Fast ForWord provider for 9 years at Children's Hospitals of Minnesota and have worked with at least 15 children with special needs who have benefitted from the language and reading programs. I agree that the reading program that you viewed has graphics that are childlike,but there are 2 new programs for middle and highschool students with spaceage graphics that are very appealing. I have 2 highschool special needs clients right now who love the graphics and can't wait to get to the next program. I am not a Star Wars fan, but the graphics remind me of Star Wars. The programs you should check out are "Literacy" and "Literacy Advanced" on the Scilearn website. If you have questions I would be happy to be contacted by email.

salvo1279 said...

Hi John: As I am currently researching the product, I really would like some feedback on any outcomes you may have had. Did you implement? If not, was the decision financial (Estimated costs), or as a result of personal research? If you did, did you find an improvement?