Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Program helps students Fast ForWord learning

March 28, 2007

The Basehor-Linwood school district offers a research-based computer program that trains the brain for faster and better learning.

And it got a boost this year.

Jennifer Gilbert, coordinator for the program called Fast ForWord at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, talked about the program with school board members earlier this month.

"We have Fast ForWord available across the district," she said. "It's a computer-based training system that helps people of all ages and learning abilities improve language, reading and learning skills."

Fast ForWord takes a "neuroscience approach to reading intervention" and was designed by neuroscientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and Rutgers University, Gilbert said. The program builds Learning M.A.P.S. or memory, attention, processing and sequencing, which are the underlying skills needed for the cognitive process of reading and learning.

Students visit Gilbert in her classroom during the school day or in the computer lab for a before-school program from 7:50 to 8:50 a.m. Monday through Friday to complete their exercises.

"We start with students who are right at or below reading level," Gilbert said about students using the Fast ForWord program. "Then, it's open to pretty much anybody who wants to come in."

While Fast ForWord programs are available through the high school level, the district offers them up through middle school. They include four different product levels. Gilbert said the game-like setting helps entertain children as they learn.

Younger students such as kindergarteners and first-graders start with Fast ForWord Basics, which focuses on such skills as pattern recognition, hand-eye coordination, color and shape identification and sound sequencing while helping the younger children adapt to using a computer.

Each level progressively becomes more difficult and includes Fast ForWord Language, Language to Reading and Reading 3. Skill sets range from listening comprehension and memory to vocabulary and spelling. Each exercise within each level targets a different skill and a different part of the brain, Gilbert said.

Each level can take anywhere from six to 12 weeks to finish, depending on the student.

"We try to complete two levels in one school year," she said.

While students used to be able to pass a skill level with an overall percentage, allowing high scores on some exercises and lower scores on others, the program, updated this year, requires a certain score on each exercise to pass the level. This ensures students are successfully learning all of the skills presented to them equally.

Fast ForWord coordinators can track students' daily progress and the program's progress tracker flags students to let teachers know when they are ready to move onto the next level. Students can also track their own progress.

"Each student has their own personal notebook so they can see where they need to be to complete their level," Gilbert said.

Students record their scores each day in their notebooks and receive a star on a note card each time they beat their own personal score. Once they have beaten this score three times, they receive a prize. Gilbert said she used funds from a Teacher Incentive Grant she received this year to purchase items for a Fast ForWord Reward Shop set up in her classroom. Improved scores earn students "money" they can spend in the shop. The incentive program, Gilbert said, motivates students to stay on task and continue moving forward.

Gilbert said she would be sending a letter to parents of younger children at GRES shortly in an effort to involve more students in the program.

"I love being a part in helping students succeed," she said.

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