A New Zealand School Found Fast ForWord & Helped Struggling Students

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Peter Barnes
Learning Difficulties, Fast ForWord, Learning Capacity Success Stories, Podcasts, For Principals

Welbourn_Primary.jpgSasha Scott, reading recovery teacher at Welbourn Primary School in New Zealand, was troubled.

She and the school’s associate principal, Jenny, were puzzled why, year after year, there was always a group of students that never seemed to make the progress they should.

Sasha told The Learning Capacity Podcast, “The teachers have all done the very best that they can with what they know. But year on year, those same children pop up again. What could we do differently for these kids, because obviously what we were doing wasn't meeting their needs?”

Searching for a solution for students who were struggling


So Sasha and her colleague went in search of a solution. Their research lasted a year. They searched the Internet, read numerous books, including Norman Doidge's book 'The Brain that Changes Itself', reviewed journal articles, and spoke to other educators.

“It was a really quite in depth year of researching the brain.” said Sasha.

Why Fast ForWord was selected

Prompted by their research and especially by a description of the Fast ForWord program in 'The Brain that Changes Itself', they decided to do the free, online training about the program.

Sasha commented, “We found the training really fascinating. The different issues and things that it claimed to help the children with and the characteristics of certain children it helped reflected the kids we were concerned about. So we thought this looks like it's worth giving a shot for these kids.”

Sasha told The Learning Capacity Podcast that they also saw other compelling reasons to try Fast ForWord, These included:

  • The research that's gone into it’s development
  • The evidence that supports it’s effectiveness
  • The fact that the eminent neuroscientist, Dr Michael Merzenich, had a part in it’s creation
  • The involvement of Dr Paula Tallal, whose work on language disorders was incorporated into the program design

Presentation to the school board

Sasha and Jenny presented the results of their research to the school’s board and got approval for 10 students to complete the neuroscience-based exercises.

The results were great. “Everyone has been so impressed with the progress these children have made. Next year we are going to be doing 20 children. So we'll be doubling the number of kids that we'll be able to put through the program. It's really exciting,” said Sasha.

Students experienced what success feels like

Sasha described what happened for the students and the reactions from their teachers and parents.

“We noticed quite early their ability to pay better attention and their boost in confidence. For a lot of these kids, it was the first time they had experienced what success feels like and certainly how putting effort in can result in success.”

“The children's demeanor seems to have changed and a lot of the staff have noticed they seemed to walk with their head held higher. These were the sort of kids who would usually walk with their head down and try to not be noticed. Or find ways around not doing stuff or find ways around not interacting.”

“And they now seem more alert and engaged and will hold a conversation and some of them will often instigate the conversation rather than avoiding it. Their memory has improved; their ability to follow instruction has improved.”

The parents noticed changes too. Sasha got comments from them like:

  • ‘She seemed more mature’
  • ‘He can stick at things for longer’
  • ‘Gives things a go that he wouldn't have attempted before’
  • ‘Speaks more clearly’ now'

And some of the students commented that they can listen better and that they understand what's going on better after doing Fast ForWord.

Sasha concluded, “It's such a neat feeling to know that the world has become a little bit clearer for them now.”

Listen to the podcast to hear more about how Sasha implemented the program, including how the students used iPads, the scheduling of the training sessions, the data available from the program and her thoughts about expanding Fast ForWord in 2016 and 2017.