Friday, November 9, 2012

Update on a previous story....

A while ago I posted here and here about our kids' school purchasing the Fast ForWord program to use with some of the kids who have learning difficulties.

I did end up discussing the concerns I had with the school principal. I gave him a copy of the independent systematic literature review I found that suggested it wasn't the cure-all that it claims to be. He agreed with me at the time that it was a lot of money to be spending if it wasn't something that could be proved to work any better than regular remedial programs. I hoped he might pass the information on, and said I was happy to chat to the learning support teachers to find out more about where they were coming from. I've had a good relationship with them both in the past so I didn't think that would be too threatening.

I heard nothing further, although I did wonder what had come out of it all, given that they already had the funding earmarked for it and it didn't seem likely they could just use the money for something different.

Then yesterday the school newsletter came home with a picture of the learning support teacher, a teacher's aide (who is running the program) and five students, all wearing headphones and in front of a laptop computer. Together with a story about the great new Fast ForWord program they are all working on (every day for a 50 minute session) based on years of neuroscience research. They appear to be using it mostly with older kids. I recognised a couple of Year 5s in the photo that accompanied the story. So I'm guessing these are the kids who have been chronic non-responders to more conventional remedial programs for reading difficulties.

At the end of the story, there was this quote which I assume came from the school's policies somewhere:

"We value all of our students' capabilities and strive to support individuals' learning needs by sourcing resources from new and different angles."

Sigh. I guess there was never any way they weren't going to run with it. But I'm a bit disappointed that I never heard anything back after I had screwed up all my courage to raise questions I had about it.

I hope it works for these kids. Fifty minutes a day, five days a week, is a lot of withdrawal time from their regular curriculum. The report from the teacher's aide was that "even though the program is in its early stages, the students are showing upward trends and moving forward successfully." Hard to know what that means. I guess most kids would enjoy getting taken out of class and allowed to play games on the computer for almost an hour each day. The big question that probably can't be answered yet is whether or not that translates to improvements with their reading skills.

Next year, I am going to be working for a couple of days a week on a short term contract supervising a group of Uni students to run occupational therapy groups in a school. Now I am all the more determined to make sure that what I am encouraging them to do is actually based on solid evidence. No dodgy interventions here.


Helen said...

The problem is an LST doesn't have the skills to remediate an auditory processing disorder for 50 minutes one on one time 5 days a week. A computer does it more easily. Fastforword isn't dodgy, just not necessarily better - unfortunately it's more practical.

Karen said...

Yeah, I do get that it's much easier to sit them in front of a computer. And perhaps it works out as being more cost-effective over a longer period of time than paying a therapist or LST to work with the kid one on one.

But my understanding from reading the meta-analysis was that in some areas kids actually ended up worse after doing Fast ForWord compared with controls or other treatments? That couldn't be a good thing.

I haven't personally seen it used though. Have you come across it in practice before anywhere?