Let's Have a Summer Brain Gain - Not a Summer Brain Drain

I had the pleasure of having a chat with Hallie Smith, the Senior Director of Marketing at SciLearn, the organization that started Fast ForWord (FFW) and Reading Assistant. As the summer is coming up, it’s the perfect time to enroll your kid in FFW and avoid the dreaded “summer gap.” Hallie, who is also a speech pathologist, shared her thoughts on FFW, and how it can benefit kids at L2F.

1.       What makes FFW so beneficial for kids who struggle with reading?

I’ve worked in the school system before, and saw kids who had such weak phonics and sound processing. Their speech was poor, and they had such a hard time putting certain sounds in order. I wondered, “How am I possibly going to be able to address this on my own as a person, just one on one with a kid?” They were so far behind, and in the regular school system, there aren’t very many opportunities for intervention. And, I found that Fast ForWord focuses on the sound skills, the root of reading, which is the most basic skill for reading, while also covering the breadth of the reading ability.

2.       Can you share some examples?

So, there are these different skills that FFW uses, at the same time in different ways. Skills like being able to “Touch the red circle after the blue square.” Just that simple exercise means you have to understand sequence, have attention skills and look at the screen. There’s another exercise where you have to touch “me” out of “me, bee, and sea.” You have to listen to the sound that matches the first sound of the word and match it. It’s a sound corresponding exercise.

You start with hearing and understanding the differences between sounds, and FFW builds up from there, to higher level skills like spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.

I like to use the example of losing stomach fat and getting fit: you have to do cardio, cross train, lift weights, diet and do core work. You can’t just do one thing – you need to have a lot of different skills to get fit. It’s the same way with reading.

3.       That’s amazing. What are some other things you might want people to know about FFW?

What I think is sometimes missed in the story of FFW is that there is a difference between kids who struggle to read and typical readers. There’s something that needs to be changed in the brain, which you can see in a variety of ways. That’s what the neuroscientists found – there’s something different, not necessarily a weakness, but a difference in the way their brains process information.

Given these processing weaknesses, sometimes people think of FFW as a boost to these skills, to speed things up. But, at the core of FFW, and I believe what most parents care about, it’s not a boost, but it’s about fixing the problem. It’s about addressing underlying missing skills, such as memory and attention processing.

4.       Are these children who do FFW usually diagnosed with ADHD or autism?

Those are the most common diagnosis, but there are also kids who show weakness but they are not significant – the weaknesses aren’t significant enough for school system to address it and they are the children who are falling through the cracks.

5.       Why is the summer a great time to start FFW?

Kids are on break, so they have more time. Also, when kids aren’t doing anything during the summer, they lose skills even if they had made progress during school. It’s well-documented in research. During the summer, you can do 30 minutes to 50 minutes a day, really hit it hard, and your kids can continue to gain and not lose out. During the summer, you have more flexibility to do that.

6.       Do you have any advice for parents?

Find an intervention that would work with your schedule. One of the powerful things about using FFW is you can do it at home, so finding something that works in a family’s schedule AND legitimately research-based is great. Yes, there are lots of games, apps and approaches that people say work, but there is no research behind them. If you want to get real progress, you have to use something that is researched.