Software offers key to reading success

Children are often told, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But what if you still don’t succeed?

This was the dilemma facing Liberty Public Schools (MO). Through the district’s Teach, Assist and Practice (TAP) program, paraprofessionals provided daily one-on-one tutoring to struggling readers in elementary school. The challenge was that after one, two or even three 10-week sessions, many students still needed intervention. “Our students were ‘TAPped out’ — and still did not have the reading skills they needed to succeed,” said Dr. Barbara Wippich, curriculum and instruction intervention coordinator.

To tackle the underlying causes for reading failure, the district shifted its focus from developing reading skills to developing the processing skills students need to read and learn effectively. Using test scores and teacher recommendations, students were assigned to work on a software program called Fast ForWord®. Developed by Scientific Learning, the software provides struggling readers with computer-delivered exercises that build memory, attention, processing rate and sequencing skills.

“We’ve always had intervention programs but there are some children we just couldn’t connect with. This is the key that has allowed us to unlock students’ potential, particularly for those students we were not able to reach before,” said Wippich. “Our struggling students have not only learned to read but to enjoy reading, which is something they will carry with them forever.”

Technology’s impact on student learning goes even deeper at Franklin Elementary, the district’s first school to implement another software program called Reading Assistant™. The software uses speech recognition technology to “listen” to each child as he or she reads aloud. Readers are helped with interactive resources, immediate feedback on errors, and private playback.

“There were several children in grades 3-5 who could read, but not with fluency — and that’s where we saw tremendous growth,” said Wippich. “Students can hear themselves read a passage and then immediately hear what it should sound like. It’s like a having another teacher for each of our students.”

Over the last three years, the district has achieved steady gains on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) and Franklin Elementary has achieved even greater gains. From 2008 to 2009, the percentage of Franklin students scoring at the proficient level or above jumped from 65 percent to 82 percent in communication arts, and from 69 percent to 80 percent in mathematics. In addition, teachers tell Wippich that students are more focused and attentive in all their classes.

“We’re very excited with the results we’ve seen in students — the change in attitude, increase in self-esteem, ability to focus, and ability to remember,” said Wippich. “Students realize that they are indeed bright and can learn.”