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‘Fast ForWording’ student reading fluency in Lawrence

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A reading program that the Lawrence School District implemented last May has propelled 207 students in grades first through eighth to impressive progress focusing on comprehension and fluency.

Described as a language and intervention literacy program, Fast ForWord targets the root causes of reading and language difficulty to make for better readers and lifelong learners, according to Lisa Tariq, director of special programs for the Lawrence School District, who presented information on the program during the Feb. 8 Board of Education meeting.

“It is truly rewarding and remarkable to see how much progress our learners have made in the area of reading during a global pandemic,” Tariq told the Herald. “Our learners have overcome the challenges with this new way of learning and have embraced this new program to learn to read.”

Using the Fast ForWord program, the Lawrence readers have shown marked improvement as 53 percent of students have gained up to a half a year in reading; 25 percent of students have gained six months to a year; and a combined 20 percent have gained 1.1 to 1.5 years.

“Administrators even created Google Classroom ‘book clubs’ by grade-level to ignite the excitement of this new reading program, while supporting usage of the program to its entirety,” Tariq said. “We also continued implementation of program, remotely, throughout the entire summer, to ensure fidelity with the implementation of the program.”

Fast ForWord aims to help students with disabilities, struggling readers and English language learners, and to teach and enhance reading skills such as the alphabet, grammar, phonics and vocabulary, and to strengthen cognizant skills, including attention, processing, sequencing and working memory.

“We were exploring programs, looking for what we could do to bring additional help to the kids,” Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said. “We had to think about the students falling behind. It was no small feat to bring in a brand new program [during the pandemic]. We mailed home the headphones. It was a collaborative effort.”

Reading Assistant, a program component uses patented technology,” Tariq said in her presentation, “that listens to each word as it is read aloud and delivers immediate support whenever a learner struggles with or mispronounces a word; reinforcing newly learned reading skills, providing the confidence and the ability to meet reading challenges.”

With the idea to decrease what Tariq called the “achievement gap,” the program helps teachers track student progress toward the grade level goals and expectations and serve the students who are below grade level. Fast ForWord can be accessed at home or in school for both the hybrid and remote learners.

“This program is only one methodology of many, implemented for our learners here in Lawrence,” Tariq said. “Students in grades nine to 12 also receive ongoing support through a wide variety of methodologies implemented in the district, as do the students who are on this Fast ForWord program as well."

The program’s other goals include teaching students to follow directions, boost self-esteem and improve listening and communication skills and overall academic performance.

Another goal is to have students use it up to five days a week for 30 minutes per day. Since May, students have reading aloud for an average of 43 minutes per week, Tariq said.

“We always go back to our mission statement, and we aim to ensure that all of our learners reach their highest individual potential, through an academically rigorous educational system that inspires life-long learning,” she said.

Do you have an opinion on the Fast ForWord program? Send your letter to jbessen@liherald.com.