Psycholinguistics/Case Study: FastForward

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Introduction[edit]

Scientific Learning is a company that provides educational ‘brain fitness’ software to schools K-12, educational institutions, learning centers and speech language clinics worldwide. One of the programs offered by this company is Fast ForWord, a computer training program. The Fast ForWord Language series is designed to help build the foundations that are necessary for success in reading as well as other language skills in elementary students. The Fast ForWord Literacy series is designed to help readers in middle school and high school who are struggling with reading. The Fast ForWord Reading series is a reading intervention program that is designed to increase processing efficiency and critical reading skills.

Research that led to the development of the Fast ForWord program[edit]

It has been shown that difficulties in perceiving the temporal aspects of auditory stimuli are central to language-learning difficulties and later reading difficulties. Fast ForWord was developed on the basis of two underlying assumptions

  1. Language-learning impairments are caused by deficits in the ability to process temporal information [1].
  2. Speech modification algorithms are built into the program that help jump start critical language learning processes by remodelling the brain to better perceive rapid temporal changes in sounds [1].

A temporal processing deficit is characterized by difficulty recognizing and sequencing rapidly presented auditory and visual information. This deficit is common in children with language-learning impairments and can be seen as early as the first year of life. Temporal processing deficits might be caused by faulty learning systems that could be inherited from the parents as well as the use of perceptual learning strategies that involve limited use of the temporal information available in the environment Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many. It has been demonstrated that children with learning difficulties have problems judging the order of auditory stimuli unless the spaces between the stimuli are greatly increased and exaggerated. Children with learning problems have difficulty perceiving stop consonants and fricatives, but are relatively good at telling the differences between vowel sounds, unless the vowel is immediately followed by another acoustic stimulus. Vowels are easier to perceive than consonants because they have a longer sound duration [2]. Children with learning problems have more trouble in processing sequences of three or more sounds, even when the duration between the stimuli has been increased.

These findings were the basis of the development of the Fast ForWord program. The games were designed to lengthen and exaggerate the phonemes that were found to be difficult for children with language impairment. The games provide practice in discriminating tones with decreasing spaces between stimuli [2].

How does it work?[edit]

The intervention program was developed with the previous research in mind. The idea behind the program is to train students to differentiate between stimuli on the basis of short auditory cues. There are seven games that make up the Fast ForWord computer based program. The games incorporate acoustically modified speech in exercises to improve language skills of students with language impairments. This helps the students to discriminate subtle sounds differences. Several games address phonological awareness, which is a skill that has been suggested as necessary for most children when learning to read [2]. Students are required to play five games each day as automatically determined by the software. It is expected that students will play the system for 100 minutes a day. After the student plays the games accurately, several times in a row, the software will move the student up to the next level. The software keeps track of the student's progress so that the level of play is challenging and interesting [2]. Each game has five levels. The first level of each game incorporates auditory stimuli that have been electronically altered. These sounds have been enhanced so that they are easily understood by children with language difficulties. Each level reduces the amount of altering on the sounds and eventually, in the fifth level, the sounds are that of normal speech [2].

The Circus Sequence[edit]

In this game the student reproduces the order of a two-tone sequence of high and low pitch sounds. This games targets the rate of processing and temporal spacing skills [2]. Students are trained to discriminate between a sequence of two tones which are separated by a specified interval. As the child progresses through the levels, the interval between the sounds become less pronounced, and more similar to everyday speech [3].


Old MacDonald's Flying Farm[edit]

In this game the student clicks the mouse as nonsense syllables are produced by farm animals, and releases the mouse button only when a target syllable is displayed. This teaches the students to distinguish phonemic sound changes [2].

Phoneme Identification[edit]

In this game the student listens to a target nonsense syllable followed by two subsequent productions, and then identifies the syllable that matches the target [2]. This game teaches students to identify specific phonemes. The student hears a stimulus which is one of a pair. The animal characters then vocalize either the matching syllable or other foil syllables. The student must then try to match the stimulus to the matching pair. In each level, the interval between sounds becomes progressively shorter, as well as varying degrees of speech length [3].

Phonic Match[edit]

In this game the student clicks on one of many cells to find nonsense syllables that are identical sounds. When these sounds are clicked in succession, the matched pairs disappear until all the cells are gone. This game reinforces memory and reasoning skills within nonsense syllables that differ only by a single phoneme [2].


Phonic Word[edit]

In this game a student listens to a word while looking at two pictures of words which differ by only one sound. The student then clicks the picture corresponding to the word heard. This game teaches phoneme and word recognition for words that differ by a single phoneme [2]. This game challenges students to distinguish between words that differ only by an initial or final consonant. In each successive level, the speech length is shortened from its greatly altered state in the first level to a state that is more like normal speech [3]

Block Commander[edit]

This game teaches students to listen and respond to directions with an increasing number of salient features. Multiple mouse clicks and the manipulation of electronic game pieces of varying color and shape are necessary to complete the task. This game teaches listening comprehension and syntax through the use of simple sentences [2].

Language Comprehension Builder[edit]

In this game students listen to phrases or sentences of increasing length and syntactic complexity. Students must click one of two-to-four picture choices corresponding with the production heard auditorily. This introduces increasingly complex sentences to develop higher-level language skills, including morphology, syntax and grammar [2].

Support[edit]

Research completed by Scientific Learning[edit]

Scientific Learning (2004) published a study including 452 elementary students in 9 U. S. school districts participated in a Fast ForWord study. All students who participated were identified as being "at-risk" by their teachers. All students scored below grade average on levels of performance, language comprehension and phonological ability. 288 students received the treatment measure of a computer based training program while 164 of the students served as the control group. Students were required to work at the training exercises for 100 minutes a day for about 30 school days. Students who completed the training showed an improvement in speech reception and comprehension, phonological awareness that is necessary to initiate reading, as well as other language and behavioural measures. It was found that more than 70% of the group that received the training showed a significant increase in language comprehension, with an average of 1.8 years in language age advancement over their pre-training scores. This study claims that with early, intensive computer-based training in speech recognition and language comprehension, deficits in language skills can be reduced and possibly corrected [3].

Scientific Learning (2006) published a study in which the Fast ForWord program was introduced into a school curriculum. Ten kindergarten students of Native American descent participated in this study. All participants were tested using the Test of Phonological Awareness (TOPA) before and after using the program. The results showed that the use of the Fast ForWord program successfully helped the students improve their early reading skills along with improvements in phonological awareness and letter-to-sound recognition [4].

Scientific Learning company (2008) studied the effectiveness of the Fast ForWord program in the classroom over a four year period. The participants were 828 high school students in many schools in the Dallas Independent School District. Students used the programs from the beginning of the 2004 school year to the end of the 2007 school year. Their reading abilities were assessed using the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). After using Fast ForWord products, it was discovered that struggling readers had been able to make progress to close the achievement gap between themselves and skilled readers. After comparing the results of this study with other students across the nation, it was discovered that the gap had decreased by almost 25% [5].

Scientific Learning (2008) published a study showing the effect of the Fast ForWord programs on students in a middle school setting. Students were placed in either a control group or an experimental group. Students used the program from the start of the 2005 school year to the end of the 2007 school year. They were tested on their reading abilities using the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) before and after the use of the Fast ForWord program. It was found that participants who were in the control group were able to improve their scores on these tests and maintain their improvements over the two year span [6].

Scientific Learning Corporation (2009) studied students from the Clarke County School District during the 2006-2007 school year. They found that students who had used the Fast ForWord programs made greater gains in reading achievement than students in the comparison group regardless of starting english proficiency, special education status or socioeconomic status. These results were replicated the following year. 40% of students who were not proficient in 2006 were considered to be proficient in the 2007 replication study. This is a great increase when compared to the 27% of the comparison group who were able to cross the same threshold [7].

Scientific Learning (2010) investigated the longitudinal English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies achievement of elementary and middle school students who used Fast ForWord products between the years of 2003 and 2010. This study found that from 2006-2010, English/Language Arts proficiency rose from 59% to 78%, Math proficiency levels rose from 59% to 79%, Science proficiency rose from 53% to 69%, and Social Studies proficiency rose from 59% to 72% in the 4th grade. These increases were also seen in 8th grade students, except that the increases were not as great as those of the 4th graders. It was also found that the grade completion rate of 4th graders increased from 65% to 85% during these years [8].

Research completed outside of Scientific Learning[edit]

Fey et al. (2010) examined whether Fast ForWord was effective as an adjuvant treatment when paired with a narrative based language intervention (NBLI). 23 students participated in this study and were assigned to one of three different groups. The first group received training with the Fast ForWord program followed by the NBLI, the second group received training with the NBLI followed by the Fast ForWord program and the third group observed a wait period followed by only the training NBLI. After 5 weeks of training within their programs, both the NBLI/Fast ForWord and Fast ForWord/NBLI outperformed the third group [9].

The Journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology (2003) tested the Fast ForWord program in a sample of students in grades 1 through 6. Students were placed in either the control or experimental group. They were tested before and after the 4-8 week treatment period. Students in the treatment group showed gains in expressive oral language after using Fast ForWord. Students who showed the poorest abilities going into the study were the ones who showed the most gain. These students showed improvement in expressive oral language, syllable and sound blending, and a reduction in problem behaviours. It was concluded from this study that Fast ForWord had a positive but limited impact on students reading ability [10].

Troia (2004) tested students in elementary school who were native spanish speakers. Students were assigned to either a treatment or control group. Students were tested before and after the treatment on spoken english proficiency, oral language competency, phonological awareness, basic reading skills, and classroom behaviour. Students in the treatment group showed gains in sight-word recognition. Students who were the least fluent in English showed the most gains by using this program. These students showed greater gains in expressive language, sight-word recognition, and pseudoword decoding. This study had the same basic conclusions as the previous study [11].

Loeb (2009) examined the efficacy of Fast ForWord compared to two other interventions for improving the phonemic awareness and reading skills of students with specific language impairment as well as other reading difficulties. 103 students participated in this study. All students who participated in this study had a language impairment and reading difficulties. Students were divided into treatment groups and either received Fast ForWord treatment, a computerized-assisted language intervention, an individualized language intervention or an attention control computer program. It was found that children in the experimental groups made greater gains in blending sounds in words compared to the attention control group. After being retested in 6 months, there was no longer a significant increase but a medium effect size for blending words sounds [12].

Problems/Criticisms[edit]

Some research has provided a critical opinion of the Fast ForWord Program. These studies may make us wonder if the claims made by the company are greater than they should be. Some of these studies are summarized below.


Gillam et al (2008) published a study regarding the efficacy of the Fast ForWord program. This study was meant to compare the language and auditory abilities in those who participated in the Fast ForWord program to those who received nonspecific or specified language intervention. 216 students participated in this study and were assigned to one of four groups: Fast ForWord, academic enrichment, computer assisted language intervention, or individualized language intervention provided by a speech pathologist. All students received their intervention method for 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Language and auditory processing were tested before and immediately after treatment, as well as 3 months and 6 months after treatment was completed. It was found that students in all four groups benefited from the treatment they received. Students in the Fast ForWord group did not show a greater improvement then students in the other groups [13].

Borman and Benson (2009) implemented a randomized field trial to eight urban schools. Students from each school participated in this study, using the Fast ForWord system. Analysis of the literacy outcomes of second and seventh grade students who were more generally at risk for poor reading and language outcomes were performed. There were some problems with the implementation of the program in the field setting with this study. It was found that, in general, the Fast ForWord program did not help students in these eight schools improve their language and reading comprehension test scores [14].

Pokorni (2004) tested the effectiveness of three different programs: Fast ForWord, Earobics, and LiPS. The authors randomly assigned 60 students with language and reading deficits to 1 of 3 interventions. During a summer school program, the students received three one-hour daily intervention sessions. Measures of phonological awareness, language and reading related skills were collected and analyzed. Earobics and LiPS were associated with gains on phonological awareness measures after 6 weeks of intervention therapy. No effects were found on language and reading measures in any of the groups [15].

Hook, Macaruso and Jones (2001) explored the effects of Fast ForWord training on reading and spoken language skills in students with reading difficulties. Students who were trained with Fast ForWord were compared with students who were trained with Orton Gillingham training. Both groups made similar gains in phonemic awareness, however students who trained with Fast ForWord did not show significant gains in word attack whereas students who were training with Orton Gillingham training did show significant improvements. Fast ForWord students showed gains in speaking and syntax immediately after training, but these gains were not maintained over a two year period [16].


Other papers take a critical review stance on the effectiveness of the Fast ForWord program. Some of these arguments are summarized below.


Fast ForWord is a very expensive program. The majority of the cost comes from the need to purchase a software license from Scientific Learning Corporation, in addition to paying the fees of a trained professional who must administer the program [2].

Many of the studies that have been cited earlier talk about how well students who used Fast ForWord did with great increases in reading ability. A problem with these studies is that each study used a different test to determine the changes in reading abilities. This means that we should be mindful of the results as measurements are only as good as the instruments they are based on [2].

A concern, voiced by some speech-language pathologists, is that the program was made available to the public before its effectiveness could be fully determined and documented. Many parents will ask for the latest type of treatment, whether it has been proven or not [2].

Another common criticism of the Fast ForWord program is that it is therapy without direct involvement of a professional. This program does not claim to be able to correct all problems associated with reading and must be taken for those claims. This program is not a substitute for professional training [2].

Learning Activities[edit]

The activities that follow are meant to supplement the information above and reinforce the material. The first two activities are meant to get you thinking about the material above in a general way, and to test your knowledge. The final activity is meant to make you think a little deeper about the material and incorporate your own thoughts and opinions.

Scrambled Words[edit]

Using the clues provided, unscramble the word.


  1. hmnpeeo dfcnttniiaeiio - The game in which the student listens to a target nonsense syllable, and then identifies the match.
  2. xveenspei - Major concern with the Fast ForWord Program
  3. ecctsfiiin anrnlieg - Company that makes the Fast ForWord program
  4. noe ndheurd ntuisme - How long should students use the program per day?
  5. aiobserc & silp - What two program were associated with increases of phonological awareness measures over Fast ForWord
  6. cphsee-aeunalgg gtthsaloopi - Fast ForWord is administered by this Health Professional
  7. lptomera - Fast ForWord program was made based on research regarding this type of information processing deficit
  8. lvweso - Are vowels or consonants perceived better by children with learning disabilities?
  9. hgnollpiooca aanrseews - Several of the games in this program address this aspect of reading


Letter Blanks[edit]

Using the clues provided, find which word fits the letter spaces


  1. In what year of life can a temporal processing deficit be recognized? __ __ __ __ __
  2. Children with learning problems have difficulties perceiving what? __ __ __ __ . __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ & __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
  3. Children with learning problems have difficulties with sequences of how many or more words? __ __ __ __ __
  4. In the fifth level of each game, the sounds resemble what? __ __ __ __ __ __ . __ __ __ __ __ __
  5. This games is used to discriminate between two tones. The __ __ __ __ __ __ . __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __


Essay Question[edit]

Write a short essay regarding the following questions.


  1. Test reliability and the comparability of tests between studies is an important topic and can sometimes affect the results of a study. Please write a short essay regarding this topic in reference to the studies above.
  2. Many of the studies regarding Fast ForWord show mixed results. Please write a short essay regarding the studies mentioned previously and your thoughts on how the results should be interpreted in regards to whether you would use the program yourself.
  3. Should a company, such as Scientific Learning, be allowed to fund studies regarding their own programs? Please write a short essay about this topic, using some of the examples cited above.
  4. How does the Fast ForWord program identify and attempt to solve the temporal processing deficit seen in children with reading difficulties?
  5. How does the set-up and implementation of the games in the Fast ForWord program address the two main issues the company believes are related to reading and language difficulties?

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Gillam, R. B., Computer-Assisted Language Intervention Using Fast ForWord: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations for Clinical Decision-Making. (1999). Clinical Forum. 30: 363-370
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 Veale, T. K., Targeting Temporal Processing Deficits Through Fast ForWord: Language Therapy with a New Twist. (1999). Clinical Forum. 30: 353-362
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Scientific Learning., Improved Language Skills by Children with Low Reading Performance who used Fast ForWord Language. (2004). Scientific Learning Corporations Product Report. 3(1): 13
  4. Scientific Learning., Improved Early Reading Skills by Students in the Todd County School District who used Fast ForWord Language Basics. (2006). MAPS for Learning: Educators Report. 10(24): 1-4
  5. Scientific Learning., Decreasing the Achievement Gap: Improved Reading SKills by Struggling Readers in the Dallas Independent School District who used Fast ForWord Products: A Four Year Longitudinal Study. (2008). MAPS for Learning: Educators Report. 12(1): 1-9
  6. Scientific Learning., Improved Reading Skills by Students in LAwrence Public Schools who used Fast ForWord Products. (2008B). MAPS for Learning: Educator Reports. 12(11):1-8
  7. Scientific Learning., Improved Reading Achievement by Students in the Clarke County School District who used Fast ForWord Products: 2006-2008. (2009). MAPS for Learning: Educator Reports. 13(1): 1-10
  8. Scientific Learning., Improved Longitudinal Acievement in English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies by Students in St. Mary's Parish who used Fast ForWord Products. (2010). Scientific Learning: Research Reports. 14(13): 1-8
  9. Fey, M. E., Finestack, L. H., Gajewski, B. J., Popescu, M., Lewine, J. D. Primary Evaluation of Fast ForWord-Language as an Adjuvant Treatment in Language Intervention. (2010). J Speech Lang Hear Res. 53: 430-449.
  10. Troia, G. A., Whitney, S. D. A Close Look at the Efficacy of Fast ForWord Language for Children with Academic Weaknesses. (2003). Contemporary Educational Psychology. 28:465-494
  11. Troia, G. A. Migrant Students with Limited English Proficiency. (2004). Remedial and Special Education. 25(6):353-366.
  12. Loeb, D. F., Gillam, R. B., Hoffman, L., Marquis, J. The effects of Fast ForWord Language on the phonemic awareness and reading skills of school-aged children with language impairments and poor reading skills. (2009). American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. 18(4): 376-387
  13. Gillam, R. B., Loeb, D. F., Hoffman, L. M., Bohman, T., Champlin, C. A., Thibodeau, L., Widen, J., Brandel, J., Friel-Patti, S. The Efficacy of Fast ForWord-Language Intervetion in School-Age Children with Language Impairment: a Randomized Controlled Trial. (2008). J Speech Lang Hear Res. 51(1):97-119
  14. Borman, G. D., Benson, J. G. A Randomized Field Trial of the Fast ForWord Language Computer-Based Training Program. (2009). Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 31(1): 82-106
  15. Pokorni, J. L., Worthington, C. K., Jamison, P. J., Phonological Awareness Intervention: Comparison of Fast ForWord, Earobics, and LiPS. (2004). Journal of Educational Research. 97(3):147-157.
  16. Hook, P. E., Macaruso, P., Jones, S. Efficacy of Fast ForWord Training n Facilitating Acquisition of Reading Skills by Children with Reading Difficulties - A Longitudinal Study. (2001). Annals of Dyslexia. 51: 75-96