Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Would you say something about this?

Our kids' school is fundraising to purchase a computer program called Fast Forword to use with some of the kids who have learning difficulties (particularly in reading and language areas). They have been a bit computer program happy over the past couple of years, with the kids now using both Mathletics and Reading Eggs that the school has purchased licenses for. The boys really enjoy using both of them.

But I am having a few difficulties with Fast Forword. I am always somewhat suspicious of any computer programs that claim to "fix" reading difficulties or that claim to fix up almost every related skill related to reading.

So I did a search online and discovered a systematic review of all the studies related to Fast Forword published just last year in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. The results weren't promising. The studies don't show that it makes any difference at all when compared with more conventional methods of remediating reading issues.

My question is, do I say something to someone at school about it? Does it make me look like some kind of know-it-all irritant parent who is questioning the school's wisdom after a decision has already been made by someone that it would be a great idea (apparently the P&C has approved it. I haven't been to a meeting since the beginning of this year so I missed the one where it was raised)? I'm not sure how much it costs so maybe it's not that much money down the drain if it's not that good? Or it might work for a couple of the kids and that would be enough? My kids don't have learning difficulties, so maybe it's not my business anyway?

Tonight is P&C night. I'm debating whether to go or not, since we still have billets with us tonight. Possibly not the place to bring it up now anyway.

I just don't like seeing money wasted (especially if we've supplied some of it via fundraising) on something that's not been shown to work all that well.


Deb said...

Oh, Karen! Hard question! I read "The Brain That Changes Itself" last year. Fast Forward (or something very similar...kind of foggy on details now) has a chapter devoted to it in there. The case study given in the book is extrememly persuasive and exciting. I suspect someone in your school has read the book and thought, "This is the answer!" I read it with great joy and then like you I around for other reviews of the program and, yep, turns out not to be The Answer to all learning difficulties afterall. But maybe it will help some kids and I can see why a school would feel it is better to do something than nothing. How about asking questions along the line of, "Why was this particular program chosen?" "Who suggested this program and why is it the best use of funds?" "How do we know it will benefit these kids?" And then see what they say. Find out a bit of the background of who came up with the idea and why and you might be in a better position to decide if you want to question the decision futher or just let it go. And also maybe ask about how the program will be implemented. For the program to work, as far as my understand goes, it has to be quite intensive. Will it be done in class time under supervision or just left to parents at home? How will they select kids for the program and make sure it is being used for kids who actually need that specific kind of therapy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

I would definitely be asking questions (esp the tactful ones that Deb has suggested!).

The questions that it raises for me in a professional capacity (a few schools up this way have also considered it - not endorsed by the department) 1. the cost benefit given the lack of independent evidence and 2. the amount of time - up to 50 min 5 times per week for a minimum of 12 weeks? This isn't a program that replaces the curriculum so for a student with learning difficulties to miss that much class work we better be 100% sure that this is better otherwise we are only disadvantaging them further.

Has your school considered employing a speech pathologist (and/or OT) with the money instead? They could easily provide a whole school (or more specific) approach tailored to the needs of the school in these areas. Although that would take a bit more human interaction than sitting some kids in front of a computer...(ooh that was cynical!)


Karen said...

Thanks so much for the suggestions, ladies (and hi, Anna, thanks for the comment!). I was trying to think of carefully worded questions along those lines, so thanks for that.
The P&C last night was a low attendance meeting, both the principal and a couple of the deputies were away (looking after their billets!). But I did find out that one of the learning support teachers has suggested it. I've had dealings with her previously when I ran a group at school, so I'm hoping I might be able to ask her a few questions to see what I can find out.
Anna, I didn't realise it was such a high intensity program! I know some private speechies advertise that they use it, must be an easy way to make money if all you have to do is put the kid in front of the computer and load up the games!?

Karen said...

Oh, and I love the idea of them employing their own speech pathologist and/or OT. Pick me, pick me...

simone r said...

The school wants it because it's cheaper long term than learning support. Shove the strugglers in the corner with a computer. Everyone wins.