Position: Executive Director/Principal
School: Bridges Academy, Winter Springs, FL
Number of Students in School: 90 students
Bridges Academy provides academic opportunities for children with specific learning needs and learning disabilities.
Ninety-nine percent of our students have reading deficits. To accelerate each student’s learning and reading success, we created a three-pronged reading program that combines direct instruction with two educational software programs, Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant.
Students love the programs, because they are individualized. Students can see their progress and experience success quickly. This carries over to their day-to-day reading, which builds confidence and motivates them to achieve.
Teachers like the programs because students show significant improvements in their reading skills. In a study at our school, students using the programs showed an average gain of one year and three months over a three-month period.
The programs are easy to use, but to achieve success quickly, it is critical to implement the programs with fidelity and strictly adhere to the recommended protocols.
How We Use It:
We use both software programs as part of our daily two-hour reading block. Our three-pronged reading program combines research-proven curriculum methods and technology with hands-on learning strategies.
1. Direct instruction - Each day, students participate in direct instruction programs, assigned by the teacher, to learn the mechanics of reading.
2. Foundational skills - Students work on intensive, adaptive exercises in Fast ForWord 50 minutes a day to build brain fitness in the areas of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing. These exercises accelerate learning by improving students’ ability to capture, process, and retain information.
3. Practice - In addition, two to three times a week, students spend 20 to 30 minutes working on Reading Assistant to strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. The software uses advanced speech verification technology to “listen” to each child as he or she reads aloud, providing one-on-one guided oral reading support. Students say reading to a computer feels safe and non-threatening, so they are encouraged to take risks. Teachers and students can also review performance records and audio of each reading session.
One challenge is finding enough time for students to access Reading Assistant every day. We plan to add more laptops to our classrooms, so students will be able to work on the program three to five times a week.
The ongoing focus at Bridges Academy is to close the academic gap so students can transition into a more traditional educational setting. By giving students the foundational skills, the direct instruction, and intensive reading practice, our school has helped them close reading gaps and become more confident, engaged readers.
In the 2010-11 school year, three students left our school to attend college and 17 students moved to traditional schools. Many of these students made five years of improvement in their reading skills in only two years at our school.