Monday, January 22, 2001

School tests software based on brain studies

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — Students at two Kenton County schools are playing computer games designed to help them become better listeners, thinkers and readers.

        They're trying out a new computer program based on brain development research that is creating a buzz across the country.

        It has been called mental aerobics. The computer program stimulates the listening part of the brain to help students recognize sounds more rapidly, and better understand what they hear.

        “With that ability, it makes them better students, better able to read, better able to hear directions from the teacher,” said Nick Marsh, director of federal and emerging programs for Kenton County Schools.

        Hundreds of school districts have bought FastForWard, software developed by neuroscientists in Berkeley, Calif.

        Kenton County is the first district in Northern Kentucky to test it, launching a three-month pilot project at Beechgrove Elementary in Independence and Kenton Central Alternative High School in Park Hills.

        At Beechgrove, 27 fourth- graders started it last week. Ten Kenton Central students are participating.

        Students work on the computers for 100 minutes a day, five days a week for about six weeks, completing a series of activities to improve sound recognition, memory and attention.

        The software is aimed at children who have trouble distinguishing similar sounds, such as “ba” and “da.” Often these students struggle to link written words to sounds, which hampers reading skills.

        The program “slows down sounds so children can proc ess them,” said Tracy Dunn, principal of Beechgrove Elementary.

        Scientific Learning, which produced the software, says 90 percent of students who have completed the program progressed 1 1/2 to two grade levels in their reading skills.

        If Kenton County sees as much success, the district may continue the program year-round, Mr. Marsh said.

        “We try everything we can think of, using every angle, to help students,” he said. “All students aren't helped universally with one reading program. We've got several.”


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