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Research and Science - Speed Reading and Learning

Speed and Comprehension

In his article entitled “Extensive Reading: Speed and Comprehension” (Bell 2001) Timothy Bell found that a group of reader exposed to a regime of graded reading material achieved significantly faster reading speeds and significantly higher comprehension scores on the material.

Slow Readers

a stack of reportsFry (1965) defined slow readers as those who read at a speed of less than 150 words per minute. It is a common view that slow readers also read with poor comprehension. This is because reading and understanding a complex sentence requires the reader to hold the information in their short term memory. By reading slowly it becomes harder for the reader to keep the information in his or her memory, and therefore harder to understand.

Bell (2001) writes that a slow reader's “... memory is taxed by the inability to retain information in sufficiently large chunks to progress through a text with adequate retention of the content ...” There is a mainstream view in reading psychology that slow readers often have poor comprehension.

It is accepted that slow readers can actually increase their comprehension by learning to read faster. As with all speed reading courses and programs there is a "sweet spot" - a good balance between speed and comprehension. As Coady (1979) writes “... comprehension is achieved by reading neither too fast nor too slow.”

Are we capable of reading faster?

In 1879 French ophthalmologist, Professor Emil Javal, found that the human eye can read several letters and words per glance within a line of text. His studies showed that reading is not done by continuous movement of the eyes across the line of text. He found that the actual reading is done when the eyes are still - the fixation phase. The actual jumping movement of the eye is not used for reading.

In 1885 a researcher called J M Cattel found that proficient readers actually read printed material in units or chunks - whole words or phrases at a time. The following extract of text quoted from popular viral email provides some evidence of this activity. The brain examines an entire word at one time in order to find the correct label according to the context and shape of the word. Not all information is equally important in the printed word. Try reading it now.

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Poor Comprehension

Many readers struggle with poor reading technique. These techniques often hold them back from achieving a fast and accurate reading style.

Researchers found out the secret to proficient readers over one hundred and twenty years ago. Proficient readers read in chunks that are one, two or more complete words in size. Many speed reading courses focus on "chunk" reading and it is a reading style that can be learned with practice and the assistance of a good speed reading program.

Paper Methods Versus Projector Methods

a young lady using a notebookRichard (1982) working in Japan performed a comparison with students using traditional paper methods of reading speed improvement with "machine" methods of teaching - in this case a projector. A projector was used to display text to the students at a challenging rate. This method is analogous to the flash training, shadow training and speed training exercises in the popular RocketReader speed reading software. Richard's study found that the projector method was significantly more effective in increasing reading speed (to a statistical confidence level p < 0.05).

Practice Makes Perfect

a woman readingIt is well known that as far as reading speed and comprehension is concerned, practice makes perfect. Wilson and Fielding (1988) performed a study on fifth grade students and found that in the absence of any formal speed reading program, gains in reading speed and comprehension seemed to be closely correlated with the number of books read. The study found that on most days children spend little or no time reading books. Most importantly, they found that the amount of time spent reading was a predictor of gains in measured reading achievement scores from the second to fifth grade. This observation was exploited by S Ronald (1996) when extensive readings at both junior and senior reader levels were incorporated into the RocketReader speed reading program.

Selective Reading

If we are faced with a large document often, we need to zero in on the relevant information. We can use indexes, scan through headings and skim read. Skim reading is where we read rapidly to gain an overview of the text. Skimming is designed to pinpoint information of interest. Once that information is found speed can be lowered to a good comprehension speed. Skim reading is possible at speeds of over 1000 words per minute. Skim reading is a valuable skill and has a role in the toolbox of the proficient reader.

Reading in Society

With the abundance of information in the world we have the difficult task of drawing our own conclusions and making our own way. Proficient readers can read important information rapidly and can make excellent conclusions about that information and act upon it. The International Adult Literacy Survey (Kirsch, I) showed the true spectrum of reading proficiency that exists today. For instance, in a document of medium complexity, a low proficiency reader has around 7% chance of drawing the correct conclusions after reading the document. A high proficiency reader has a 93% chance of drawing the correct conclusions. Since we act on the conclusions we make by reading, reading proficiency and comprehension affects our lives.

References

  • Anderson, R.C., Wilson, P.T., Fielding, L.G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(3) (pp 285-303).
  • Bell, T (2001). Extensive Reading: Speed and Comprehension. The Reading Matrix, Vol 1, No 1, April 2001.
  • Coady, J. (1979). A psycholinguistic model of the ESL reader. In R Mackay, B Barkman & R.R. Jordon (Eds), Reading in a second language (pp 5-12). Rowleg, MA: Newbury House.
  • Richard, W (1982). Improving Reading Speed in Readers of English as a Second Language. JALT Journal, 4, (pp 89-95)
  • Ronald, S (2005). The Scientific Foundations for RocketReader Whitepaper. PDF
  • Taylor Associates/Communications Inc. (2004) Reading Plus. Scientifically Based System of Reading Appraisal/Development. http://www.ta-comm.com/ research/pedagogy/ScientificBased.pdf
  • Grayum, H.S. (1953) An Analytical Description of Skimming: Its Purposes and Place as an Ability in Reading. Studies in Education, Thesis Abstract Series 44, Bloomington, Indiana School of Education.
  • Kirsch, I. (2001) The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS): Understanding What Was Measured. Research Publications Office, Princeton, NJ. http://www.ets.org/ all/Prose_and_Doc_framework.pdf

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