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reader comments: speed reading

July 13, 2006
After reading the article I do not believe that you have done the proper research about speed reading. Have you questioned an authority about speed reading before you wrote your article? More importantly have you yourself taken a course on speed reading or are you basing your opinion on word of mouth? I ask that, realizing that you quoted someone named Anne Cunningham, an expert on reading who seems to have no idea how actual speed reading works or how effective it is.

reply: In the early 1960s I became interested in speed reading after reading about John F. Kennedy's support for the Evelyn Wood method. I studied speed reading and found that I could read significantly faster if I spent less time between eye movements by taking in several words rather than one word at a time and if I didn't have to re-read things or stop to look up words. Having a large recognition vocabulary did more to speed up my reading than anything else. I was fortunate to have had a high-school English teacher who required his students to learn 20 new words a week. For many years, I studied the dictionary to expand my vocabulary as much as I could.

I took two courses on speed reading in college to help me with my courses and can tell you from personal experience that my increased speed in reading (from about 350 wpm to about 1,900 wpm ) and comprehension (from about 52% to over 75 %) had little to do with saccades and increased word recognition. My over-all study-time dropped dramatically and my grades all came up as well.

reply: Obviously, you were highly motivated to succeed. I don't doubt that you can skim 1,900 wpm with 75% comprehension and that for many college courses that would be sufficient to get an A.

In essence, speed reading involves a few disciplines and understandings. First of all, that the human mind can process information faster that the human eye can read. Try reading exceptionally slow (1 word per minute for instance) and see how far your comprehension drops as your mind wanders and forgets what it had previously read. Your mind is much more focused on the subject at hand when you are reading more words per minute, which is one of the reasons comprehension goes up so dramatically in speed readers.

reply: You are right that a focused, attentive reader will read faster than an unfocused, inattentive reader. But I don't think that this has anything to do with the speed of processing information by the "human mind" versus the speed of processing information by the human eye. It has to do with processing information when focused and attentive versus processing information when there are distractions.

Speed reading also involves opening up your peripheral vision to take-in multiple words at once rather than reading just one word at a time. We were taught to take-in two words at once, then advanced to an entire line of text at one time. (I was only proficient at taking in about 5 – 7 words at a time but others were much better than I.) Still, you can see how this would diminish any talk of the speed at which one’s eyes would have to jump around a page (saccade.) Our instructor was able to take in two lines at once. By keeping the center of our vision in the middle of the page, we were taught to read down the page and take-in the full width of the page at one time.

Back in grade school we all learned to read a word one letter at a time, sounding out the words in our heads or out loud. As we all developed we learned to read one entire word at a time. Speed reading involves reading BLOCKS of words at one time and absorbing the overall meaning of the words, much like viewing an image understanding its meaning. In short, you can better discern the meaning from a group of words than you can by adding a single word at a time. If you can read as fast as your mind can comprehend you are much less likely to forget key points.

Another thing we learned to do (with difficulty in my case) was to shut off the little voice in your head that sounded out each word. This is known as sub-vocalization and most people do it. If a person does this, their maximum reading speed is held in check by the maximum speed at which they can sound-out the words, which is approximately their talking speed ( Which, coincidentally is 250 – 350 wpm.) Getting rid of that habit alone almost doubled my reading speed. Speed reading is definitely a skill that needs to be practiced or you lose some of your ability.

reply: Perhaps in skimming my article you missed my mention of the importance of taking in more words with each fixation. Subvocalization is a problem that is resolved by taking in blocks of words instead of single words. You cannot sound out blocks of words. I don't specifically mention this problem in my article but perhaps I should have.

I will say that I enjoy reading science fiction work and other items at my normal speed, but when I have to it’s nice to know that I can read much faster, comprehend and remember much more than normal if I have to. If you have done so already I ask that you take a class for yourself and see just how incorrect your article was.

Jason Hatch

reply: Thanks, but I think you missed some key points in my article.

07 Nov 2003
I am an educational consultant and have expertise in the area of "speed reading", and was a partner with Evelyn Wood (1909-1995).

1. It is time to update your article based on the latest 'unbiased' research. In the industry we respect Howard Berg and George Stancliffe, but they are the exception, not the rule, in terms of throwing-around-numbers. The rest of us would never dream of talking about 25,000 words per minute, even as publicity hyperbole. It's a joke. In the past we have tracked thousands, tens-of-thousands of graduates, and not had 'one' in two-million (real-number!), read at that illusionary 25K words per minute. There are freaks in all fields, but we have not run-across them - yet even in 'Basic' - which is a simple novel. Forget about 'Semi' or 'Tuff' material, which includes textbooks or Scientific American.

2. The typical graduate can expect to read 'triple' their beginning reading speed - (300%), in Basic, Semi-Tuff and Tuff-Stuff level of difficulty material, with equal or better (about 10%), improvement in comprehension. Most start at 250wpm on Basic, and drop to 150wpm when confronted with dense text in Semi and Tuff material; so does their comprehension drop like a rock.

3. Please see: www.uwgb.edu/esms/sss/read.htm This is used by the University of Wisconsin, at Green Bay, and taken from the leading collegiate textbook on "accelerated" reading.

4. One of my clients - www.speedlearning.org is affiliated with a major university, and does pre-testing, mid-term- and post-testing, and does not depend on subjective feedback. They produce graduates from 5th grade (Public School 59) in NYC, and executives and professionals who maintain their "triple" reading speed and comprehension - ad infinitum. They do not engage in the use of the Power of Suggestion, Cold Readings, Push or other nonsense to inflate a student's success.

5. If you are interested in today's speed reading strategies and training-tools - (SpeedLearning uses a handheld laser-pace called a RasterMaster), you might want to take the course in NYC without tuition or the need to offer a complimentary 'testimonial' at its conclusion.

6. Graduates can read "three" books, articles or reports with improved comprehension, compared to their original skills of reading perhaps one book, but with lousy recall.


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