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Debunking Speed Reading Myths – Is Speed Reading for Real?

I don’t normally post articles by other authors. However, this informative article on speed reading is well-worth reading. And it comes with a powerful resource that teachers will want to test-pilot to measure their students’ silent reading fluency.

Primary and intermediate elementary teachers do a great job of assessing oral reading fluency and helping students improve their fluency rates and accuracy. We all know that fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. However, upper elementary and secondary teachers usually assume that the rate and accuracy of their students’ silent reading fluency is static. Not so. Using simple speed reading techniques, as well as other self-monitoring reading strategies, can improve both rate and comprehension. Speed reading is not hocus-pocus. Here’s some background on speed reading and the facts that will help debunk a number of speed reading myths.

Bob Watson first learned speed reading about five years ago for the purpose of teaching it to a young, eager group of sixth graders in a summer school study skills course.  He read a few books on the subject, took a weekend long seminar course, and significantly increased his reading speed.  He taught what he had learned to my students, and almost all of them saw some major improvement in their reading skills, both speed and comprehension.

Doing more and more research on this subject, however, led Bob to a skeptics website claiming that speed reading was a farce. After reading what this site, and many others like it, had to say on the subject, Bob started to see where they were coming from.

You see, speed reading is still a fairly new concept.  The first person to use the term was Evelyn Woods in the 1960s, an Australian teacher who identified a number of bad reading habits and eventually started teaching correspondence courses and holding seminars where she taught her techniques, most of which are still well accepted and taught today. However, many scam artists jumped on the speed reading bandwagon.

In the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Howard Stephen Berg was listed as the fastest reader in the world. Berg claimed to be able to read over 80 pages of text in one minute, a reading speed of about 25,000 words per minute.  But, once you start to look into the record, you’ll see that the officials at Guinness, at the time, weren’t well known for verifying the records they posted, and this was, in fact, not a record that they checked.  They took Berg at his word, and it seems that he completely invented the number.  On a number of television programs Berg demonstrates near perfect recall and excellent reading.  In 1998, he had a lawsuit filed against him for deceptive advertising.

The lesson here is really quite simple: there is, in fact, a great deal of deception in the field of speed reading.  Also, as you might have guessed, faster isn’t always better.

So, is it really possible to increase your reading speed?  Yes. For most people, it is not outside the limits of possibility to increase their reading speed past 600 words per minute, which is more than double than what the average American can read.

Does speed reading affect comprehension?  It certainly does.  “Reading” at an outrageous pace certainly decreases understanding of the text.  However, if the techniques of speed reading are applied at a manageable speed, readers can improve their reading comprehension.  The reason is simple – they’re not only learning to read faster, but they’re also learning how to read much better.  Reading faster ties together the details of the text much better into comprehensible input, than reading slowly.

So, who is Bob? Bob Watson is a teacher who works primarily with high school and middle school students with emotional disabilities. He has written a number of well-crafted articles on speed reading. Bob also created a free speed reading test that teachers will find very useful to measure their students’ silent reading rates.

I say you’ve got to check out this computer-based test. Five short passages are provided to test silent reading fluency. I had my students take one of these tests as a diagnostic assessment in the computer lab. Took just a few minutes and the students loved it.

I will teach some of Bob’s speed reading techniques and re-test periodically with the rest of the passages to chart progress. Give it a try. You can help students improve both their silent reading speed and comprehension.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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