sp-rdgReading is to the mind what aerobics is to the body.

Reading is not merely a matter of recognising words; it is a complicated process which enables us to identify, assimilate, integrate and absorb information from text. We do this on various levels, from the t.v. guide to a challenging novel, or from a recipe to a detailed report.

Effective reading does not always mean being able to read material very quickly. There are other skills involved, such as a broad vocabulary and a wide general knowledge. Also required is an understanding of how our language is structured and an ability to retain and recall key ideas in the reading matter.

Unless you read a great deal your normal rate of reading is probably well below the speed of which you are capable. Our brains function more efficiently and much faster than we usually give them credit for. Developing this skill is crucial for learners with dyslexia in particular.

For most people the main stages of reading occur roughly in the following order:

  • Assimilation of  visual data by the eye
  • Recognition of letters and words
  • Understanding of words in context
  • Comprehension – relating the material to one’s own knowledge
  • Storing the information in the memory
  • Recalling the information when it is required
  • Using the information; communicating it to ourselves or to others.

Learners with dyslexia tend to have greater skills in comprehension and communicating than in decoding and memory. Often their processing speeds are poor because of difficulties with visual and auditory memory. They are likely to find reading stressful and exhausting. Slow rates of reading frequently damages self esteem and confidence.

Speed reading helps to mitigate the negative effects of undeveloped visual processing and poor phonological processing ability by building on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. Phonic skills are an essential component of reading and should continue to be taught. Speed reading is an additional tool that the learner with dyslexia can use.

It is possible to increase your reading speed significantly and at the same time have good comprehension. Re-educating the eye to move over the page more swiftly (using a guide) takes time and motivation but it is easily learned with sufficient practice.

Part of the course I teach, over a period of 10 sessions of 20 minutes each with much practice in between (and after), entails practising higher order reading skills, such as

  • skimming and scanning
  • using the Contents and Index pages
  • considering picture and context cues
  • highlighting key concepts
  • and, most importantly, asking questions of yourself, the author and the text itself.

There are many different types of written material and we approach each type in a different way. We read for enjoyment and to learn about others’ experience. We also read for information, bringing critical skills into play. Sometimes we need to skim over a short piece of text to extract a few key points, at other times we may read to further understanding of a difficult topic.

 Crucially, readers need to take a flexible approach and vary our reading speed according to the circumstances. We need to adjust our reading speed for the material being read. Reading at speed is pointless unless you can understand and remember what has been read. Good comprehension is an essential ingredient in efficient speed reading.

 The skilled reader will be able to select the appropriate reading speed for the task in hand. The aim of a speed reading course is to introduce learners to the tools for such intelligent selection.