Popular class speeds reading comprehension

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October 5, 2007

2:18 AM

As you read this you are wasting time. Unless of course, you’ve taken junior Daniel Byler’s speed reading course. Students from his last class averaged a 415 percent increase in their reading rate.

p. The class started last semester when Byler decided to offer fellow students the chance to learn this skill. “I really love speed reading and I’m passionate about efficiency,” he said. “It really frustrates me it’s not part of the core curriculum.”

p. Students use Peter Kump’s revised “Breakthrough Rapid Reading” to train their eyes and learn how to quickly dissect reading content. This semester’s class has 100 students — 80 more than last semester’s. Byler teaches three sections of the class every Sunday.

p. “Natural speed readers look at books the same way you look at pictures,” Byler said. He has the students look at their books and pick one word to stare at while seeing which other words are in their field of vision. One method of reading faster called “circling” involves reading one line normally and then reading the next three or four lines in backwards circles. Another involves covering most of the lines on the page, and moving your hand over the words in a circular motion to direct our eyes acrpss the page more precisely.

p. “Then aren’t you reading it out of order?” one student asked. “Yes, think of it more as an eye exercise,” Byler said.

p. Exercises similar to this are the basis of the students’ homework drills. The class also has four teaching assistants who help students to track their progress. “Every week we get statistics of drills from students and enter their results into a spreadsheet,” TA Kelsy Mihaloew said. “From there we come up with graphs that show improvement. Then, we send a personalized e-mail to everyone.” All the TAs completed the course last semester and hold office hours during which students can ask questions.

p. Thaddee Valdelievie ’08 saw a flyer for the class and signed up. “I’ve tried teaching myself before, but it helps to have a class,” she said. Valdelievie is already reading twice as fast, though he is still unsure of his comprehension.

p. Another student, sophomore Amelia Becker, is reading a third faster than before. “At first I didn’t feel I was making any progress, but with this week’s drills I’ve started reading faster with good comprehension,” she said. “I’ve definitely started using the techniques in my classes.” Though the class has homework every week, Becker says it’s manageable. “The drills are definitely helpful and as long as you’re committed to finding time, you can do it.”

p. The class has even extended to Facebook via the “Speed Reading Interest Group.” Each section of the class has its own group, and there is already a waiting list for spring semester’s class. Byler uses Facebook to send out messages to his class, calling it a “mini-Banner,” and also has a website, wmspeed.com.
“Some of you are reading fast enough now that it feels different when you read. Don’t be scared. It feels strange but it’s good — you’re reading differently,” Byler said.

p. The summer after his senior year of high school, Byler taught himself how to speed read. “I read five to seven times faster with really good comprehension,” he said. He then tested his skills at the College by taking a history research seminar with a hundred pages of reading every week. “I would finish the reading in one or two hours,” said Byler, who still comprehended enough to get an A in the seminar, a class that required reaction papers and class discussion. According to one of his students, Byler finished the 784-page “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in two and a half hours.

p. Students seem very satisfied with Byler’s organization of the class. Becker remarked on his efficiency, “I think he’s really organized and really on top of emails. He usually responds in about 20 minutes. He’s also really receptive to questions.” Valdelievie commented on Byler’s enthusiasm, “He’s got a lot of energy.”

p. The class has two fees: $25 which goes to classroom use and TAs, and a $40 commitment fee. Students get $5 back every week they attend, and any money that is collected from missed classes goes to a literacy fund. This semester, Byler said he is leaning toward the Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Program.

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