Reconsidering speed

Dear Fellow Explorers,

We sometimes tell students “Read the text in 15 minutes.” or Read the text in 10 minutes, start.”

Of course some finish the text and some do not. One option is to tell the students to draw a line at the place they are at when the time we set is up.


Well, for one thing, this will tell us to what extent we are providing enough time. Also, if we ask the students to re-read the passage in the same amount of time they can see whether the second time they took more or less time.

But more importantly I think having students mark the place they read up to reminds us that reading in a set amount of time is not necessarily helpful. In fact, it can be harmful.

Again, why?

Focus on speed often leads to mis-reading. But students rarely realize this unless they do read and look up and record what they say aloud after they read a phrase silently.
I show in some videos available through Small changes that students miss out many words that show they have misunderstood the text completely.

Of course when students take standardized tests they have to finish the readings in a set period of time. This is very, very unfortunate because it makes reading into a ritual rather than into an experience that can provide pleasure.

Ditto for having the students read quickly in class.

I gave the Iowa reading test to scores of English teachers in French speaking Africa and allowed the time prescribed by those who produced the standardized test. The average reading level was at the second grade of a US primary school with native speakers of English.

A few weeks later I gave the test again and allowed the teachers to take as long as they wanted to complete reading and answering the multiple choice questions.
Their average reading level was around the seventh grade of a US primary school with native speakers of English.

When I watch young people and in fact all age groups eat I notice that many eat very quickly. Some chew a mouthful in as few as 5 seconds. Nutritionists and those who advise people who have some stomach trouble suggest 20 to 30 bites for each mouthful.

Why eat and read fast? Why not savor the tastes and the content of what we read? Of course reading the banal texts in most standardized tests rather than fiction, poems or songs is perhaps a reason to read quickly. Get past the misery.

“There is no Frigate like a book to take us lands away nor any coursers like a page of prancing Poetry.” Emily Dickinson

Let’s relish our food and texts that we can connect with emotionally and savor slowly.

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