As you begin to research and select an approach to developing your speed reading skills, you will inevitably find continuous references to the fact that untrained readers need to expand the number of words that the eyes take in with each eye stop. These stops are called fixations. In theory, the more words your eyes take in per fixation, the faster your reading becomes. Programs that focus on primarily training to increase the number of words per fixation are misguided in understanding the nature of comprehension. This approach will inevitably lead to failure in developing lasting speed reading results. Here’s the truth.
As you read the marketing materials and even engage in the training of these misguided programs, you will see and hear references to expanding eye span (the actual distance and number of words per fixation). You will be encouraged to expand the number of words in these “word groups,” “word clusters,” or “word clumps” as though the number of words is what the real goal should be. But that is not what reading comprehension achieves.
The approach to expanding eye span is most often achieved through mechanical pacing, especially if the learner uses a software program. This mechanical approach most always uses flashing words over the screen sometimes four to six inches across. The size of the “clump” does matter. Your natural span of clear focus at normal reading distance is between one to three inches in diameter. Expanding beyond 3 inches can be damaging because it changes how the muscles work.
Your natural sight experience is dimensional which means it has vertical and horizontal measures. What this means is your eyes naturally see words above and below the particular line that you focus on. Eye training programs that expand the visual span too far horizontally are an unnatural approach and miss the important aspect of reading comprehension.
To master speed reading, you also need to understand the meaning of the print, or comprehend it. Focusing on the number of words for each of your eye stops, does not allow your mind to respond to the print. Your mind will respond faster to some things and slower to other things. It all depends on your familiarity with the content being read. As a learning specialist I naturally read faster in materials dealing with reading, and most psychology. Because I am not a physicist, I will be slower when reading books and articles on quantum theory. Additionally, if I am focusing on how many words my eyes see for each stop, I can not focus on the meaning of the print and thus I lose comprehension.
Knowing that the mind’s response to the print is the goal of all reading, the mechanical approaches, especially software applications that keep a constant pace for speed reading are misguided and ineffective.
Speed reading learners do need to go beyond focusing on individual words and see more for each eye stop. However, the reason for expanding the size of the stop is not merely in counting the number of words for the fixation, but to increase the meaning of the overall printed material. For example, I can read the word “car,” but I understand more if I also see “the red speeding car.” The additional words expands the meaning of the whole idea. My mind gets a better picture and faster. Reading in this fashion is referred to as expanding “Word Meaning Groups.”
Rather than focus on the physical expansion of eye span, word clusters, word clumps and artificial pacing, the speed reader needs to learn to expand their search to “Word Meanings.” Word meanings give rise to comprehension. Remember, you can only read as fast as your mind can comprehend the material. It is not just about speedily moving your eyes from point A to point B as fast as you can. You want to move from point A to point B and understand what you have seen.
As mentioned earlier, these word meaning groups can appear over areas spanning 1-3 inches in diameter. Learning to move the eyes more efficiently is necessary in all speed reading training, but it is not the only goal. If you look at some printed material and test the above mentioned “dimensional” statement, you will also notice that you’ll be seeing the print using your dimensional sight displaying the words seemingly out of grammatical order.
Can your mind interpret the print with this “out of order” appearance? Yes it can. However, that requires some training, practice, and learning more about comprehension.
So if you really want to master speed reading, you now know the myth of expanding eye span is really about enlarging mind stops for comprehension. Be wary of programs that focus mostly on eye movement, and find programs that focus on training your mind to respond and comprehend at faster speeds. In fact with the proper training, you will comprehend better at faster rates with the right approach to learning speed reading.