“Stretching” your reading skills: A literature review of the principle methodologies employed by the speed-reading application engineered by FieldCraft called, “Stretch”.By Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.)
Literature concerning the improvement of reading skills demonstrates the benefits of a number of exercises and methods. These include flash-cards and sight-reading which, are known to increase comprehension and non-skimming reading speed; total retention and the typing of complete answers which, are known to improve spelling; the use of older texts to provide a wider vocabulary and grammatical range of expression; alternative methods such as one similar to the `Gliding Text’ known to assist gaze problems; provision of easy and difficult material to allow the expansion of reading skills and vocabulary; provision of a wide range of reading topics to more fully support vocational and discipline-specific reading skills that are known to improve general knowledge topic comprehension; a lack of pictorial prompts as such prompts when present, are known to hinder the learning of sight-words; A focus on increasing the size and complexity of the `Basic unit of Information Processing’ as foundation for faster reading; provision for diverse student interests and a focus on fun and games that are known to maximize the learning process. Stretch is a speed-reading program that is founded on all these tried and true methods and features of learning advanced reading skills.
Eurich (1980) and Eurich & Kraetsch (1982) determined that reading skills have diminished substantially in the five decades spanning 1928 to 1978. In this period, modern first year university students or “freshmen” were found to be one grade below their historical counterparts in comprehension, reading speed and vocabulary. It is therefore hardly surprising that reading skills are a principle concern of modern students, as documented by Hall (1989). In this age of limited vocabulary and short expression, there is little wonder at the difficulty people face when reading technical or legal material. Stretch uses old texts that were mostly published prior to 1928. These texts offer a greater range of writing styles and vocabulary and are aimed at immersing the student in a much deeper and richer vocabulary and grammar than s/he may be accustomed to in modern texts.
Brozo & Johns (1986) assert that reading speeds above 300 to 600 words per minute are regarded by empirical research as unrealistic, and recommend eye fixations (flash or glance capacity) of no more than three words. However, Berliner & Casanova (1988) suggest that increased reading speeds may improve comprehension and oral reading. As a result they recommend activities that assist the improvement and acceleration of reading. Having observed the rapid development of flash capacities exceeding three words in a number of beta-testers, I find the limitations of Brozo & Johns (1986), are there to be exceeded. However, reading speed is no simple matter…
Subject Specific Reading Skills
(Incardone, 1978) asserts that vocational education teachers in secondary schools have no more important task than to teach subject area reading skills to their students. He discusses common-sight reading skills with regard to learning discipline-specific vocabulary and sight recognition to facilitate textbook/manual skills. (Latorre & Kaulen, 1985) found that subject specific reading skills did not affect the reading speed of general topics, but did improve comprehension in this area. To aid the development of subject specific reading skills, Stretch comes with a comprehensive range of texts covering a diverse variety of subjects. This application also includes an import and text rating facility to allow the student to use texts that are not supplied. In this, Stretch is geared to offer a wide range of vocational support for the development of discipline-specific reading skills.
Phonic vs. Sight Reading… …and other False Dilemmas!
Aaron et. Al. (1999) determined that the likelihood of success of sight-reading depended heavily on the prior implementation of phonic decoding methods. According to Fleisher et. Al. (1978) and Fleisher et. Al. 1979) , while decoding training in phonic reading skills significantly increased the decoding speed of single words, it did not improve comprehension performance. However, Tan & Nicholson (1997), determined that sight reading improves comprehension. These combined findings emphasize the importance of both methods.
Sight reading is the recognition of whole words as opposed to the recognition and subsequent assembly of individual characters. Sight reading is often the product of the flash-card system in both its original and computerized forms. The flash-card method is a widely recognized learning tool for the instant recognition of symbols, words and concepts. It is used in the teaching of languages (Kunst, 1987; Centre for Applied Linguistics & Centre for Language Education and Research, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c), phonic decoding (Wentink et. Al., 1997), arithmetic (Hawkes, 1983), reducing reversals (Heydorn, 1984), and for the effective education of moderately mentally retarded students (Cuvo & Klatt, 1992), and of reading disabled students (Cohen et. Al., 1988). The strength of the widespread and extensive acceptance of the sight-reading/flash-card method is very convincing. However, this method has more than just widespread acceptance for its support, and this is why Stetch is focussed on flashing word groups as well as words.
Ehri & Roberts (1979) found that the use of flash cards increased reading speed. This is due to the progression from character and diphthong recognition and assembly, to whole word recognition (Tan & Nicholson, 1997). Stretch is designed to flash more than one word at a time, allowing for phrase and clause recognition that will increase reading speed even further, as an extension of this process. The idea of “Basic units of Information Processing” is discussed by Roberts et. Al. (1996) who suggest that the “Basic unit of Information Processing” is a marker for reading speed. Stretch is aimed at increasing the size and complexity of the “Basic unit of Information Processing” by increasing the number of words that can be absorbed in a glance. This replaces the need to focus on every word with the tendency to attenuate over whole phrases or clauses. Hill (1981) found that by decreasing the tendency to concentrate on every word, significant improvement in reading speed could be made.
Of interest, Didden et. Al. (2000) found that the use of pictorial prompts hindered rather than helped the acquisition of sight words. Hence there is a lack of pictorial and graphic distractions in Stretch. This application is focussed on the sight-reading method because extensive improvements in overall reading skills are documented as a result of this method (Monroe & Staunton, 2000; Henning & Pickett, 2000).
Speed Vs. Comprehension; Another Potential False Dilemma
It is often asserted that gains in reading speed are made at the expense of comprehension, and this is certainly true of “skimming” if Masson (1982) is any indication. Masson documents the lack of ability of students to focus on items of relevance when skimming. This implies that parts of the subject matter are absorbed as a random selection from the whole, and this leaves the student vulnerable to missing important information. Reading need not be marred by the inaccuracies of “skimming” to be fast. Cranny et. Al. (1982), found that the comprehension of rapid readers was superior to their slower counterparts. Evidently, when a larger “Basic unit of Information Process” is used, reading is more rapid, and comprehension more reliable. Dwyer & West (1989) document methods for improving reading rates without skimming. Hall (1989) documents the use of speed-reading activities to exercise the comprehension of the student. Tan and Nicholson (1997) found that reading too slowly impairs comprehension, and that the progression from character and diphthong recognition and subsequent assembly, to whole word recognition resulted in a marked improvement in comprehension.
Vocabulary and Context
Henning & Pickett (2000) documented marked increase in vocabulary as a result of various sight reading programs. Ehri & Roberts (1979) found that while context trained children who learned words from their use in sentences, learned more about the semantics of printed words; Children taught with flash cards could read much faster. Due to the fact that Stretch flashes multiple words as parts of or the whole of a sentence, it exercises both reading speed and semantic understanding as the reading skills improve. The texts used by Stretch offer a wide vocabulary that is readily learned. The focus on typing in everything that is flashed is a well-established way of improving spelling (Cohen, 1980).
Learning is a game…
Dorwaldt (1989) has demonstrated that even adults learn best by having fun. A focus on observable, practical, and enjoyable activities have a far greater impact on the learning of adults than serious “education” intensive methods. Markstahler (1990) also finds that the most effective way of teaching children is through fun and games. Stretch uses arcade style scoring, and keeps a record of all scores and tests. This application is described by some users as addictive, because they feel the need to come back and better their best score. Sounds are applied to offer encouragement, and at each rank there is a different picture presented on the high score window to inspire curiosity about what it must be like to reach the next level. Hall (1989) supports the idea of playing to a student’s interest as a means of maintaining attention. To this end, Stretch carries an extensive range of literature, in many subjects and, in the event that nothing satisfactory is present, the student can always import the text of her or his choice.
In addition to the tried and true flash-card method employed by Stretch, there is an all-new scrolling flash method that consecutively flashes word groups in more than one line of text. Similar to “Gliding text”, this activity helps exercise vertical, rather than horizontal reading. Krischer et. Al. (1994), have documented the effectiveness of “Gliding Text” in the remediation of static gaze. This is a good alternative exercise if the student has reached an impasse, and finds that the standard flashing word groups do not improve her or his reading skills any further.
Stretch presents a wide variety of methods and features that are known to be successful in the improvement of reading speed and comprehension. Combined with an extensive range of source texts and a wide range of standards, Stretch offers a treasure trove of forty trillion exercises from which, reading activities can be randomly selected. Other features such as consecutively flashing word groups for memory exercise, and pre-flash shadow to assist some readers to attenuate over the correct space, etc. are yet to be reviewed. Few if any other speed reading programs demonstrate the same proportion and extent of conformity to empirical findings. How far students and users “Stretch” their reading skills with this application, remains to be seen…
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