Now that the Word Runner speed reading app is available on 5th generation Fire tablet devices and in Kindle Reader apps, the reading speed vs. comprehension debate is heating up once again.
Note that the e-ink displays used in the Kindle ereader line don’t support Word Runner.
Since many kids will be receiving Fire tablets this holiday season, parents in particular are wondering whether using Word Runner will help their kids by allowing them to complete assigned reading more quickly, or harm the learning process by reducing comprehension.
Of course speed reading should never be considered for a child who’s not already a strong reader, those who are still mastering literacy need more practice in reading the old fashioned way. But it may not be such a great idea for older students, either. The experts all seem to agree that speed reading does reduce comprehension.
Quoted on Lifehacker, eye tracking researcher Keith Rayner from the University of California at San Diego warns:
You can practice going faster and you probably will, but when you start going too fast you’ll start losing comprehension. Research shows that when you [speed read] and the text is difficult, comprehension goes to pieces.
Since kids in school are studying books in order to learn new material, it’s safe to assume the text is usually challenging to some degree.
In Science Magazine, the Word Runner speed reading approach specifically (showing one word at a time) is reported to have comprehension drawbacks:
This method, called rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP), has been controversial since the 1980s, when tests showed it impaired comprehension, though researchers weren’t quite sure why. With a new crop of speed-reading products on the market, psychologists decided to dig a bit more and uncovered a simple explanation for RSVP’s flaw: Every so often, we need to scan backward and reread for a better grasp of the material.
On IntroPsych.com, in an article entitled Fallacies of Speedreading, Dr. Russell A. Dewey, PhD warns:
Speedreading courses claim spectacular results such as “doubling your reading speed while retaining 90% comprehension,” but that is true only if comprehension is measured with a ridiculously easy multiple-choice test. When a tougher comprehension test is used, speedreading is exposed as a fraud. A speedreader is left with virtually no in-depth comprehension of a passage.
On study-habits.com, one commenter provides his personal “success story” as a cautionary tale:
It was a midterm exam in Organic Biochemistry. I hadn’t studied any of it at all. I used the “natural” speed reader technique…At 12,000 words a minute, careening through 105 pages of text…did quite well on the multiple choice part of the test and got the second highest score in the class. I walked out of the classroom and could not recall anything from the exam. Not a single thing. Gone.
When Do Experts Say Speed Reading Is Okay?
As you can probably tell by now, the only time speed reading isn’t going to be a problem is when the text to be read is easy for the reader in terms of reading level and familiarity with the subject matter, and comprehension and long-term retention of the material aren’t important.
Speed reading may help a desperate student cram for an upcoming test when time is tight but if the material being read forms the foundation for more advanced material later on, speed reading will ultimately sabotage the student’s progress.
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