Project for Improved Student Reading Skills

A number of years ago I have the opportunity of working at the Yale Foreign Student Orientation Institute. Our task was to prepare advanced and graduate students coming from a variety of countries for work at American Universities at which they were already enrolled. One of the most important jobs was to get their reading speed up to the requirements of American programs, which was far faster than they had been led to expect.

Norman Fedde had developed a very effective program for Yale students, which exposed students to individual lines of book text for measured time intervals, and when the reading section was completed, he arranged test for understanding and retention at intervals ranging from a few days to a few weeks. His carefully kept statistics indicated that students who had learned to read at an accelerated rate in this program, also understood and retained better than had been expected, and the program seemed unequivocally a success.

As we look back from the present time, the weak link was clearly the presentation of reading material on a projection screen fed by timed slides carrying individual line of text. The material was read at a distance, which disfavored those with nearsighted vision, it did not approach the close reading feeling of working with a book, and the reading had to be done in a darkened room with a classroom of readers lockstepped into the same rate.

Twenty five years ago there was no such thing as a personal computer, and this was the only way to do it.

Defective student reading by now has become an endemic problem, and we recognize general difficulties with written texts to be one of the most serious problems on the American academic scene. Despite elaborate programs designed to remedy reading dysfunction, the problem seems to be getting worse each year.

I had already put together before l986 a basic computer-based Improved Reading Program with a small selection of simple text, which allows the student to preselect a given reading rate, for example, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, or 60 P.P.H. (pages per hour). Consecutive lines from a text oriented to the needs of students of a given age and experience level, appear on the monitor screen, followed by a one to five second delay which establishes the average PPH. reading rate. A bright twelve year old boy, who has no reading problems, started reading at 15 PPH, and went up to over 40 PPH in short order. Another reader who is not a native speaker, doubled reading speed from 10 to 20 PPH on the test sample. But this was a very rudimentary program, it merely shows what can be done with a computer program, and points the way for further development.

With the computer technology now available, this kind of Reading Program can be developed easily at the present time.There is every reason to feel that this approach has much potential, since it is consonant with work which has proved itself at Yale over a period of many years, and shows promise for a great deal of development at little cost if used with the ubiquitous.personal computers.

The development of a coherent and effective Improved Reading Program requires some modest funding for the development of these areas:

1) A useable and attractive operating layout is needed, which offers the student the opportunity to:

a) Time his own reading by mouseclicking when ready for a new line, and record this rate as documentation of his initial speed. and a check on his improvement.

b) Select a reading rate which he feels comfortable with, probably by means of a continuous slider scales for various for PPH.

c) At marked intervals take retention tests, which are corrected and recorded as in a) above.

d) Progress through a series of selections so that he always has new text of a given level of difficulty to work with.

2)There must be a library of texts ready for use, graded for age-level and ability-level, which are standardized by educators experienced in the reading field. A large library of such materials can best be burned on a CD ROM, which can serve the needs of a wide variety of students. Educational consultants are needed for this aspect of the reading program.

3) A workable method must be developed which allows teachers to enter new text material of their choice directly into the computer with a minimum of fuss and error. Since special texts suitable for individual students may be desirable, they should be entered as easily as possible.

To pursue this project, it is necessary

1) to find concerned people who can consult and input new ideas

2) to find a skilled programmer sensitive to educational needs who will have the skill to explore the various possibilities of such a program

3) to find a source of modest funding which will enable the project to get under way directly, and

4) a suitable school situation in which to do the first two years' testing with a variety of students, to determine the actual effectiveness of this Improved Reading Program.

5) At such time as the program is tested and found effective, to explore ways to bring it to the attention of the educational public.

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College