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How to teach your students to read at 600 words per minute – Part 1

This initial installment in the series lays the groundwork for teaching your student to increase their auditory reading speed.

This series on increasing auditory reading speed is based on a master-apprentice model. In this case, successful professionals with visual impairments like me are the masters and your students are the apprentices. Your role as a parent or TVI is to serve as a coach. The theory is that if your students learn the skills I use on the job every day then they are much more likely to get the results I get in the labor market.

Let’s use basketball as an analogy. Young people that want to be great basketball players would be well-served to emulate professional basketball players such as Michael Jordan. In order to do that, they need coaches to help them improve their game through deliberate practice and drills.

One day, there will be peer-reviewed research that illuminates the most effective and efficient methods of learning how to read auditorily. Until then, we must rely on the master-apprentice model.

Goal

The goal is for your student to independently read at an accelerated rate for extended periods of time with good comprehension and no fatigue. See five reasons why your students should learn to read at a rate of 600 words per minute for the lifelong benefits of learning this skill.

I suggest 600 words per minute for two reasons. First, many of the successful blind professionals I know read at approximately 600 words per minute or even faster. Second, research from the field of neuroscience suggests that 600 words per minute is well within the realm of human ability.

The maximum reading rate for any individual will vary for many reasons including the age and ability of the individual, fatigue or lack thereof, ambient noise, the reading level of the content, etc. So, let’s further refine the target reading rate to be 600 words per minute for a well-rested high school senior reading age-appropriate fiction content that fascinates her in a quiet environment.

All that said, don’t get too hung up on that specific quantitative goal. Achieving it will require months or perhaps years of deliberate practice. And, there are many benefits that can be enjoyed at lower levels of proficiency.

Definition of Success

I think it makes sense to define success before you begin. That definition should be specific to each student and reflect their current reading ability. For example, consider a low vision student that has always been a print reader. However, she fatigues easily and is subject to headaches and nausea from reading print for extended periods of time. Success for this student may be simply to expose her to auditory reading and plant the seed that she may return to nourish when she really needs to increase her reading speed, e.g. college.

On the other hand, a blind student that already uses a screen reader on a daily basis is in a much better position to increase his reading speed. He has already overcome any aversion to computer-generated speech. His brain is accustomed to it. Now, he just needs to deliberately and systematically increase his speed.

Be Prepared for Stunning Success

Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”. The ultimate purpose of this series is to create a spark in the mind of your student and create a channel for her to feed the flame until it becomes a raging wildfire. That means she can effortlessly and independently follow her intellectual curiosity wherever it leads.

It is important for you to be prepared to feed that flame with content that is of intense interest to her. It could be books about dogs, or horses, or fantasy, or science fiction, or detective stories, or whatever. The content doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is to feed the flame. Be prepared to work with a great ELA teacher or a great librarian to find content that is of intense interest.

The best case scenario is to ensure that your student has a Bookshare account. Make sure she knows how to search for books and download them. I recommend the Voice Dream Reader app on iOS for this purpose. Voice Dream Reader allows your student to enter their Bookshare username and password once in settings. After that, it is very simple to search for books and then immediately start reading them. Furthermore, Voice Dream Reader supports a wide range of voices.

Environment

It is important to practice auditory reading speed in a quiet space. That means no human conversation or music. It also means no persistent ambient noise such as a heater, air conditioner, or traffic.

Your student will need a decent pair of speakers, ear buds, or headphones. If she is using speakers, make sure the bass is not overwhelming. The reason is that lower tones use longer wavelengths. As a result, there are less waves per second which can negatively impact reading speed.

Final thoughts

This initial post in the series provided an introduction to the topic of increasing auditory reading speed. In the next post, we’ll discuss the tools you need to get started. Then, we’ll move on to content and methodology.

600 Words Per Minute Series

By Ed Summers

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