Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Speed Reading vs. Slow Reading

In college I took a speed reading course offered through my university's writing center. Being an English major with super long reading assignments every week, I thought it sounded like a good idea to increase my reading speed to help power through the homework.

The course was a miserable experience for me.

Have you ever taken a speed reading class? They give you metronomes and set the speed way up and tell you read an entire line within one beat and just keep your eyes moving and don't look back and never reread but just go, go, go. My comprehension plummeted, I found it incredibly frustrating, and I came away from every class with a massive headache.

Now, this is normal, and they told me this. They told me I would need hours and hours of practice before I actually increased my speed and felt comfortable with it. But I was already struggling enough with comprehension on my reading assignments, and I didn't want to add one more stressful element of "practice" on top of everything else that made reading a miserable experience for me at the time. So I gave up the idea of being a speed reader.

Or so I thought.

The other day in class I was talking with another student (also a mom, although her children are all school age) about my schedule. She was flabbergasted to learn that I only have childcare for the hours I'm actually in class, and that I spend the majority of my day physically caring for my little ones. "When do you do your homework?" she asked, and I told her that I do homework in the evenings, usually between 8 and 10 PM, and I get two or three hours on Saturdays. So every week I dedicate roughly 10 to 12 hours to homework. She was dumbfounded that I was able to get everything done, reading assignments and paper writing, in that amount of time (for reference, my program recommends three hours of homework for every one hour in class, so with 9 hours of class each week I'm technically supposed to be dedicating 27 hours to homework the rest of the week). "How do you get it all done? How do you even do the reading?" she asked. I had to think about it a moment, because I was actually thinking in my head, "Why does it take you so much longer?"

The more and more I thought about the way I approach my homework, the more and more I realized that I am speed reading. I guess that course sunk in after all, subliminally or whatever, because what I do is exactly the strategies I remember being taught in that class. I start by looking at titles and subtitles. I glance through the reading assignment to ascertain length. I read the introduction quickly, I skim the intermediary paragraphs, focusing on the first and last sentences, and I read the conclusion. I do not read every word, but I try to at least gain an idea of overall content and argument, and find a talking point I can bring up in class. Once I've done that, I move on.

And somehow, this method works better for me than for many of my classmates who read every single word. I have a big picture concept of what the argument is, I have something to talk about, and I retain. I comprehend, sometimes even better than when I go in to a reading assignment with loads of time to reread every paragraph. When it comes to my academic stuff, where I need to take in a lot of information in a short amount of time, speed reading is great.

I realize that I also use speed reading when it comes to how I consume internet content. I follow a lot of blogs and news sources, but my leisure time for reading these blogs usually consists of the 15 minutes I'm allowed to sit down for breakfast. So I do a lot quick skimming, glancing through content looking for main ideas. Every now and then, when I run across something that really interests me, I'll save it for a moment when I can read it slowly, but otherwise, I see speed reading as the only way to tackle the amount of information available on the internet. There is simply so much content created everyday, that there is no way to consume it all, so I limit by choosing the few sites that I think have the best content, and then speed read my way through it in a set time each day. I think speed reading is a crucial skill for those who want to stay up on even a small corner of the mountains of content posted every day.

But I also want to say that I still believe in slow reading.

If you've followed me for a while, you know that in any given month, I average around four books. For most book bloggers, this is an embarrassingly low number. And, with the staggering number of books on my to-read list, I must admit that I'm tempted to race through as many books as I can at record speed. How else am I going to get through all the books in life?

But there's another part of me that doesn't want to do that. When it comes to pleasure reading, rather than quantity I want to go for quality, and if I'm reading really quality books, I want to read them slowly, savor the language, stay in the magic for a little bit, and just take time to enjoy. Sometimes I come across those addicting, page-turning thrillers that I can't help speeding my way through, and I love that. But I also love savoring the slow reads. I never want to speed read through my pleasure reading just for the sake of numbers, just for the sake of getting on to the next book. Slow reading is the best way to do deep reading. Slow reading gives you time to let beautiful ideas sit and simmer. And sometimes it's nice to be able to take the time to just dwell in the story and soak in the language. It's a luxurious experience. Slow reading is sweet and pleasurable, and I always want to make sure that slow reading has place in my reading life.

What are your thoughts? Are you a speed reader or a slow-and-savor type reader? (Or like me, does it depend on the content?)

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had taken that class while I was at BYU! Both my brother and sister have taken it, and, although it sounds brutal, I think the skills would be so helpful at certain times. I agree with you that for pleasure reading, it's nice to just read at a normal, comfortable speed, but I wish that for those books or articles I don't care as much about, I could zip through them and not feel like my comprehension goes way down..