Saturday, August 27, 2005

Speed Reading with the Nerds

RadarThis week (our first week of classes), a wunnelle popped in to the office and mentioned that he is "speed-reading" through his casebooks.  My radar dish started spinning at high speed.

Having taken the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course in 1967 (okay, so I'm a little rusty at it now), I suspected the student may be confusing "speed-reading" with "not-reading."

So I went to my favorite research resource: the World Wide Web.

My first stop was at a site operated by "Reading Genius, Ed Strachar."  When I notice that he advertises by telling students: "Learn more by studying you (sic) Law texts faster!" ... I wondered about Ed's attention to detail.  The site advertises: "Law School: A Survival Guide to Success at Law School."  Regular readers of this blog are probably aware of my allergic reaction to the "survival" concept.  (I don't want my attorney whispering to me - at the start of my trial: "I sure hope I survive.")  I was gratified to see that the $395 price has been reduced to $297. 

I was thrilled to find Vernellia Randall's advice to beginning law students: "Find out how fast you read complex material and with what comprehension.  Then spend the summer working to bring your reading speed of complex material up to between 200-300 words per minute and your comprehension 85-100 percent on one-time reading. ... Please note, I am NOT talking about speed reading but merely a decent reading speed with high comprehension."

Next, I found that both Vernellia and the Marshall-Wythe Law Library at the College of William and Mary suggest (the now out of print) Reading Skills for Law Students by Craig Mayfield (Michie Company, 1980).  According to the library's description, this material was "...developed from a speed reading course for law students at Brigham Young University as a workbook for enhancing reading speed and comprehension skills of legal materials. Organized into three parts, each with reading selections followed by questions to gage comprehension. Time conversion tables are available in the appendix to convey (sic) time taken to read to words read per minute."  Note that the material is developed from a speed reading course, but is not a speed reading method.

Yet another commercial enterprise advertises: "Our Law School Survival Skills [argh! (ed.)] programs cover the basic techniques required for students who wish to survive [argh again. (ed.)] and excel in the law school environment.  Lawyers report that they would have done better in law school and had reduced stress levels if they had learned these skills before beginning law school. ... [including] ... speed reading."  If you know these lawyers who reported to this company, let me know.  I'd like to learn from them.

Then I stumbled upon the Law Nerds.  Included under the heading "speed reading" are these expert pieces of advice:

  • Skipping: As a result of pre-reading, you can determine which paragraphs you can skip altogether.  ... skipping can actually increase overall comprehension.
  • Skimming: ... use skimming when you are basically familiar with the material but need more information than what you got out of the overview.
  • Reading: Reading doesn't mean that you have to read every word. ... Once the semester starts, you will be hard pressed to read every assignment during your first semester.

The bulleted material is quoted (admission: it's also lifted out of context for the sake of brevity).  After reading the text in its entirety, I remain a skeptic.

Query: Should we be teaching our students how to "speed read?"  Your thoughts?  Send me an e-mail and I'll post it.  (djt)

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