Many parents have been deeply impressed by what happens in the "mini-lessons" at our learning centers, where they observe their children being introduced to the Evelyn Wood method of study. In the typical mini-lesson, which involves one forty-five-minute session with an instructor, the students receive various kinds of reading material and are asked to read it as fast as they can. Then, they calculate their reading speed.
Next, the instructor gives several short talks, describing techniques that will improve the students' reading speed. These include previewing the material in advance of regular reading; using special hand motions; developing the discipline to not read back over material already covered; and reading the material by looking at groups of words, rather than at each word individually.
Finally, at the end of the session, the instructor asks the students to apply what they've learned by giving them another test. Consistently, the students show an average increase in their reading speed of 50 percent, with improved comprehension.
Even more dramatic from the parents' vantage point, however, is what they observe during the final test. As the students apply their techniques and work at increasing their reading speed, parents notice that the instructor begins to cavort at the front of the room. He may pick up a chair and hold it over his head, do pirouettes like some awkward ballet dancer or otherwise act outrageously within a few feet of the students.
But amazingly, none of the youngsters even notices. They are concentrating so hard on their reading that they become oblivious of what's going on around them.
Most of the parents have never seen their children pay such close attention to their reading. Usually, after this presentation the adults are completely sold on the reading and study concepts they've seen demonstrated. They realize that by encouraging these and similar study techniques at home, it's possible to transform their children's study habits, concentration and academic performances.
I've seen much the same thing happen with a group of adults who take a mini-lesson. In one urban high school, the teachers were periodically given part of a workday to explore ways to further their own education. As part of this program, they invited a team from our Evelyn Wood organization, including the topflight instructor Dan Warner whom I've already mentioned, to show them how speed reading works.
It was fairly obvious that this group, which was noisy and restless, was going to be difficult to reach. But Dan has encountered plenty of bored and skeptical audiences before—and he's also had plenty of experience cutting through their negativism and getting them interested and involved.
The first thing he did was initiate a dialogue with them: "Have any of you ever heard of us?" he asked.
"I understand you work with youngsters and are inter ested in getting them to learn more efficiently, with greater levels of concentration—is that fair?"
"Yes," the class responded in unison. Almost immediately, he had them with him, interacting constructively and anticipating with some interest what he was going to say or do next.
"Mind-wanderers, are you here today? Do any of you ever have trouble concentrating on what you're reading or studying? Do you ever fall asleep when you read?'"
"No!" they all said loudly—with big grins that showed they meant the opposite.
"Procrastinators, are you here?" Dan continued. "That's where I came from. I took this course back in 1967, when I was in grad school. But I had had plenty of problems before that. At the end of two years of undergraduate school, I flunked out because I kept putting my work off. I took notes like a crazy fool in classes, but then, I'd wait until the night before the test to read and study the material."
But Dan did manage to finish college; he went on to graduate school; and he took the Evelyn Wood dynamic reading course. "I proceeded to nail the next tests I took in grad school," he told the class. "In fact, I became so adept at reading that the Evelyn Wood people asked me to teach."
After finishing his preliminary remarks, Dan passed out copies of Albert Camus's novel The Stranger and said, "Now I want to find out how fast you can read."
He had them read, beginning on page 1, for two minutes. Then, he stopped them and showed them how to calculate their reading speed. Most were in the 200-to-300-word-per-minute range.
"But you know what?" Dan said. "Any darned fool can read one thousand to three thousand words per minute— and you can too if you just learn to operate a little differ ently than you do now. So let me explain exactly how to do
Needless to say, by then you could have heard a pin drop in that class. Dan went on to give more background on the Evelyn Wood Program and to provide an overview of the lesson plan. He introduced them to the concept of using hand motions and showed them the simple underlining hand motion that I've already explained. At first, he instructed them just to relax and move their hands smoothly back and forth without trying to read.
He suggested that they try the motion at different speeds, including the fastest movements they could manage "without breaking your fingernails or causing blisters." Next, he asked them to slow way down so that they could see all the words as they moved along; but still, they were not to worry about trying to read.
Now, it was time to increase the speed again. "Press the accelerator a little," he said. "Move those subvocal linear speeds up to four, five, six hundred words a minute. But don't read. All right, now really step on it! Get that speed going really fast again, a light, bouncy rhythm. Underline quickly, without reading, but keep your hand and eye movements under control. Be sure your head doesn't begin to swing back and forth. Move your arm and hand easily at the elbow. Keep it loose and relaxed."
Finally, Dan told them to stop. "You've got the idea," he said. "Let's try something a little different. I want you to begin moving that hand back and forth in a fast underlining motion, but again, without reading. Gradually, slow down your hand motion until reading begins to take place.
"Now, turn to the beginning of chapter two. I'm going to time you again for two minutes. This time, I want you to use that underlining hand motion at the speed you determined was comfortable for reading. No faster, and no slower. Ready? Begin."
For two minutes, the class became absorbed in The Stranger. Then Dan had them calculate their speeds again. The improvements were dramatic. Many had doubled their rate or were moving along at an even faster clip.
Why did their speeds improve?
As Dan explained, there were a number of contributing factors: first, they weren't rereading; second, they were attacking the book actively with those hand motions, not just sitting still, languidly slipping into a leisurely pace; and third, the hand motions helped them concentrate more completely than before.
"Let me ask you a couple of questions before we wrap this up," he said. "First, how many of you found that during those two minutes you momentarily lost your concentration, or your mind temporarily wandered?"
Nearly everyone's hand went up.
"Of course you did!" he responded. "I lose concentration periodically. We all do. But what happened when your mind began to wander? You noticed that you were just wiggling your hand, just moving it along across the page without reading. So you came to your senses and started reading again. The hand motion enhanced your concentration.
"Now, let me ask you a final question: Can any of you tell me what I was doing while you were reading?"
No one could, so Dan said, "Let me show you what I was doing."
He proceeded to spin like a dancer, balance a garbage can on his head, make childish faces and clown around in other ways.
"You didn't see that, did you?" he asked. "Wouldn't you like to have that kind of concentration every time you sat down to read or study? Wouldn't you like your students to have that kind of concentration? Anyone with a fourth-grade reading ability can."
Even introductions like this can increase reading speeds immediately by at least 50 percent and often much more. Furthermore, people become motivated to learn the more advanced techniques that will propel them to ever higher rates of reading and studying—in short, to the realm of Mental Soaring.
To introduce you to the next step in this process—to the higher speed plateaus, well beyond the 900-word-per-min-ute subvocal barrier—let's take a brief look at the experience of the founder of this program, Evelyn Wood herself.
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