How Can I Improve My Reading Speed and Comprehension?

Posted by Erica Warren on

There are all sorts of companies that are trying to sell “speed reading” programs and a “quick comprehension fix.” I often evaluate these products, and I continually find them, too good to be true. What I do know, as a seasoned reading specialist, and educational therapist, is there is not a single solution that serves every struggling reader. So why is this and what can you do?
Improve reading speed and comprehension

Why Does the Solution to Improved Reading Differ Across Individuals?

The secret to improving both reading speed and comprehension depends on a number of factors. First, what are the cognitive weaknesses that are causing the reading difficulties? These deficits need to be remediated through individualized support and accommodated with assistive technology tools. Second, what are the cognitive strengths of the learner? By tapping into these abilities, struggling readers can develop compensatory strategies or workarounds. Third, one must consider individual preferences. This may include visual choices such as font size, color, and word spacing, or auditory options such as audiobooks read by people or synthesized voices.
Executive Functioning Coaching

How Do Excellent Readers Read?

There are numerous core skills that must be done simultaneously to be an excellent reader. Yes, outstanding readers multi-task, and each of these duties is developed to a point of automaticity. In other words, one needs to be able to do a few skills simultaneously without thinking about it. So, what are the core skills that need to be developed to this degree of mastery, and how can I address these issues?

Core Skills Strategies for Improvement
Auditory processing and decoding of words and chunks of text (phonemic awareness) - instead of sounding out the individual sounds that make up a word, the brain must get to the point that chunks of text are quickly processed into meaning.
  • Improving decoding and pronunciation can help young learners advance their reading speed and comprehension. Many experience success trying alternative methods of instruction such as an Orton Gillingham Based or phonics program
  • Using audiobooks can support auditory processing. By allowing the eyes to scan the text while listening, one can improve sound-symbol association as well as whole word recognition. 
  • Finding the best audiobook options for struggling readers is key. While some people love to hear a person read a book aloud with resources like Audible, Learning Ally, or YouTube, others choose synthesized voices that are available through sites and apps like BookShare and Voice Dream Reader.
Tracking and visual processing - helps us follow a line of print without losing our place. In school, if a child cannot track from word to word smoothly, accurately, and efficiently, reading suffers, comprehension drops, and meaning becomes compromised.
  • Using the text-to-speech app Voice Dream Reader and setting up “Pac-Man mode” can train the brain to track in a fluid manner, because as the words are read aloud the words disappear from the screen. This technology, research by Harvard University and MIT, brags that this feature can help double reading speed without any loss of comprehension. 
  • You can also improve visual tracking by doing exercises.
  • Using other features, on Voice Dream Reader, can assist visual processing such as altering the font size, color, as well as spacing between letters and lines.
Visualization - refers to our ability to create pictures in our heads when reading or listening. It is one of many skills that help us comprehend and remember information.
  • Listening to audiobooks can take a load of decoding text off the brain, so readers can focus their effort on visualizing content. 
  • Learning to generate your own personal visualizations and playing games to develop this skill is important. Click Here to learn more.
Attention - refers to our ability to focus while reading. It plays a critical role in reading speed and comprehension.
  • Reading text and listening to audiobooks, simultaneously, can improve attentional skills. 
  • Listening to audiobooks can help focus and enhance inner visuals so that the reader can learn to create a virtual movie in their mind’s eye.
  • You can also improve attention skills by developing executive functioning abilities.
Speed of Processing - refers to the pace at which visual and auditory information is understood.
  • Using audiobooks and slowly increasing the words per minute (WPM) can improve processing speed. Each week increase the WPM by a word or two. To improve auditory processing, just listen to the content. To improve visual processing, be sure to scan the text while listening. Gradually, the brain will learn to read at a faster pace.
  • You can also consider doing exercises that strengthen processing speed.
Verbal Reasoning and Vocabulary - refers to one’s ability to reason with and make sense of written language.
  • To develop semantic reasoning and vocabulary, I like to use Infercabulary. Click here to learn more.

What to Do If You are Looking for an Affordable Fix:

Clearly, an affordable fix to improving reading speed and comprehension is to use audiobooks while reading along or visualizing the content. If you want to take it up a notch, use the app Voice Dream Reader and set up Pac-Man Mode to train the brain to track in a fluid manner.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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