read from the outside in.

I used to read all books chronologically. Start on page one and move forward from there. It worked. It was . . . fine.

But last summer, I enrolled my son in a $300 speed reading course and the instructor was kind enough to let me sit in the back of the room and “wait” instead of dropping off and picking up my son. So essentially, I got to audit the course for free.

Wow. What a difference.

I still read fiction chronologically, but now I read non-fiction very differently. There are two goals:

The first is most important to me: To improve reading comprehension and retention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve remembered something I’ve read and thought to myself, “WHERE did I read this?” Worse yet, how many times I’ve remember only part of something I’ve read, but can’t seem to recall the context or the information completely or accurately.

The second goal is to increase my reading speed. For me, that’s an on again off again thing because sometimes I do just want the information in my head already. But often, I just want to sit down with a cup of coffee, breathe and . . . really savor a book and that stolen quiet time).

To condense hours of class instruction and numerous examples, here’s how I read non-fiction now:

Step 1: I read the Table of Contents and the Prologue of a book.

Step 2:
Let’s say I’m reading a chapter at a time. I go straight for the last page of the chapter to see if the author summarized it for me. Are there any questions for thought back there? See, if I have an preliminary idea of the main points of the chapter before I even begin, the explanations and supporting stories within the chapter are that much easier to understand as I go. I also peruse the chapter for bold words and section headings. This allows me to have an overview of the order the information will be presented while calling to attention the prominent terminology and/or concepts.

Step 3: NOW I read the chapter. If I want to actually read faster, I use my hand to sweep under the words from left to right and increase my reading speed. I don’t reread. I trust that I got it the first time. Most of the time I’m right. Rarely do I really need to read something again. It’s the rhythm of the sweeping motion of your hand that propels you forward. Time yourself. It’s amazing.

Step 4: Tell backs. You review what you’ve just read. Tell backs can be in whatever format you want them to be. The instructor of the speed reading course used his voice mail for tell backs. He calls himself and summarizes what he just read. This helps solidify the information in two ways. First, by verbally repeating the information and then by listening to it later. I use giant index cards as bookmarks and record page numbers and a few words to remind myself of interesting points. Later, I pull out the index card and the book and type quotes or concepts into a word processing document. That way, I can search the document content of an entire folder to find what I’m trying to remember. I’ve also begun typing keywords at the top of the first page to help the search process.

A book I found that supported these concepts and really helped as well is “The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program” by Stanley D. Frank.

My son’s speed reading class and this book have changed the way I read, improved my comprehension and understanding, and allowed me to find and recall much more easily.

Go for it.

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