Finding My Optimum Reading Speed
Kyrill Potapov is a Phd candidate and teacher to 12 year olds. Kyrill used a tool called "Spritz" to help track his own reading and his students' reading speed and comprehension. He learned that using Spritz both he and his students had not only faster reading speeds, but also greater comprehension. In this talk, Kyrill shares how he did his experiment and the insight gained from this thoughtful project.
Hi, I’m Kyrill. So I should be teaching 12 year olds right now and I’m lucky to get the day off. What I did was I tracked my personal reading and spped per number of words read by collaborating with software a concept called Spritz which projects whole text one word at a time, at rhythm that feels comfortable and it aligns words in a way that are quite comfortable to the eye and I was very interested in its implications. Because hers’ the headline that you can read Harry Potter in three hours, because it allows you to read much faster than you ordinarily would be able to read.
The implications were wider than that of which I was very aware of as an English teach, which means I could read this traditional Japanese poem in 25 milliseconds, which has the obvious sub questions of well is this useful, or is this actually something quite alien from the activity of reading and this debated a very polarized. A lot of people have very emotional opinions on both sides, and I wanted to step away from the emotional opinions and try to resolve the issue, was Spritz a good thing or not a good thing.
Now I’m a humanity graduate, so of course the first thing I knew I had to do was consult Jacques Derrida, whose text between 5 and 500 words per minute remain uniformly incomprehensible. What I actually did was I did a randomized control study I tracked Spritz, reading a text on Spritz versus sitting with a book and reading it versus reading the same text on the same screen, but just scrolling through rather than using Spritz. I actually did this with my students but I’ll be focusing my own personal discoveries, with just a few mentions of these guys.
And my school, like loads of schools in England and other countries has a database of standardized comprehension quizzes attached to text long and short and all my students were already doing these. So I was lucky I could use this as a data pool that existed for one particular book and how much are they understanding. And they started reading and the first thing we noticed that using Spritz, they found classics like Charles Dickens, like Robert Louise Stevenson easier to read on Spritz than some of the popular fiction. It seemed like there was something about the quality of the prose that made it easier to read. And this is what I found in my personal Spritzing.
I read lots of contemporary novels, lots of classics and it was working. It seems that I was able to take it in and I was able to comprehend it, and my reading speeds, as soon as I started using Spritz went from 350 words per minute after about a month I could read at 600 and I settled into 450 words per minute, which for me, I’m very busy was a good thing.
The thing I started noticing was whilst I’m reading on Spritz, I entered this kind of mental state that wasn’t unlike mindfulness and I had settled into what is commonly called a flow state in popular psychology, and around this time I got one of these. An EEG band for measuring my level of calm for seeing how my mediation is usually going, so I conducted a few self-experiments. I put the bands on, I put spritz on and I gradually increased the reading speed on Spritz. So once every minute I pu the speed up and I wanted to see what this looked like on this simple EEG that muse produces.
So here’s one story whilst I’m increasing the speed, and the EEG looks like this. First, the faster it goes the more activation there is and then it seemed to settle into a lower speed. Now maybe this is confirmation by this and actually the peaks are where all the exciting bits are and right at the start there, there is some kind of ninja and something about tax returns or maybe I just stopped paying attention. I don’t think so, because there’s a couple of different ways I approached the data.
Now I look at my comprehension scores for this same story, they seem to match up. Where I get an incorrect answer they seem to match up with peaks. So there seems to be bits where the quality of my attention isn’t as good. The ones that are right, it seems that I am reading. I’m not just thinking about nice flowers, this is whilst I’m reading, I’m in this state of excitation. The traditional reading, this seems to be a lot more variable and this was the case across my data sample. There’s a lot more variability on sitting and reading a book, and reading it on a screen. Whereas Spritz tends to sustain a similar kind of – where across time, there are fewer lower, calmer parts and there are fewer higher more active parts. And subjectively, this was confirmed as well.
When I read on Spritz and when my students reads on Spritz they can read for longer without getting distracted however you miss some of the nuances. The reading in some ways isn’t as deep, and yet the information and that actual comprehension of the important ideas and details are just as good.
It’s also useful because it feels less effort, which for a lot of my dyslexic students which was hugely profound because suddenly they weren’t struggling to read and they were able to keep up and they were able to absorb this stuff, and they were able to track how much progress they’d been making, which for us is really important as well.
It means that I could read for pleasure which is great on Spritz for some books. Thomas Pynchon, Marcel Proust are great on Spritz. But it also mean that what I could do was whilst working fuul-time, I could read a whole load of informational studies and I could pull the data out in a far more efficient time space. I could say here’s a 20 minute slot, here’s the speed at what I would need if I wanted to read this paper in 20 minutes. I pasted it into Readsy.co and which is a website that all of you can access and it worked. I read lots and lots of papers. My kids read lots and lots of books, and it seems to be something which is very exciting.
It’s free and it’s available in lots of places. Get the Chrome extension, go to Readsy.co. I’ve got my own testing platform that I’ve developed with Spritz. And I hope that we can use this and do some collaboration, because how exciting to get and track the number of words and reading speeds so I can say I’m going to pledge a 1000 words per day while I’m doing some research or I’m going to find myself. I’m going to see does listening to certain kinds of music affect how quickly I red or how many words I read. I think there is a lot of potential here, which I as a teacher are very excited about.