Speed reading has its roots in research conducted by the United States Air Force in the 1940s. World War II fighter pilots used an instrument called a tachistoscope to identify aircraft silhouettes flashed on a screen for a fraction of a second. Air Force scientists wondered what would happen then if the images were replaced with words. The pilots worked up to reading four words at a time flashed on the screen at five-hundredths of a second. This proved that with practice people could learn to read at rates much faster than “normal.”
In Advanced Reading Concepts’ early years, our fastest adult student had received Friend or Foe Recognition Training when he was in the service. In this training, which engaged the participants’ peripheral vision, different kinds of aircraft were flashed on a screen to be recognized as friend or foe. In battle, the pilots had to trust this recognition enough to instantly decide whether or not to push a button to bring the aircraft down. Our student applied his earlier Friend or Foe Recognition Training to his speed reading, knowing that while using peripheral vision, the subconscious will accurately remember the information. He told me that, while the rest of the class was initially skeptical that speed reading would work, he knew from his training that there was no doubt speed reading worked and jumped right in to apply it on the first day.
Today the United States Air Force encourages Air Force personnel to learn speed reading, which is especially important in required academic and leadership courses. Our company has conducted many courses for them and other military organizations. Speed reading has branched out from its roots. Our eye techniques don’t flash words; they develop peripheral vision so that the reader sees, not individual words, but whole paragraphs at once, and, along with other comprehension techniques, they teach the reader to see the big picture as well as the details and to trust the information that the eyes have funneled to the brain to be recalled later.
Some speed reading courses only teach eye techniques, but we use a variety of approaches to cover all kinds of written and electronic reading material from memos and emails to research reports, journals and procurement documents. And something that our course includes (that the pilot did not need) is instruction on how to organize the information learned for later use for writing reports, taking exams and giving presentations.
Skeptics, take notice. If no less an authority than the United States Air Force believes speed reading to be scientific fact, not science fiction, then you can believe speed reading is indeed scientific fact.
Judith Barker and Bonnie James