When learning to speed read, the saying that a little information can be a dangerous thing still applies. Consider the term “eye-span.” Even though I’ve been teaching people from all walks of life how to speed read for 30 years, I have only recently received many questions about it. For new learners coming into my programs, the question keeps coming up early in training. I don’t even use the term in my training. The new learner has read something about it somewhere. There is too much concern for it though.
“Eye-span” is referred to the amount of text someone takes in with the eyes for each stopping, or “fixation” of the eyes. By stating “eye-span,” someone has already been doing some investigating about speed reading. There is much misinformation about the topic. It is true that part of the goal of speed reading is to allow the eyes to take in more for each stop of the eyes (fixation). A traditional linear reader typically takes in one to three words per fixation. That is inefficient when you consider the total area of clear focus the eyes have at normal reading distance. This normal area of sight measures between one to three inches in diameter. Sight is always dimensional – that means there is both a horizontal and vertical field.
The problem of learning to speed read and “eye-span” becomes apparent due to marketing and the fact that many programs try to teach you to widen the horizontal span. In fact many programs, especially speed reading software programs, will train your eyes way beyond the natural limitation of the sight experience that is about 3 inches using only the horizontal field. These types of training exercises try to stretch that span to six inches or more telling the learner to go straight down the page with one fixation per line, line by line.
There are 2 problems with this:
1. Natural sight takes in the horizontal field as well as the vertical field. So this is an unnatural muscular change for the eyes, not to mention merely an enlarged linear approach to reading.
2. The new learner’s mind is busy thinking about the mechanics of the eyes, rather than focusing on the meaning of the print.
Remember I pointed out that sight is dimensional? Try this experiment. Take a page of mostly text that the printed area across measures six to eight inches and has big paragraphs. Now, focus your eyes somewhere in the middle of the text. Lock your eyes still. Take a pen or pencil and draw a circle around how much print you can clearly see. Don’t worry about understanding the text, just focus on clarity of the sight experience, or how much you see. Measure the area. It is probably somewhere between one to three inches in diameter. This is your natural “cone of sight.”
When you speed read, you are trying to move this “cone of sight” across and down the page. However, you don’t want to be concerned by how many words you are seeing. You want your mind to search out meaning from the text. However, without training the mind to respond and comprehend with these words appearing out of order, it will be quite frustrating because you do not comprehend.
Please know that you can not read if you do not comprehend. Comprehension is the key. Comprehension is getting meaning from the print. Too often I get learners who say they learned to go through material at 1500-2500 words per minute, but they don’t understand. They have gone through the visual training, but not the cognitive training, or comprehension.
With this focus on “eye-span” the learner gets too concerned over the technical aspects of the eyes, or mechanics, and forgets about the meaning of the text. The mind gets overloaded because there is competition for what the mind is doing. You can’t comprehend if you’re so focused on the technical aspects of what the eyes are doing. So forget about what your eyes are doing. Push for the meaning!
For all our years of teaching speed reading, we teach learners to open that 1-3 inches in diameter in a natural manner and search for idea chunks, or meaningful groups of words. It is not about “word groups,” “word clusters,” or the number of words that is important. It is about stopping the eyes on “meaning groups.” Speed Reading is a process by which the reader is searching for meaning from the print in a more efficient manner. Eye-span only plays a part of the reading process, but gets nearly all the attention in most speed reading training.
Why not get the help you deserve and overcome your information overload?