Friday, August 09, 2013


Exceptional Readers

In this section I want to tell you about some exceptional readers I have known. Let me begin with L. W. Nuttall M.D., he was the first outstanding reader that I knew. He was my father. His mother was a one room school teacher in Utah. She frequently read to him as a preschooler. At four he had figured out how to read. By first grade he was reading at a fourth grade level. All through school his reading excelled. During medical school he routinely had to read medical books of 1,000 to 2,000 pages. Like most medical students he careful studied his books. However, he had an advantage. He could read 1,200 words per minute. The night before a class final he would read the entire 1,000 page textbook from cover to cover. Believe me these textbooks are printed with small print. He made straight A's in all his courses. Unfortunately, for me I did not inherit his extraordinary ability. Instead dyslexia rans also in our family. I inherited those set of genes. So my reading is exceptionally slow. 

Reading and planning a canoe trip. As a dyslexic college student, I needed other students to read my textbooks to me. So each semester about 6 of my fellow students read my books to me. One of these students was Richard. He was exceptional in languages. Besides English Richard could read fluently in Greek, Latin, German and Hebrew. He could read over 200 words per minute aloud to me. One day we were reading a chapter on Russian history for my world history class. He was reading very quickly and very accurately. When the hour was up, I asked him if he got anything out of the reading since he was going so fast. He told me that in fact he was not paying any attention to what he was reading. Instead while reading to me, he was planning a summer canoe trip. In his mind he was thinking about where he and his friends would spend each night on the river. He thought about where they would buy their food and what camping gear to take with them. He was without a doubt one of the most exceptional readers I ever met.

Reading in true silence. I had a friend Bill. He wanted to read faster in order to complete his college work. So he signed up for a course at college which focused on increasing his reading speed. In this course there were machines that flashed words to him quickly to increase his word perception. There were projectors that scrolled the lines of stories quicker and quicker. Students practiced keeping up with the scrolling lines of print. Slowly this pushed Bill to read faster. Like Bill the other students in the class would hit a plateau at about 300 words per minute (wpm). At that speed Bill would still hear himself pronounce each word in his head. A number of students stayed at this plateau. But after awhile some students would breakthrough this plateau. All of a sudden Bill was no longer saying each word in his head. Words would be recognized totally in silence. When this happened Bill's reading speeds jumped to 400 wpm then to 500 wpm. The words now floated by in silence. Bill became only aware of the ideas in a book. He no longer focusing on individual words. Research shows that Bill's brain was still processing individual words but extremely quickly and silently.

Reading and seeing a movie. I meet Abigiel who was from Holland. She could speak four languages: Dutch, German, French and English. She was a very proficient reader. Like other proficient readers she could read with true silent reading. In fact, she said she loved to read fiction. While reading novels she would become oblivious to holding a book, turning the pages or seeing words on the pages. She said the novel would turn into a full technicolor movie in her mind. She would be totally absorbed in seeing her mental movie. All else disappeared.

Reading in more than one language. Mazin, one of my good friends,  reads fluently in both English and Arabic. These two languages use very different alphabetic scripts, different ways to write words and different grammars. But yet he reads fluently and with true silent reading in both languages. He goes weekly to the library and brings home a large stack of books. His reading is extensive and covers education, philosophy, anthology, engineering, and botany. While spending several years in the Middle East as a professor, he followed his weekly practice of bringing a large stack of books home from the library. In this setting he read the same topics but exclusively in Arabic. Today he reads both languages fluently and effortlessly.

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