This study was conducted in the Yemen Arab Republic on young adult students working in various government ministries. It measured both reading speeds and comprehension in two groups of learners exposed to "intensive" and "extensive" reading programs respectively. The study sought to study the issues of reading speed and reading comprehension within the context of comparing intensive and extensive classroom reading procedures. The study’s hypothesis was that learners in the 'extensive' group will achieve significantly faster reading speeds and higher test scores on reading comprehension than those in the 'intensive' group as measured on relatively easy, non-problematic texts.
Two groups of elementary level learners at the British Council English Language Centre in Sana'a, Yemen completed different reading programs. The experimental group received an extensive reading program consisting of class readers, a class library of books for students to borrow, and regular visits to the library providing access to a much larger collection of graded readers. The control group received an entirely different reading program which was intensive in character, being based on the reading of short passages and the completion of tasks designed to 'milk' the texts for grammar, lexis, and rhetorical patterns. The study extended over a period of two semesters and records of time spent reading each week were maintained for both classes and there was no significant difference in the time the two classes spent on their reading. The reading done by both groups was carefully monitored by checking on homework assignments, requiring subjects to write book reports, and to give oral presentations in class on the books they had read.
In measuring reading speed, subjects were told to read at normal speed and assured that the exercise would not be graded. They were given a 3 minute time limit and told that when the researcher banged on the desk they were to mark the word they had reached with a cross (x). Measurements were taken twice using selected texts and speeds were then calculated in words per minute and tabulated. For the reading comprehension tests, a time limit of 30 minutes was set for each test.
The hypothesis that learners in the extensive group would achieve significantly faster reading speeds and higher reading comprehension scores than subjects in the intensive group is very strongly supported by the data; the large and significant differences between the reading speeds of the two groups at the end of the study, the much greater gains in speed achieved by the extensive group, and the fact that the intensive group were faster readers at the start of the program all support this conclusion. The measured gains in reading speeds were four times greater in the extensive group, and the gains in reading comprehension were three times greater in this group. The results imply that reading speed will develop naturally if learners are motivated to read interesting simplified material like graded readers that are accessible linguistically. These results also suggest that certain task types used in intensive reading may impede the development of learners' reading speeds, even if they do not actually bring about slower reading speeds. It is important in this regard not to overlook the fact that subjects in both groups in this study did actually increase their reading speeds.
There are several limitations within the study. The first is that the number of subjects in the study was small (a total of only 26 across the two groups). The second limitation is that the validity and reliability of the instruments used to measure reading speed and comprehension need to be established by correlating them with standard tests of reading comprehension. While the above factors certainly account for part of the performance gap between the groups, they cannot fully account for the very large differences in reading speeds and comprehension test scores uncovered by this study.
EXTENSIVE READING: SPEED AND COMPREHENSION