Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Extensive Reading: Speed and Comprehension

Timothy Bell

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. 

Timothy Bell


  1. The study asserts that those who were in the extensive reading group showed more progress. Does author teach them any speed reading technique? And does he compile the certain task types that impede the progress of speed reading?

    1. The author does not directly teach them a specified speed reading technique. The intensive reading group focused on reading exercises that recycled and reinforced language items through intensive micro-linguistic analysis of the texts. On the other hand, the extensive group's methodology focused on internally motivating the participants by utilizing graded readers and extensive reading with the freedom to select material according to their interests. The author's main findings were that the traditional reading lessons based on the close study of short texts of the intensive group, did not benefit the participants as much as the extensive group's program. This intensive program did not impede readers though, simply it did not benefit the participants nearly as much. The author's complied data suggests both intensive and extensive programs are beneficial to reading comprehension and speed, but the extensive program resulted in 3 to 4 times better results in testing.

      Additionally, the author makes a note that the extensive group was aware of being involved in a separate and special reading program. Instead of impeding the progress of speed reading, this could have had an opposite affect by further encouraging participants to be internally motivated more so than their intensive group counterparts.

  2. I found it interesting that the students in the intensive group, which read slower, also received lower scores in terms of comprehension. This result is in complete opposition to the study I posted, however there are a multitude of possible explanations for that difference. Did the author provide any commentary on why the slower readers scored lower on comprehension tests?

  3. I also found it interesting that our studies had opposite results. The author's basic explanation for his findings was that the reading program that the extensive group was exposed to was simply more beneficial to developing faster reading speeds than the traditional close reading techniques applied to the intensive group. The author's findings encouraged the notion that faster reading speeds will develop naturally if learners are motivated to read interesting material that are accessible linguistically for their reading level.

    I think in regards to our differing studies there are, like you mentioned, numerous possibilities for their outcomes. Factors like the age of participants, the material level given to the participants, and even the fact the the extensive group was still encouraged to read at a comfortable pace could account for some of the differences in our studies, among numerous others.