I am a slow reader; I am NOT a bad reader. One of the facts of life from this past school year seemed to stem from the students who read more slowly thinking of themselves as bad readers. Personally, I read more slowly than other people I know for two reasons:
1) I want to note every detail in my head; I enjoy the book more when I notice the author’s style or specific plot events broken down into small moments. I like to get to know characters intimately (in fiction) and study a topic deeply to become an expert (in nonfiction).
2) I have some ADD issues, as well as headache issues that lead me to distractions during reading or even physical sickness that affects my speed and focus. When I have a headache, I actually must stop reading for a while.
Choosing an enjoyable book is not my concern; I love books and reading and I have a list a mile long (measure it!) of “to reads” that I know I will treasure and share with others. Comprehension is not a problem; I understand what I read and I can discuss a book with a friend for a good length of time. It’s that pace — but the speed of reading is only one part of the task; pace does not determine the intelligence of the reader.
What actions can slow readers take to keep themselves reading and loving books? Here’s my personal plan: First, I ask myself why I’m reading slowly. Next, I decide what to do about it. Finally, I relax and read. Students can do the same. Knowing what one can do about the distractions met during reading time can help a slow reader still love reading and become a successful life-long reader.
Ask: Why do People Read Slowly?
My reasons above are the two that I have discovered again and again in the classroom as well as in my own life. I am a detail dame — I must know everything! Wanting to know more about a character or an event aids comprehension, helps the understanding. That is a good thing! Remember, the point of reading is to make meaning. If it takes a little more time to do, then readers should accept their fate. By slowing down to notice more, readers become more intelligent and enjoy the book more than if they just skim along, saying they are reading just to keep up with others in the class, group, or book club.
People with ADD, ADHD, and other attention issues will have problems in reading due to focus or stamina, not necessarily pace. When a person cannot focus, it will throw off the pace, though, and recognizing there is something that a reader can do about it will help the situation. For example, like I mentioned earlier, when I get a migraine, I have to stop reading. My brain in my head will not allow me to make meaning because I am not healthy at that moment. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad reader; it means I have to take time off and return later to the task. That’s okay! There are strategies a person can use to maintain focus or help pick up the pace again.
Decide What to Do — Focus and Pace of Reading
Three of my favorite strategies for keeping the reading focus and pace are:
a) Break the reading into smaller chunks. This helps focus and comprehension because the brain can think about a bit of the text at a time. The reader has less stress, which means more time to take it all in. When I focus on a paragraph, section, chapter, or even a smaller phrase, I will easily gather the information I need to grasp the meaning. People with poor memory, attention deficit problems, or those who want to slow down to gain more realization can “chunk” the text to be successful.
b) Change the reading environment. Some people do not work well in noisy environments. Some cannot work without background noise. There are others who cannot sit straight up in a chair. More and more, students in classrooms need a place where they can read that is just right for them. Many of the first lessons in a reading classroom surround choosing the right book and getting the right mindset for the reading task. This includes finding a spot where the reading — and therefore meaning-making — can take place. I cannot read in the kitchen area; I will look at the dirty dishes in the sink or discover the dog’s water bowl is empty. Students at school may choose the hallway or a corner of the room on the carpet for their reading space. Readers must be able to read, so a comfortable reading space is a must. Once a spot is found…
c) Set a goal for reading. Whether a person finishes a certain number of pages, or reads for a certain amount of time, it is important to read during reading time. I cannot count the number of research studies, articles, or case studies I have come across that address this issue. It’s the attitude, the mindset, the belief of “mind over matter” — I have to read now! Leave me alone.
Relax and Read — Ahh!
Once a goal is set, a place is found, and reading begins, there is no end to the enjoyment found in delving into a story or topic. Lifelong readers know that reading is a gift; falling in love with reading begins when the stress of how to read ends. For myself, I know what makes me a slow reader and I accept the challenges that await when I sit down. Slow readers are NOT bad readers. Keep calm and read on!
Newkirk, T. 2010. “The Case for Slow Reading.” Educational Leadership 67 (6): 6-11.
Serravallo, J. 2015. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.