Read a novel in 20 minutes...

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
..and make life as an English teacher a breeze. Adi Bloom meets the world's fastest reader, who can get through a mountain of essays in minutes

MOST teachers like to appear all-knowing in front of pupils. Anne Jones usually succeeds. Stumped by a question, the 51-year-old English teacher can look up the answer so fast, it is as if she knew it already.

"If I need to find a reference, I can do it very quickly," she said. "I can read through Shakespeare so quickly, that I give pupils an answer before they realise I've forgotten it."

Ms Jones holds the world record for speedreading and can take in more than 2,000 words per minute, almost 10 times the average. She began to speedread eight years ago, when she enrolled on a course in the hope that new mind-eye techniques might improve the achievement of her pupils at Burleigh comprehensive, in Leicestershire.

In the single training day, her reading rate rose from 380 to 1,050 words per minute. Since then, practice has enabled her to plough her way through fiction at ever-increasing velocity.

In 2001, she completed the 201-page novel, The Devil and Miss Pym, in just over 20 minutes. After answering questions on the book, her reading speed was set at a record-shattering 2,246 words per minute.

The change to her quality of life is enormous, she says. With three daughters and a job requiring extensive out-of-hours reading, she had previously had little time to read for pleasure. Now, she can complete a novel in two hours, leaving time to digest a daily newspaper. "It's improved the quality of my life immensely," she said.

"I still read poetry slowly. And humour - speedreading doesn't leave time to physically laugh. But my slow speed is still fairly fast."

Speedreading is not limited to extra-curricular texts. Ms Jones can work her way through official government documents in the time it would take most teachers to stack them at the bottom of a drawer.

"I give them a power-browse first," she said. "I glance briefly at each page, marking anything that interests me. Then I pull out the relevant bits and read effectively."

And her ability to speedread her students' essays makes her the envy of the staffroom: "You can correct errors as you speedread. But you can't speed up thought processes. I'm still not very fast at grading."

But, while speedreading may free up extra hours, the process itself takes time to learn. And time is what the uninitiated lack. In fact, Ms Jones recently became so frustrated at the lack of space in the school day to train others, that she decided to quit her job this summer to work as a full-time speedreading instructor.

"I think speedreading is a very useful skill for both staff and students.

But it takes five hours to learn properly. Education doesn't make enough time for essential skills, like thinking and reading."


* Always move forwards through the text.

* Plan your reading for when you are alert, rather than at bedtime.

* Read in bursts of around 45mins. The maximum attention span for an adult is 50mins.

* Use a finger or pencil to guide your eyes across the page.

* Use peripheral vision to take in more of the page at once.

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