Maybe you’re a fast runner, a speedy typer, a pedal-to-the-metal kind of driver. Or not. In any case, we tend to know where we personally stand on those subjects. But have you ever tested your reading speed? You may think you’re a quick reader because you finished Jane Eyre before the rest of your classmates, but perhaps you’re just a sucker for the 19th century romance novel. It’s hard to say. Now, though, what is so often subject to speculation has become easily quantifiable, thanks to Readfa.st.
Readfa.st tests your reading speed, logs your results, and lets you compare with friends. The site tracks your progress as you practice and awards you badges for reaching certain speed reading milestones. You can even pull your own content straight from the web. It is a fun and straight-forward application based on an often-overlooked concept. Imagine how much more you’d get done if you were a reading whiz? You’d be so informed, so prepared for class, or so tired from all that after-homework partying! You even might, for the first time ever, get through your entire Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader feeds for the day.
Readfa.st is a skill-building social tool, yes, but there is quite a bit more than meets the quick-scanning eye. There are, in fact, two facets to Readfa.st, explains co-founder Sasha Katsnelson: the online practice product for everyday readers, and the institutional product that the company hopes will invigorate the educational system.
For a lot of kids, reading is a lifelong struggle. According to the Readfa.st team’s research, this may have s a lot to do with the phonetic way in which we learn to read. “The problem, isn’t so much that [these students] are incapable of reading, but sometimes it just sucks to read when you have to sound out every word and it’s moving so slowly,” says Katsnelson. Readfa.st wants to work with educators to change this strategy. The goal is to build a curriculum that utilizes their visual-based strategy and tests for comprehension at intervals along the way. “You’ll be able to have feedback as you read,” Katsnelson explains, ”which will provide teachers with a better understanding of what people are getting and what people aren’t getting.”
Readfa.st is already in talks with city schools about integrating their technology. As schools receive less and less funding, teachers have to be very efficient about building their curriculums. “Teachers don’t necessarily have time to reinvent the wheel,” says Katsnelson (who has many teacher friends himself). With Readfa.st, teachers can test curriculum, get instant feedback, and hammer out the details with their students as they go along, and eventually, store that curriculum online.
The fact that Readfa.st’s strategy relies on technology may lead one to believe that underfunded public schools would not be receptive to the product. However, Katsnelson does not see this as an impediment to his vision. He has no delusions about revolutionizing education in one fell swoop. “Right now it’s not vital to reach every student in every school,” he says. He sees Readfa.st initially working during after school tutoring sessions or at home, where most children do have access to the Internet. Besides, even schools have been moving up in the technology world, and eventually, it seems, those schools on tight budgets will have MacBooks and ipads in their classrooms.
Readfa.st is confident in the viability of their product, but how exactly does it work? After randomly discovering that co-founder Ani Ravi reads freakishly fast (over 1,000 words per minute!), the college friends began studying how exactly people read. They found that reading is not necessarily a process of absorbing words one after the other. The reader moves between what are called “fixations.” Fixations can be groups of words, single words, or even parts of words, that are recognizable to the readers. The idea behind speed reading is being able to put a little space between “fixations” to create a more efficient flow of comprehension. From a writers perspective, speed reading can be an almost insulting concept. One doesn’t like the thought of someone skimming one’s work the same way they might scan a tabloid. Won’t all that very deep carefully crafted meaning be lost? Katsnelson assures us that speed reading (when correctly learned) does not necessarily interrupt meaning. Bridging the gaps between fixations is a simple task for the trained reader. “People’s brains deal with it,” says Katsnelson - a testament to the wonderful adaptability of the human mind, a mind that fast readers can fill with so much more of the wonderful content that is always at our fingertips.