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Speed Reading July 19, 2012

Posted by Charles Cornelius in Uncategorized.
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Attended a workshop on speed reading at Bath University this afternoon, given by Dr Steve Hutchinson of Hutchinson Training and Development. A great refresher: I’ve read Tony Buzan’s stuff before. Below are my notes from the workshop, combined with some of Buzan’s stuff from his Speed Reading Book.

A speed reader is a visual reader, not an auditory reader. Read with my brain, not with my eyes. Aim to understand the ideas, not the words.

Looking up words

Subvocalization or reading out lous.
Being critical while reading – judge it afterwards
Thinking about something else (eg dinner) – mind wanders if I read too slowly


  • Preview the text and be aware of what I already know on this topic (eg have I read stuff by this writer before?)
  • Relax: pause, relax eyes, look out of window
  • Posture: Sit up: when my body is erect, my brain knows that something important is happening. Don’t get too comfortable or my brain will think it’s time for a rest.
  • Distance: Keep text about 50cm from eyes: helps eyes grab chunks of words.
  • Environment: keep it quiet and well-lit
  • Attitude: devour text; if I believe I’m a fast reader, I’ll be a fast reader;
  • Strategy: what am I reading for?
  • Motivation



Read a little bit too fast for comfort.

Reduce eye fixation time

Reduce time between fixations
Imagine I’m on a sinking ship, but I have the instructions for assembling a lifeboat.

Read words in chunks of at least 3 words. Could divide page into 3 columns and treat each column as a separate chunk. With a computer, just reduce width of window so I have one narrow column to read – each line is one fixation.

Keep moving or I’ll sink – or regress. Keep going forwards. If I’m worried about missing stuff, remember that writers often repeat themselves.

Use finger (or a pen) to help eyes fixate by hopping (or sweeping) along the line…but keep moving at a fast pace. Could use a credit card or post-it note to help guide eyes to chunks of words. Buzan recommends sweeping: “do not attempt to jerk it along in ideal fixation groups” although hopping/jerking seems to work better for me.

Practice is key. Practise with easier texts first (magazines, newspapers), then gradually ease myself to harder texts (The Economist, textbook, research paper).

Separate the horse (speed) from the cart (comprehension). Juice up the horse first. Get reading fast, even if comprehension suffers, but develop speed reading techniques, then work on comprehension.

The elephant in the room.
But do I need to remember 100% of what I’ve read?

What I’m aiming for is to recall the sense of the text, the ideas in it, not the words.

Comprehension actually improves with faster reading because the brain is totally absorbed and can’t start thinking about other stuff. The brain prefers to read at 400wpm than at 200wpm. And meaningful chunks of text are more likely to go into memory than individual words because it makes immediate sense.
Don’t take notes while reading. Instead read for a page or two, then stop, then take notes during a skimming re-read. Take it in first, then think about it. Can use dots to denote key words while reading for the first time.


Flow May 21, 2012

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What we know about second language learning May 20, 2012

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‘What we know about second language acquisition: a synthesis from four perspectives’ by Dixon, Zhao, Shin, Wu, Su, Burgess-Brigham, Gezer and Snow.

Interesting bit of research in the March 2012 Review of Educational Research, which tries to synthesise decades of research on second language acquisition. Found that optimal conditions for learning a second language include reading in the home (in both L1 and L2), opportunities to use the L2 informally, specially designed L2 programmes and literacy instruction in the L2. Also found that only children with limited exposure in the L2 needed explicit grammar instruction.

They found that learners need 3 to 7 years to reach ‘L2 proficiency’, with younger learners taking longer but with greater likelihood to attain ‘close-to-native’ results, which seems to be to be a contradiction in terms.


Proust and the Squid July 22, 2011

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Reading Maryanne Wolf’s excellent book on how the the brain reads. She looks at this in 3 ways: by looking at how humans have evolved to read over thousands of years, at the stages children go through as they learn to read and by looking at what happens when children struggle to read. Her initial point is that reading is not a natural skill – children must learn in 1000 days what the human race has taken 10,000 years to learn. It’s a point that is easy to forget. Essentially, she argues that the brain has learned to read by utilising its natural ability to recognise objects and connect this with linguistic and conceptual knowledge. All of this is only possible because of the brain’s plasticity.

This is the SQUID of the title – the biological ability of the brain to make new connections. The PROUST part relates to what Proust wrote about how reading changes the reader on a personal and intellectual level by enabling them to see the world through the mind of another: we get to feel what it was like to be a 15 year old girl hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic, for example.

On both biological and personal/intellectual levels, reading changes the mind.

January 23, 2011

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me1I am a teacher and researcher, currently based in Moscow. I have 12 years’ experience teaching primary and secondary school students in Africa and Europe. My research interests include the teaching of English as an additional language in mainstream classrooms.

Pisa 2009: Russia January 1, 2011

Posted by Charles Cornelius in Uncategorized.

What Pisa tells us about Russian 15 year olds.

[article in development, but comments welcomed]

The performance of the Russian Federation in the recently published results of the OECD’s Pisa 2009 study is pretty grim reading. It shows that performance in reading has stagnated over the last nine years, while countries that were performing at a similar level in 2000 have since moved on, and in the case of countries like Poland and Latvia, moved on dramatically. It shows the a growing gender gap, so that girls are outperforming boys by _____ points. And it shows a significant weakness in one aspect of reading.

Russia being left behind?

Since 2000, Russia’s reading score fell 2 points from 461 to 459. This drop is actually better than many countries, including the USA, Canada and Finland, but these are countries who had much higher scores in 2000. Many of the countries who had a similar score to Russia in 2000 have seen significant increases, some dramatically: Poland rose 21 points, Latvia rose 26 points, Hungary 14, Germany 13. It paints a picture of Russia being left behind by some of its major competitors.

Reflecting and Evaluating Texts

Pisa analysed three different aspects of reading:

  • accessing and retrieving
  • integrating and interpreting
  • reflecting and evaluating

The main weakness in Russian reading seems to be on the third aspect, reflecting and evaluating, which scored 19 points below the combined reading score; only Montenegro and Azerbaijan had a larger gap.

  • combined reading scale (mean score 459)
  • accessing and retrieving (mean score 469)
  • integrating and interpreting (mean score 467)
  • reflecting and evaluating (mean score 441)

The OECD reported that:

Some countries performed significantly lower on the reflect and evaluate subscales – by at least 10 points – than on one or more of the other two aspect subscales. In this group are the OECD countries the Czech Republic, Slovenia,the Slovak Republic, and the partner countries Azerbaijan, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan,Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and Bulgaria. Students in these countries appear to be less accustomed to critically evaluating and reflecting upon what they read, and more accustomed to using texts to find and analyse information.

The Gender Gap

Since 2000, the overall reading score has dropped 2 points, but boys have fallen 6 points while girls have risen 1 point.

Elite Performance

If you look at the performance of the top 5%, the evidence looks no better. The top 5% of Russian students in reading are performing well below the global top 5%. Students at the 95th percentile in Russia scored 607 points, compared with the OECD average of 637.

Pisa also converts results in its reading test into proficiency levels. Only 1% of Russian 15 year olds reached Level6. This actually compares favourably with countries like the UK, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, but it’s very poor when compared with, say, Korea, Finland, Germany and Slovakia.

Pisa v Pirls

The results of Pisa are a stark contrast with the 2006 PIRLS study, which showed Russia 1st in the world for reading amongst 10 year olds. If the results are comparable and reliable, then why the difference?

Are Pirls and Pisa comparable? The aspects assessed by both are similar, but only 20% of the score in Pirls assesses students’ ability to reflect and evaluate texts, compared to one third in Pisa. So perhaps this weakness in Russian education is not picked up by Pirls. Also, fewer countries participate in Pirls, so Russia’s performance relative to many countries can’t be measured.

But perhaps the main issue is what the hell happens to Russian students, especially boys, between the ages of 10 and 15?


Lexical Approach 2 – What does the lexical approach look like? August 19, 2010

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Lexical Approach 2 – What does the lexical approach look like?.

Lexical Approach 1 – What does the lexical approach look like? August 19, 2010

Posted by Charles Cornelius in Uncategorized.
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Lexical Approach 1 – What does the lexical approach look like?.

General Election 2010 May 3, 2010

Posted by Charles Cornelius in Uncategorized.
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One of the most interesting elections I’ve ever seen but, alas, the same cannot be said for the debate on education. Labour and the Tories seem to have entrusted education to a couple of imbeciles, and the LibDems to a boring ex-bank manager. Here are some bits from their TES Debate.

Gove, questioned on Key Stage 2 SATs said “league tables serve a useful purpose”, which isn’t exactly talking about the SATs. The useful purpose? They show that some schools are doing better than others, so maybe we should try to learn from those schools. Wow! But, maybe we already know what it is that good schools do. Good teachers and leaders? Formative assessment?

Then the discussion went on to teacher assessment. Again, nothing to do with SATs, but they all seem to be confusing teacher assessments with SATs tests. Gove seems to be suggesting that Year 6 SATs should take place at the start of Year 7. Secondary school teachers would mark them because “…it’s important that the tests are not marked by those who are teaching the children at that time.” Apparently this is to avoid teaching to the test. Why? What a confused little man Michael Gove is. But he does say his ideas are supported by Lord Sutherland. Who the hell is Lord Sutherland? If it’s the same one as on Wikipedia, Lord Sutherland is a professor of the history and philosophy of religion.

Ed Balls is still having a love-in with the Expert Group.

“…I think that Ed has left the door open to all tests at Key Stage 2 in due course being teacher assessed…I think that’s fair and there’d be national sampling and moderation…”

David Laws argues for a system of intelligent accountability: an independent educational standards authority and “out must got the crude league tables…”; slimmed down national curriculum; additional autonomy for all schools.If you want to watch the above video, beware: David Laws is very, very dull. (Maybe he puts himself to sleep.) You can skip the first 4 minutes because he says nothing.

Consistency April 8, 2010

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A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Ralph Waldo Emerson