Catching NASA's Eye!

January 30th, 2002

Most of us will never have the experience of being contacted by NASA. But that's exactly what happened to Richard Sutz.

"It's really exciting," he says.

The state-of-the art software speed reading program he developed caught the attention of NASA's Learning Technologies Project managers, who invited him to give a demonstration at the NASA Educational Technology Program Conference that was recently held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This government-led initiative is based on President Bush's goal of improving literacy levels of grammar, high school and college students, as well as the general work force.

"NASA's interest in the speed reading program stems from its involvement with these educational institutions in the areas of science, mathematics and reading," says Sutz, who is also the founder and CEO of The Airpark's Literacy Company, the company that developed the speed reading program, The Reader's Edge. "They are some of the key people in the field of education. If the speed reading program is as successful as we expect it to be, we believe NASA will recommend it for use through their education resource centers, which supply training material to these institutions."

The Reader's Edge, a registered trademark, took three years to research and develop, and will be launched this coming fall. Basically, it involves teaching people to unlearn the habits of slow readers and learn the habits of rapid readers, such as reading groups of words, versus word-for-word reading with subliminal vocalizing.

"We want to teach people to read faster and improve comprehension and recall. With The Reader's Edge, we can triple a person's reading speed in approximately two to three weeks, with 15 minutes of exercise each day," says Sutz. "We have a team of experts aboard who have an extensive history in the field of speed reading instruction and marketing. It is our goal to become the leader in the field of speed reading, so that our enhanced reading skills products will be recognized as the premiere basic skills product to increase productive reading efficiency."

The Readers Edge speed reading program is designed around two theories of methodology: One is that whatever you teach, the closer it is to real life, the longer lasting the benefits. Along these lines, reading material includes books, documents, magazines and newspapers. The second theory is: The sooner you convey to the user the confidence that he has the ability to learn, the more successful you will be, says Sutz, while he shows the initial phases of the program by flashing groups of words across the computer screen at increasing speeds. "We can demonstrate in the first 10 minutes into the program that every individual can read two to three times their current rate, which will convey to new users a level of confidence that they can learn quickly to read faster."

The program's designers have defined seven key elements in teaching speed reading. Two of them are physical: expansion of peripheral vision, and expansion of vertical vision. The other five are nonphysical and are common sense, says Sutz. "Number one, you must be motivated. Number two, you must know what information you want to get. Third, you must be interested in the material. Fourth, you must have knowledge about the field or area. Fifth, you must know the vocabulary."

Towards this end, The Literacy Company will provide a wide selection of reading material on its Web site, so that users have a selection of subject matter and vocabulary, and can practice what they learn.

He says one of the principles in learning speed reading is that one must unlearn the habits of slow readers and learn the habits of rapid readers. "Slow readers read one word at a time. Physiologically, when you read, the eye is fixated, so slower readers will fixate 10 different times. Slow readers also tend to vocalize either subliminally, or through lip movement. When they do, they limit reading to talking speed, which is about 160 to 220 words a minute. The brain can handle 10 times as much. In slow readers, comprehension is reduced, because they cannot get the meanings of the words from the content.

"Speed readers, on the other hand, tend to see two, three or four words at a time with each eye fixation and tend not to vocalize or re-read. It is a misconception that you comprehend more if you read slower. The fact is, comprehension increases with rapid reading."

Sutz says one of the key features of the speed reading program is the ability to monitor the progress readers make, which will provide quantitative versus anecdotal data about its efficiency. This is right in line with President Bush's government specifications demanding that new educational programs must be able to report accurate assessment of progress, thus fulfilling one of NASA's major requirements.

"The fact that we can report measurable results is precisely what NASA liked. We can measure beginning speed, progress and ending speed. If there are a hundred users, we'll be able to say, 'on day one, speed and comprehension was such and such.' We'll be able to measure progress week by week, and in addition, users can test themselves on our Web site."

Once the program is launched in English, it will be translated first into Spanish, then the languages of Western and Central Europe, and after that, into Oriental languages, namely Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, in short, any language that can be read left to right, and right to left.

The company is also developing a line of related products in the field of reading skills, study habits, note taking, and measuring reader IQ. A book titled, "How to Read Faster With Better Comprehension and Recall," is planned as well.

While pursuing other endeavors as entrepreneur, inventor and business developer over the years, (he is presently engaged in a joint venture with China involving a windmill that purifies and desalinates water), he became aware that literacy was a top priority for the United Nations and other agencies when going to the aid of these countries.

He teamed up with consultants in the field of education, distance learning and computer and Web programming, and researched the field of speed reading for over three years. To confirm that the program was academically and theoretically sound, he and his team conducted a Ph.D. level literature survey of everything written on the subject of speed reading over the last 100 years, reviewing and abstracting over 125 books and numerous academic papers, and examining all the pedagogical theories spanning that time.

The next step was testing the speed reading program with corporations, since the latter stand to benefit greatly from the program. "In our studies we have determined that the average Fortune 500 company spends $26 million per year for the time each 1,000 employees spend reading. Improved reading skills are critical to productivity and efficiency for corporate and government employees," says Sutz.

"Even if it were to save only one minute per hour, the savings on an employee making $20 per hour would run to nearly $700 per year."

Among the companies that took part in the testing was the Rush Trucking Company, one of the largest minority-owned business enterprises. Besides testing the software for bugs and user friendliness (beta testing), the most important test was to find out what effect the speed reading program would have on the user. This involved five sets of 10 employees with average computer/literacy skills. All 50 participants took an initial reading test for speed and comprehension. The average scores ranged from 180 to 200 words per minute, with a comprehension level of 60%. Each group was given an introductory lesson, and group members were told to commit 15 minutes every other day for three weeks to the program. They were then re-tested at the end of each week.

Of the 50 participants, 45 completed the testing speed reading program. Compared to their initial test scores, 15 participants doubled their reading speed to 360 words per minute, 25 increased it to 300 words (a 50% increase), and five tripled it to an average of 600 words per minute. All participants increased their comprehension level to 80% or more.

Rush Trucking Company's owner, Andra Rush, a Native American woman, has since been instrumental in introducing the company to the Native American community and the Native American Business Alliance. Consequently, The Literacy Company is now working with Mary Thomas, former governor of the Gila River Native American community, to establish a speed reading program with the Gila River School system and Gila River Boys and Girls Club in Sacaton.

Grammar and high schools are perfect candidates for the program, says Sutz, explaining that a section of the reading material in the speed reading program is geared towards children between 5 and 12. "The largest single cause of dropping out of college during the freshman year is the inability of students to handle the reading load," says Sutz. "We are becoming a knowledge industry, and the sooner children learn to read well and rapidly, the better they'll do in school and in life."

He says the new company deliberately opted for a slow, calculated pace of development to insure that when The Reader's Edge is launched this fall, it will instantly be recognized as a major contribution in the field of productivity and education. Toward this purpose, the company plans to allocate some 10% of gross revenues to continued research and development to keep up with new technologies and stay ahead of the competition.

"Right now we are looking forward to working with the Native (American) Vision Program and a number of other institutions," says Sutz. "If educational, academic, government and corporate communities were to introduce the speed reading program the increase in productivity would not only benefit the country and the community as a whole but even more so, the individual himself."

And what about any future NASA involvement? "We are exploring ways to utilize The Reader's Edge in their educational program," He says proudly.




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