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Beyond flashcards: Learning for the 21st century

Rarely, if ever, do we stop to consider the integral role concepts such as math play in our daily lives. In fact, such universal generalities are taken for granted so much that their existence often is only acknowledged in light of their absence. So take a moment to imagine what life would be like if our mathematical abilities never developed beyond what we learned in kindergarten. Finally time to balance your checkbook? Add it all up on your fingers. Need to divide rent between roommates, taking into account the differences in room size?Get both hands ready. An ECON 301 exam on Monday? Obviously, a scientific calculator is not an option.

Now apply this same premise not just to math but to learning in general. Imagine what life would be like if we learned how to learn in kindergarten and then developed no further.

According to David Mills, this is exactly what we do everyday.

Mills, a University alumna, now is in his eighth year of teaching "Speed Learning," the course he created and developed the summer before his fourth year. A $210 course, "Speed Reading" meets one hour a week for a seven week period.

On a fundamental level, the course helps students vastly increase the speed and skill of their reading.More significantly, however, the course identifies and develops an approach to learning and knowledge that ultimately can lead to a richer way of life.

"The funny thing about learning is that we think we know how to do it, but we basically don't even know what it is," Mills explains in a tone of gentle understanding."It's as if we were taught to do math--counting--on our fingers and then were never taught anything differently.That's what happens with reading--we learn how to read in kindergarten and then only increase our vocabulary and comprehension."

According to Mills, many students never really learn how to learn.

"When you're teaching something to people, you want to teach two things synergistically," he says. "The key words are perspectives and strategy."

Mills explores the role of these notions in learning. The goal, he says, is to allow students to learn more, better maintain focus and increase their levels of productivity.

Mills developed this interest in learning how to learn while attending the University himself.

"Between my third and fourth year I purchased a home study course--speed reading--for $495," Mills says. "I thought, if this happens to work, the idea of doubling my reading speed would be amazing.'"

In one month Mills said he went from reading approximately 180 words per minute to reading an average of 900 words per minute, a drastic advancement wich led Mills to ask several major questions.

"Why wasn't I taught this junior year in high school, and what else like this is possible?" he says. "I mean, if I should have been taught this and wasn't, what other things are possible?"

Questions like these led Mills to thoroughly examine the subject.

"I created and taught Speed Learning my fourth year," Mills says. "What I do is teach how to learn more efficiently--it's not just about reading."

The innovative concepts throughout the course's curriculum make it difficult for Mills to precisely define it.

"The difficulty I have in communicating what I teach is that what I teach isn't commonly known," Mills says."And when something isn't commonly known, there isn't a common vocabulary to explain it."

According to Mills, even the words 'speed reading' don't accurately describe the course because "you're not speed reading, you're simply reading."

Despite the intangibility of its description, the reactions and responses of participating students reveal nothing but praise for the instructor, the course and the results.

"David is a very enjoyable, down-to- earth teacher," said fourth-year College student Steven Reinemund. "He developed this method himself and it is fascinating to see him in action teaching it."

Like many others, Reinemund initially wasskeptical, but soon was convinced of the course's effectiveness.

"I had taken several speed reading courses before and none of them had really worked," Reinemund said."This course worked for me as promised."

Reinemund said he has increased the amount of pages he can read from between 20 and 30 pages an hour to between 60 and 100.

First-year College student Erika Pearson had the same reaction.

"I was skeptical at first but the concept really makes sense, to eliminate the sub vocalization part of reading," Pearson said. "In other words, skipping from seeing to comprehending without having to say the words in your head that you are reading."

While speed-reading techniques and dynamics are an important aspect of the course, students like Pearson and Reinemund agreed that an overall dedication to study techniques and mental focus are the program's greatest assets.

Second-year College student Jessica Nute took the course last fall and sad she plans to take the follow-up mastery course this spring.

After seeing fliers around Grounds, Nute attended an informational session where Mills demonstrated some memory techniques.He asked people to call out at random a number, 1 through 30, and to attach a word of their choice, Nute said. Then he proceeded to recite back, in order, the list of words that had been called out. The impressiveness of this demonstration was enough to convince Nute to take the course.

"In school they teach you what to learn but not how to learn it," she explained."We've been taught to study in ways that really don't work."

Unlike many grade school classes, "speed learning" is not a course that emphasizes standard drills of memorization and technical practice.

"It's both a personal and a collaborative effort, " Nute said. "It's more like a workshop than a class." Mills also focuses on the individual needs of his students.

"I had a very science-intensive curriculum, so we talked about how to take these techniques to a scientific reading," Nute said.

While many books and courses on speed-reading already exist, Mills's "Speed Learning" course clearly has a unique focus.

Through demonstrations and an interactive dialogue with his students, Mills said he creates a cooperative learning environment.

And according to Mills' students, this setup works nicely. Many students said what they take away from the course extends far beyond speed reading.

"David Mills brought to our attention many of the common, fallacious assumptions that are made every day that affect our education," Pearson said. "I think we all gained confidence and a feeling of personal ability.The mind is an amazing thing, and most people don't realize and don't utilize it to its full capacity.He taught us the first steps to doing this."

While the course consistently reflects drastic improvements in students' reading speeds, this is merely the natural accompaniment of a greater good and larger understanding.

"I went in with the desire to read faster, and I left with a desire to live a more fulfilling life," Pearson said.

David Mills Speed Learning course will begin in February.He may be contacted at and