The HIstory of Proportional Reading


The History of Proportional Reading

And Background of John F. Adams

The Proportional Reading program is so comprehensive and such a forward leap in technology and educational theory from what currently exists in most schools, colleges, graduate schools, libraries, adult learning centers, workplace literacy programs and home tutoring, that many people want to know how it came about.

All the underlying educational theory behind Proportional Reading was researched and developed by John F. Adams, who was born in 1945. However, his work is built upon an extensive familiarity with structured phonetics, as well as his theory of innovation. Mr. Adams had dyslexia as a child and received help from Janet Rule, one of the founders of the Orton Gillingham structured phonetics movement. His tutor was actually the wife of the Dean of Students at MIT.

Mr. Adams received this help in structured phonetics in the tenth grade at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, his prep school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Adams was New England champion as a schoolboy wrestler and all New England prep school alternate as fullback in football. He was also stroke of the first boat in crew. Perseverance and growth were second nature to him. He was admitted into Harvard College, Class of '68.

While at Harvard, Mr. Adams found that structured phonetics fell far short of providing all the answers for reading well and quickly. He conducted a large number of reading experiments on himself over his college career, not always with ideal results. Nevertheless, he survived. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in American History and a desire to improve reading.

Mr. Adams decided he would become a professional inventor and solve a number of educational related issues, applying his theory of creativity to education. He comes from a long line of caring professionals. His grandfather was professor of missions at Union Theological Seminary, where he worked with Rheinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. His mother studied with Freud's disciple, Otto Rank, and was assistant professor of social work at Simmons College. His father, Ralph Adams, M.D. was associate chief of surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the first chief of surgery at the Lahey Clinic, and developed the modern filter mask that is used in operating rooms all over the world. Also, and as a matter of historical fact, the entire clean room concept for the US space program was taken directly from his father's operating room practices. Traditions of religion, psychology, medicine and innovation all combined in John, and he decided that educational and rehabilitative invention was the proper synthesis for him to pursue, in combination with using and communicating his own theory of creativity and therapy. His work has built upon concepts from all the above disciplines and is ongoing.

Shortly after graduation from Harvard, Mr. Adams started to build a mechanical device to eliminate all eye movement in reading, using prisms and mirrors. He soon realized that certain elements of technology still needed to be created before he could finish his design. Nevertheless, for the next ten years he continued his personal research into solving reading difficulties.

Mr. Adams developed many devices to help people read and assist them in their daily living. He holds twelve United States patents. His theory of creativity has been widely discussed on national television. Walt Disney, Ted Turner and Evening Magazine have all done movie pieces on his philosophy and work. At one time or another every major talk show in America has illustrated one or more of his inventions. Articles on his theory of creativity have appeared in many different newspapers and in newspaper editions around the world. His approach to helping others is called Pragmatic Realization Therapy.

In the mid 80's Mr. Adams wrote a structured phonetics course to help his then young daughter and other people learn to read. Joe Forest helped him with technical implementation of this course, embodying it in an actual computer operating system, which Joe wrote. John's twin brother, Frank H. Adams, acted as a sounding board and was in charge of finances and fund raising, providing John for many years with the basic financial independence necessary for creative integrity. The course John wrote was very successful. However, the world was then fighting between Apple and PC, and there was not any room for a third operating system. Furthermore, structured phonetics can only go partway towards solving most reading problems, and many people simply find the approach too boring to do. Finally, this approach had a fixed text and did not help a person read any text they wanted to load in.

By 1990 Mr. Adams saw that he could finish his dream of building a tool to process any text in a way that would enable troubled readers to read at grade level, fast and well, and also help average and good readers become excellent readers. For the last twenty-five years he has focused his creative energy on solving reading issues with this new technology. Proportional Reading is the name for this new approach and the software Mr. Adams wrote to empower students to do these things.

Mr. Adams has worked with over 21,000 students and adults and helped almost every one of them. When he found a problem he could not solve, he created a new tool to solve it. Sometimes this took a few years, but it always happened. After thousands of such improvements his software program was able to help a number of individuals.

Mr. Adams has spoken nationally and regionally at a number of conferences and has worked with a number of schools in the U.S.A. He was flown to Washington, DC to receive the national award for helping Dyslexics. He has also been invited frequently to other countries as a reading consultant, most notably Canada, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia.

The State of Massachusetts financed Mr. Adams as a demonstration site for all the schools in the State. He worked with nine schools on Cape Cod and many thousands of students and over 200 teachers, often working in individual classrooms for six months at a time. Quite frankly, this was an extremely rare opportunity in American Education, if not totally unique. Thousands of these elementary school students helped him debug his software program. Every night he would improve his program and counter any ways the young students had found to disrupt it. After a while it was debugged. His students were in third place as the most improved class in the state on the state MCAS test.

Mr. Adams's goal has been to build technology and a training approach that produces demonstrable improvement in reading any text immediately, within minutes, much as any Yankee invention of old. All students and teachers must be able to verify positive results on the spot, instantly. This approach provides a valid alternative to lengthy, expensive and often limited statistical studies and enables available resources to be spent much more fairly and wisely.

Now that his program works, Mr. Adams is committed to solving the administrative and marketing issues to bring his program to all Americans. As always, research continues. When the Macintosh version of WordPerfect was taken off the market, Mr. Adams guided the development of a stand-alone version of his software.

Mr. Adams developed techniques for scanning books without a scanner, using a camera instead of a scanner, and for tutoring one-on-one remotely, by talking on the phone while remotely controlling or viewing the student's computer anywhere in the country.

More recently, Mr. Adams developed the additional technique to present any e-text by a phrase or punctuation interval at a time, and go through either of these cognitive intervals a word at a time, and then have the phrase or punctuation interval repeated fluently in its entirety. This technique goes a long way to eliminate reading anxiety and getting overwhelmed by having to process too much text at one time, as often happens when challenged readers have to process a sentence at a time.

In addition, Mr. Adams developed a special In-Line Book Holder that holds book pages open, right above your keyboard, so you can type notes on your laptop or flat screen while reading. Also, you never have to turn your head as you edit papers, read and type. Most importantly, this approach enables proper reading posture for far greater comfort and increased concentration.

Beginning around 2007, Mr. Adams developed a free on-line reading course for anybody in the world to use to improve his or her reading. Those who need help with decoding, and automaticity and basic fluency can go to the Internet and see the different steps for help, and assess where they are. In addition, those needing help with basic comprehension and avoiding falling asleep while reading can get immediate help. Thirdly, average readers who still read no faster than they speak can watch special movies and learn the basic principles of how to hear an inner voice, and how to overcome lip reading, sounding out words, whispering and sub-vocalization. They can also learn how to see short words with peripheral vision, and at short exposure. They experience reading without making regressions, and they learn what it feels like to read by punctuation intervals, connecting key words that “pop out”. Then, the visitor can learn how to take these principles and learn how to apply them to reading text paginated just like in a book. A special high-speed voice and text approach is used to show how. Additional videos show how students use this same tool to read any middle school, high school or college textbook or novel with speed, accuracy and great enjoyment. Viewers can even read parts of Moby Dick at high speed with great pleasure. All this can now be experienced on the web for free. Personal consultation is also available and can be contracted as needed.

In the Great Recession of 2008-2010, it became impossible for many students to afford new software and new computers to learn to improve their reading. Mr. Adams figured out how to do his program of instruction and reading texts without the need for a computer or computer software. Now students can use their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac Computer (laptop or desktop) to read texts this way. Almost everybody already owns or has access to one of these devices.

Mr. Adams also worked with The University of Massachusetts (Boston) and a major textbook publisher to improve student reading of nursing textbooks, using his software.

In the spring of 2012 Mr. Adams suspected that the work he had done to help people concentrate and comprehend in noisy environments  could be used for different forms of noise, which were now internal, rather than external. This has lead to application of Proportional Reading to a wide range of serious MENTAL CHALLENGES (including schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, and severe anxiety) as well as help for the early stages of DEMENTIA and the intense initial stages of GRIEF. The earlier work he did on helping overcome reading anxiety, LD, and ADHD proved very helpful. This expansion of application of PR is consistent with Mr. Adams’s long held belief that a reading approach that is created to help one group in society finds application to many other groups. The average and good reader, the learning disabled reader, and the mentally challenged reader are all in one family, where what helps one person will help many others.

In the summer of 2013 Mr. Adams rewrote his software so that anybody could easily format text for easy reading, with or without the use of interactive, computer-voice at variable speed. He then wrote a free manual on how to use this software.

During the fall of 2013 and the following winter, Mr. Adams worked on and further developed his format of reading by punctuation interval within a sentence, which sentence in turn is separated by a blank line from other sentences. This format gained immediate acceptance, as it enabled one to instantly see the logic, poetry, and music of prose at a glance. Furthermore, when combined with reading just ahead of interactive, computer-voice, this format enables many people to read a whole punctuation interval at a time without any, or almost no eye movement from left to right. Besides developing transferrable skills, this format quickly enables many people to read at the speed they think.

In the spring of 2014 Mr. Adams created an absolutely free library of over 70 of the most famous classics of all time, each formatted for easy reading. He is currently spreading this free library around the world, in addition to his Free Reading Improvement Course. He continues to offer staff training and individual 1on1 tutoring.

During the winter of 2015 Mr. Adams worked on reading a sentence at a time within the paragraph, seeing the relationship of the major sentence parts (punctuation intervals) within each sentence, and seeing each sentence as part of a larger whole (the paragraph). Here again, the idea was to read just ahead of computer voice, which acted as a pacer.

By the late spring of 2015 it became clear that it would be ideal to have an automatic way to read a paragraph at a time, just ahead of computer voice, with automatic pausing after commas, semi-colons and periods, as well as a full stop at the end of each paragraph to think about the whole paragraph, and/or repeat it. This would enable students and adult readers to focus on thinking about how the sentences in each paragraph related to each other, and how one paragraph related to the one just before (or the title or sub title, which would now be treated as paragraphs). During the late spring, summer of 2015, Mr. Adams developed this approach, including a way to adjust the amount of pausing at punctuation points; which was in addition to controlling the overall speed of the voice. Visual aids to easily identify the beginning and end of punctuation intervals were also added, as well as the ability to pause at any point during the paragraph.

During the fall of  2015, Mr. Adams expanded this ability to read by paragraph to include reading one paragraph after another automatically, with automatic (and adjustable) pausing after sentences and paragraphs. He also developed the ability to do this same thing by reading a highlighted sentence at a time. At any time the reader can pause for as long as desired, repeat the section if desired, change the overall computer-voice speed, and/or look up a word if needed.

In January and February of 2017 Mr. Adams greatly enhanced the ability to read a Chapter or book continuously, with adjustable speed and automatic and adjustable pausing after commas, semicolons, sentences, and paragraphs. Essentially now you just pause, and optionally repeat sound, whenever desired. Otherwise, you just keep thinking, as you read silently just ahead of computer voice, with built in pausing, and at the speed your mind works.

His reading program now breaks down into two approaches, depending on the reader’s needs. The first is for those who are already average or good readers. These people learn how to double their reading speed and substantially increase their comprehension, with two hours of instruction, learning how to think as you read, and read at the speed you think. Readers have the option to progress a highlighted sentence or a highlighted paragraph at a time, and to progress either manually or automatically, with instant pause or repeat either way, and adjusting speed as desired.

Using this approach readers can just look at longer words and certain other key words, seeing the shorter words with peripheral vision and hearing the sound just behind what they see. This approach enables readers to instantly double speed and increase comprehension. The computer and the mind are working together in perfect sync.

The second approach of his reading program is for challenged readers. It is a six step progression of computer-voice and text, formatted by increasing cognitive interval. A Cognitive Interval is defined as the amount of text you read at a time. There are six cognitive intervals which his program progresses through: a word, a phrase, a punctuation interval, a sentence, a paragraph, and a chapter (or book). A Punctuation Interval is defined as all the words from the beginning of a sentence to the first comma or semicolon. The second punctuation interval begins with the first word after the first comma or semicolon and goes to the next comma, or semicolon, and so on to the end of the sentence. Each of the six levels is combined with appropriate instruction for that level, including the right use of eight sound approaches. The last two steps of this approach for challenged readers are the same steps in the approach for those who are already advanced.

This progression of training allows every person from 4th grade to age 90 to start where he or she is at, and then move forward. All reading challenges can be addressed and helped. This is truly a new way to learn to read, and easily compliments all existing approaches. Every student in a K-12 school, college, graduate school or a library can now be helped using this reading technique. Any novel, textbook or Internet article can be quickly formatted and read with this approach in a way that is tailored for each individual reader.

Essentially, the story of Proportional Reading is the story of an individual with an intimate knowledge of reading difficulty combining this knowledge with perseverance and expertise as an independent professional inventor and applying this to American education, which was more than ready and in need of pragmatic innovation that works. Many family members, close friends, teachers, students, schools and governments have provided help and encouragement along the way.

(c) Proportional Reading, 2017