Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fluency Part 9 What to do about that finger

Many parents and teachers have asked, "What should I do about that pointing finger?"

I remember my older sister helping me with my reading at home when I was 'knee-high-to-a grass-hopper' and telling me not to use my finger while reading. This kind of made sense because I knew it wasn't polite to evacuate your nose in public or to point upwards with the 'rude finger'. However, I do remember having a sense of frustration because there were lots of words on the page and I thought, "How can I possibly keep track of where I am in this jumble of words without using one of my digits?"

Maybe older sisters, parents, and teachers have digititis (fear of the pointing finger) or better still, let's get to the point (so to speak). The eye does not move in a straight line from letter to letter or from word to word but moves around the page in stops, starts, progressions, and regressions. Children naturally use a finger to assist their eyes in this complex tracking process. Most children find this extremely helpful when they are novice readers but eventually ween themselves away from this habit. As they develop as readers they become better at tracking and will discover that the pointing finger actually begins to stifle their fluency.

Well, is it a good habit or a bad habit? The answer is yes, it can be both. If a child is still using his or her finger it is for a good reason. However, it can develop into word by word reading rather than reading with flow and expression. What is the answer?

The important thing is to develop their confidence by using the method of repeated reading or highlighting text phrases (see previous blogs in this series). Don't discourage the finger pointing but don't encourage it either. One sure way to enhance tracking and develop fluency without amputating the finger (or taping it to the inside of their palm) is to show your child that he/she can place their finger at the end of the line rather than below each word. After a while they will come to see that it is easier to let the eye do all the work and that moving beyond single word reading enhances comprehension.

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