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Get That Finger Out Of the Way! On Finger Pointing in Reading

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

One of the major missteps I encounter as a reading specialist is when parents or teachers use finger pointing to help student "keep their place". While this is generally well-intentioned and what people remember from their own experience learning to read, it's actually a harmful practice. Anything we practice repeatedly becomes habit, and this habit leads to student being word-by-word readers which impedes their fluency (speed) and directly impacts their comprehension or meaning making.

Fluency and comprehension go hand in hand in reading. When children read word by word, they are losing comprehension by the second as all their brain power is still trying to figure out each word separately. The speed is necessary for the comprehension to build as the reader can see what's coming up next and use that to further make meaning. That said, accuracy trumps fluency, so don't go trying to make kids read hella fast incorrectly. The speed is relative to the task.

Back to the finger...Our eyes and ears (if being read to) are the main body parts here. Our eyes are taking in information at speeds our hands cannot keep up with, and our ears are doing the same. The hands just get in the way. Additionally, we read in chunks or phrases not in single words. As mentioned earlier, we need to see what is coming up as we are building comprehension.

If someone is having trouble tracking, meaning using their eyes to efficiently read the words from left to right that speaks to another issue altogether. Tracking issues can be related to eye focus and eyes working as a team. But if it's simply that they have trouble keeping their place, then you can use piece of paper under the line to be read and move it down. This way you are not blocking the upcoming text.

So, get those fingers off those pages unless the child is pre-school to early Kindergarten level. ( I hate having to name levels as I think it can become punitive for students. However, at this juncture in our collective society it's still a thing. If you have suggestions on dismantling this, please share!)

Happy Reading!


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