From an evolutionary perspective, teaching kids to read is a relatively new undertaking for the human brain. Our brains are not prewired for translating shapes into sounds and then stringing these shapes together to form words, sentences, and paragraphs. Learning to read is one of the most difficult processes required of the brain. Despite the complicated and tangled skills necessary to become a proficient reader, we expect foundational mastery by the time a child leaves first grade. For many children who are learning to read, the journey is smooth, enjoyable, and seemingly effortless. However, for some children who are learning to read, the journey is quite the opposite experience. As a reading specialist, navigating how to teach a child to read can be quite challenging. My students find the complex process needed for this crucial life skill to be a frustrating series of roadblocks. It is my job to diagnose and remediate the specific obstacles my students face. Throughout my teaching career, I continually look for tools when tackling how to help a child struggling with reading.
For proficient readers, the ability to visually track text from left to right across the page is a simple and automatic task. Yet for struggling readers, tracking text accurately can pose a major barrier to achieving proper fluency. Without reading fluency (reading with accuracy, pace, and expression) kids learning to read are unable to achieve the ultimate objective—constructing meaning from text (comprehension). Over the years, I’ve noticed many of my struggling readers’ inability to track texts causes them to frequently skip words, insert extra words, skip lines of text, or repeat lines of text. There are many factors that can contribute to this difficulty, including:
- A child may be an English Language Learner and his/her first language may be oriented from right to left, or vertically in columns from top to bottom.
- A child may not have been read to from an early age by a proficient reader who modeled text tracking with his/her finger.
- A child may have undiagnosed vision issues.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list. Regardless of the contributing factors, the inability to track text must be remediated if children are to grow into successful readers. To help my students progress in their tracking abilities, I’ve tried a variety of methods with varying levels of success. My students responded well to tracking text with a highlighter, but this required me to make multiple copies of each text we read and each copy only allowed for one use. I also tried purchasing items such as colored overlays or special pointer fingers, but those often turned into fidgets and proved to be counterproductive and distracting.
The FingerFocus Highlighter is an ideal reading tracker for kids. Each set comes with four colored text highlighters (purple, yellow, blue, and clear) and an adjustable ring that attaches to the highlighter and is worn on the child’s pointer finger. Students can use their pointer finger to track the text while simultaneously highlighting the text as they read. The system combines two strategies (tracking text with one’s finger and highlighting the text with a highlighter), while eliminating some pitfalls that each strategy presents in isolation. This allows the student to not only keep his/her place while reading but also serves as a colored overlay to help stabilize the text on the page. This is important because some readers struggle to see black print on a white background.
I love this tracking tool because it is durable and reusable. If you plan on using the FingerFocus Highlighter in a classroom setting, I recommend doing the following:
- Provide each student with his/her own complete set and label the sets. This will eliminate inevitable debates that ensue when one child loses a part of his/her set and insists that his/her neighbor “took it.”
- Allow your students time to experiment with the different color choices and select the color they wish to use during the entire reading session.
- Don’t allow your students to switch colors in the middle of a reading session. Switching colors is as contagious as when one student asks to sharpen their pencil and suddenly the whole class needs to sharpen a pencil.
- Create clear expectations for appropriate use of this reading tool. Many of my students use fidgets during class, but it is important they understand the difference between a reading tool and a fidget.
Lisa Helfand has been an elementary school educator for 24 years. She began her career as a fourth grade teacher and is currently a reading specialist, working with struggling readers in grades 3-5. She has a passion for helping students remove obstacles and help them grow into successful readers. Lisa resides in the Chicago area with her husband and two teenage children.