Finger-point reading is the easiest, most joyful component of reading instruction. It is also the most important, and the most time-consuming. For older struggling readers, it is perhaps the most overlooked.
(Note: do *NOT* push reading until your child has made substantial headway in the BLENDING program. Without phonological awareness he or she can only practice guessing techniques, which is more harmful than helpful. Read to your child, but do NOT ask him or her to read yet.)
Haroun and I worked almost 100 minutes finger-point reading today, in two 50-minute sessions. We are reading aloud one of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books. He reads the left-side pages, and I read the right-side pages.
I’m tracking the text with my finger or a pen-tip for both our sides. On his side he doesn’t have to worry about transitions from one line to the next – a weak skill that is still a source of errors. Without a finger to guide he will skip lines or re-read the same line, quickly losing the meaning. On my side, the finger allows him to follow my reading, drop off to look at a word or illustration, and then pick up again.
Yesterday he was making errors on small ‘function’ words – the two- and three-letter words that a student should never miss. Mistakes on big words are OK, but small words are the skeleton for the grammar and meaning, their accuracy is critical. I asked him to focus on always getting them right, and today they are almost flawless.
When Haroun struggles with a word, I feed it to him (sometimes just a hint like the first sound is enough). When he struggles with a sentence, I re-read so that he understands it. I check in frequently, if he misses the point of a paragraph or the meaning of an expression, I provide it. My goal isn’t to teach comprehension skills (yet), it is simply to keep him in the story. The important thing for now is to practice word recognition, build sight-vocabulary words (words he can recognize visually), and improve reading speed.
‘Wimpy Kids’ is a grade-four book, although it looks easier because of the small number of words per page and the illustrations. We stop at least once per page to check in on understanding – does he see why this is funny, does he understand that expression, does he hear the thought that was left unsaid. His understanding is much better when I am reading, perhaps because I make a point of exaggerating the phrasing and using different voices.
Figures of speech like “that didn’t pan out ” are opaque to Haroun (I got to explain the Gold Rush). I can’t imagine how he maps his inner-city experience to stories of a spoiled suburban white kid making trouble in a country club or trying to pilfer from the church collection basket.
On the other hand, ‘Diary’ is a subversive book and the narrator is a self-centered lazy troublemaker; I think that is a particularly delightful novelty to Haroun who is painfully well-behaved and devout.
In any case he seems to be enjoying it. When he started make mistakes and look tired, I suggested we take a break. Instead he asked me to keep reading and so I read both sides for another 10 pages, both of us giggling at the mischief. Honestly, I’m enjoying it too.