Talking Fingers

Talking Fingers

The Talking Fingers approach to reading and writing is based on a simple idea: text is speech made visible. We use our mouths to talk, to make the sounds of words. We use our fingers (with a pencil or keyboard) to represent those sounds on paper.

There are roughly 40 sounds (or phonemes) in English. It takes only 26 letters to stand for those sounds, to make any spoken word visible. When children learn to link those sounds and letters, they can use the alphabet code to write any word they can say. Their fingers are “talking”.

Reading and writing are normally functions of the left hemisphere of the brain. Studies of the brain show that many children who are dyslexic (struggling to read) are trying to use areas of the right hemisphere of the brain instead of the left. When the dyslexics in two studies were taught to segment words into their sounds and use the alphabet code, their reading improved and the brain activation shifted to the left hemisphere.

Children first learn to deal with print, the new pathways they are developing should be laid down in association with well-established left hemisphere functions of speech and comprehension. Writing (encoding words), is a natural speech-based route to reading. Each word has to be mentally pronounced and then spelled out one sound at a time. As children write, their mouths may be quiet, but their brains and their fingers are “talking.” If they can put words on paper themselves, they can more easily read words that other people have put on paper.

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Talking Fingers has developed two software programs, largely funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), to lead children systematically from speech to literacy. The first, the Read, Write & Type Learning System, is aimed at early readers. It teaches them to identify the individual sounds in words (phoneme awareness) and to associate those sounds with letters (phonics). It also, as a bonus, teaches them to use the keyboard correctly to help their fingers do the talking. At the end of 40 lessons (one for each phoneme), most 5-8 year olds are able to decode any regularly spelled word and write any word they can say.

The overall purpose of our second program, Wordy Qwerty: Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, is to improve phonological and morphological sensitivity, to develop a deeper understanding of how words are constructed in English, to help children notice patterns in words, to engage them with 20 spelling songs to learn important spelling rules, and to provide reading and writing activities with helpful feedback, in order to increase fluency and comprehension in reading and writing.

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