Familiarity vs. Fluency: Scroll Bar and Line Reader Tools

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Dr. Shona continues her look at how teachers can help their students’ online assessment success by familiarizing themselves with the specific purposes of these assessments’ digital tools through her exploration of the scroll bar and line reader tools.

In the last video and blog, the important idea was that readers choose digital tools with specific purposes that aid their reading needs. The same applies to other tools. The scroll bar and the line reader tools change drastically depending on the choice readers make about the hide/reveal tool. What these tools are and how they support reading comprehension must also be explicitly taught because some of it’s invisible and some of it’s wonky in the platform as of December 2023.

Scroll Bar and Setting Purpose

When you leave the left-hand text as it is, the lines are short and the text seems long. When you hide the questions, the lines are longer and the text seems shorter. We know that, right? But there are other changes, not readily visible. Depending on the computer screen size, resolution, and browser, the scroll bar functions differently. Sometimes, you have to move your mouse/trackpad over it. Sometimes you can just use the arrow keys if you’ve clicked in the right place. Sometimes it’s visible. Sometimes, it’s not. Wonky.

So what’s it for? The scroll bar gives the reader an idea about how long the text is and what part of the text is showing in the window. For example, if I scan through the text, I can quickly tell what kind of thing it is. I know immediately if it’s a poem or a drama. I have to skim and scan to see if it is a narrative or an informative/argumentative kind of thing. I know right away how much I’m going to have to read. That helps me set my purpose for reading.

Here’s some scenarios:

  • I see both left- and right-hand screens. The text is long. The lines are short. The scroll bar shows me how much stuff I’m not seeing in the window. If I scan and decide that what I’m reading is a narrative, I know that the first part of what I see in the window is going to be about the setting, the characters, and what they want/what’s keeping them from what they want. So I read to find that information. When I scroll, I’m going to start finding what the character does to get/not get what they desire. When that scroll bar gets down to the bottom, I know I’d better start finding how this thing is going to end. The scroll bar helps me keep track of the genre characteristics , allowing me to change my purposes for reading as I go. It helps me monitor my comprehension along the way.
  • I see only the text. The text is short. The lines are long. The scroll bar shows me that I’m seeing most of the text in the window. I can scan the text and decide that I’m reading something informational because there are headings and graphics. I can see where the piece begins and when it starts to end. I know that when I start reading, I should find some kind of introduction and a thesis. When I find that, I know I’m moving into the body of the paper where I will find the reasons and evidence the author thinks is important to that topic and approach. As I reach the bottom, I’m looking for another way to confirm what the whole thing was about—a restatement of the thesis and a satisfying conclusion. The scroll bar helps me know what to expect and how to change or monitor when I’m not finding what I know should be there.

The Line Reader Tool: Placeholder and Tracking

The line reader tool is wonky, y’all. When you turn it on, the thing goes to the top line, to the instructions that no one ever reads. A lot of kids never see it and think it doesn’t work. To make it work, you have to use the arrow keys or use the mouse—which no one seems to have; a topic for another time—or use the trackpad to move and click on each line. Cumbersome, especially for left/right coordination moving and clicking in the right part of the trackpad.

Aside: Kids need mice. Back in the day, mice had trackballs instead of that digital stuff they have now. Kids kept taking out the rollers and using them for bouncing toys. Our sweet principal was frustrated with replacing all the technology. She got on the announcements and said: “We are having a problem in the computer lab. The mice balls are missing. Students must not remove or play with the mouse balls.” And, of course, I taught 5th graders. She had no idea why the kids snickered when we passed by at lunch.

The line reader is a great way to keep track of where you are in the text or any given line. But here’s the problem: kids have been told not to touch the text with their fingers since little-people school. Most of them don’t want anyone to see that they need to use the line reader because they’ve all been shamed. Well, shame on that abusive practice. I’ve read James Joyce and Vygotsky with my fingers. And some Shel Silverstein. Let’s do something about removing the stigma about the line reader.

The hide/reveal tool also makes the line reader go away when you toggle between. Frustrating when you are using it to keep your place in the text as you search for answers. Kids need to know that.

Until kids don’t worry about what others think about their online strategies, we can teach them to do other things. They can put their thumb along the outside of the screens to keep track of where they are reading. They can use a card or paper under the lines and top of the screen—but most of my kids won’t do that. I’ve tried using some clear laminating film that is less intrusive with some success.

Another technique is to have the kids use the mouse or trackpad to highlight three lines of the text at a time. (No, not the highlighter tool yet.) If three lines at a time are highlighted, they always know if they are on the top, middle, or bottom lines. Sometimes, I have them highlight a paragraph or section at a time. Just depends on what they need or prefer at the time. Sometimes, a text will be more difficult than others and they need to add in more supports for themselves.

Compliance or Cognition

A child I was tutoring came in and highlighted the title of the text we were going to read. I asked her why she did that. “I dunno. Teacher says we have to.” This kid was compliant. But her lovely rule-following did nothing to help her cognition and comprehension. We empower students to be self-directed and decision makers when we show them what the tools do, why they help, and how they can be used. We’re going for impact and results, not mindless rule-following.

TEKS Commentary

Foundational Language Skills: Fluency
Multiple Genres: Genres: A-F
Response: E: Interact with sources in meaningful ways—the source has features—we show them how they can be used to enhance meaning.
Comprehension: A, B, C, H, I; Scanning that text and determining genre is a type of synthesis that aids in setting purpose and monitoring comprehension.
Inquiry and Research: A, B, C

Up Next:

The Many Ways to Track Words

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About the Author

Dr Shona Rose

Shona Rose

Dr. Shona Rose, passionate about literacy and improving student experiences, researches and presents solutions to cause displays of learner growth. These displays become tools for teachers to provide support and intervention to accelerate the impact on student performance.
Dr. Rose uses her experiences as a baker at Kind House Ukraine Bakery, gardening and music, and budding interest as an outdoorswoman and overlander to make concrete connections to literary processes. Her rescue mutt, Joy, and ugly Cornish Rex cat, Youglie, often appear in her writings and activities.
When not researching and reading, Dr. Rose revels in being a “Nona” to her three grandchildren. 
Connect with Shona: 
Or by email to shonarose67 at gmail