August 17, 2018

The (Very Simple) Five-Finger Rule

I very regularly address questions from home-educating moms wondering about tools for determining the "reading level" of books they're considering for their children. Now in truth, my thoughts about "reading level" are similar to my views about the overall notion of "grade level" - i.e., "reading level" labels on books are largely arbitrary and irrelevant, and we should devote our energy to finding great (non-twaddle) books for our kids rather than worrying about their "level" as determined by some educrat who has never met our children. However, since our overall goal is (should be) to grow bibliophiles who seek to be lifelong learners, we want to appropriately challenge our kids without overwhelming them; thus, finding a method for determining the appropriateness of a particular book at a specific period of time in a child's life does have value...not so we can document what "level" a child is reading, but simply to properly respect and value each child's individual learning process.

We do not, however, need complicated algorithms, expensive materials, or even the latest app for that endeavor. In fact, we each carry with us every day a most effective tool - the five fingers on one hand - which can be used at any moment to employ the Five-Finger Rule for Text Readability. When a child chooses a book, just follow this procedure:
  1. Direct the child to read (aloud) the first full page of the book's text; 
  2. As he reads, subtly (so as not to intimidate him) keep note with one finger each time he cannot decode a word at all or struggles quite a bit to get it.
You'll know the suitability of the overall book based on how many fingers you use by the time the child reaches the bottom of the page:
  • 0-1 Finger: The child's reading ability is above the level of the book. That doesn't mean he shouldn't read it - there is intellectual and emotional value in reading even "easy" books - but it won't stretch his abilities;
  • 2-3 Fingers: The book is at the child's "instructional level." In other words, this book will be an appropriate challenge without being overwhelming; 
  • 4-5 Fingers: The child is not ready to read this book independently, as it is above his current reading ability. You might save it for a later time, or if the child is really interested, simply use it as a parent-led read-aloud or (perhaps) try tackling it in "buddy-reading" format with the parent.
And that's all there is to it - a "diagnostic test" accomplished in a matter of minutes in a very low-key manner using something you always have with you!

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