Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Librarians’ ‘Beast That Won’t Die': The Five-Finger Strategy

November 03, 2015 1 min read

To the Editor:

As a semiretired teacher-librarian, I nodded in agreement while reading Barbara Wheatley’s Commentary “Reading by Choice: Let Students Choose the Books to Tackle.” That is, until Wheatley invoked the name of that beast that won’t die: the “five-finger strategy.”

This abomination suggests to students that instead of meaning, learning, growth, pleasurable entertainment, or any of the other myriad gifts reading provides us, the highest value resides in being able to pronounce the words.

Daniel Fader and Elton McNeil proved otherwise nearly 40 years ago in Hooked on Books: Program and Proof (Berkley Pub Corp, 1966). In discussing students’ reading choices, they write: “In fact, the threshold of understanding—of meaningful interaction—is surprisingly low, and even in many complex books can be crossed by many simple readers.”

Furthermore, how would the five-finger strategy apply to poetry, for example, or books (as well as magazines, websites, and other media) with abundant nontextual material? And what about student motivation, as Fader and McNeil remind us?

As a library media specialist, Wheatley should know better. There are no “bad choices” in the library.

Our students have a right to read whatever they want, and that right should be abrogated only when required by law. Much of the value of a library to students results from their freedom to choose what to read. So, go ahead and read aloud to them, suggest books, play, sing, and laugh, but please do not prejudice a child’s reading with the five-finger strategy or any other comments that imply anyone can possibly know what library book is best for another human being.

Mark Goldstein

Green Bay, Wis.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2015 edition of Education Week as Librarians’ ‘Beast That Won’t Die': The Five-Finger Strategy


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