Disrupting my teaching and reading thinking with “Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters”

Image result for disrupting thinking beers probst

For some time now, I have been looking forward to  summer  when I would have the quiet time to devote to Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s new book, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.   I knew that it would be a book that would leave me thinking about my reading workshop practices with a more critical lens, and one that would challenge me to do better. Where  Notice & Note  and  Reading Nonfiction  gave me new strategies through which to teach meaningful reading, and the thinking behind these strategies, Disrupting Thinking asks me to go one step further and teach towards change:

We argue that the ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to become better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we wanted to become.  The transactions we have with texts might enable us to do that.  If we read actively, assertively, thoughtfully, responsibly, then any text we read may offer us the possibility that we can reshape ourselves…

Our students, however, too often go to reading expecting a grade not growth.  So, we want to disrupt the thinking kids are doing as they read, thinking that is primarily focused on helping them extract evidence from a text.  We want them aware of the possibility that reading may – perhaps should – give them the opportunity to reshape themselves.  We want them to realize that reading should involve changing their understandings of the world and themselves…We want to ask students to be open to the possibility that a text might be disruptive, and that it is this disruption that gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. (pgs. 59-61)

This is a tall order, but Kylene and Bob, writing with their customary style which manages to be both scholarly and grounded in research as well as humorous, make their case in a systematic and compelling way.

Part I: The Readers We Want  discusses the three aspects we wish to see in both our students and ourselves as we read: being responsive, responsible, and compassionate. Here are some ideas I tagged:

When the reader notices what’s going on inside himself and feels the emotion or raises the question that the text evokes, he is doing more than simply decoding, more than simply word calling, more than simply memorizing what the text offers him. He is instead opening himself up to the text, interacting with it, accepting its invitation into the fictional world or – if it’s nonfiction – recognizing its intrusion into his world, and using it to help him make sense of his own experience. This responsive reader is aware of the effects a text has upon her and the response it evokes… (pg.25)

This kind of intentional, introspective responsiveness is something I need to teach towards much more than I presently do.  “Why did this character/action/scene/problem/resolution make you feel this way and what does that say to you? How might this have changed your perspective about something in your own life?” will be the entry point to rich discussions, as well as build upon the notion that reading changes us.

Our students…come to class, too often, ready to assert that whatever they think, whatever they have come to believe, is flatly, simply, indisputably true and correct.  They are often much more willing to defend their thoughts than to reconsider and perhaps modify them.  And they should, of course, defend and protect what is reasoned and defensible.  But to hold on to ideas when  evidence and research suggest that a change is sensible is to fail to be responsible to oneself.  Somehow, we need to teach them to value change.  Not change for change’s sake, but change that results from more information, a richer understanding, a sharpened perspective. (pg. 38)

I believe now, more than ever, it is critical to teach towards this idea of teaching towards responsible reading.  This chart shared by Kylene over Twitter before Disrupting Thinking was published became a familiar one in our classroom:

Image result for scholastic disrupting thinking

It led my sixth graders to look closely at sources, at the presence of extreme language and what we might be wise to read into that. and at the response it elicited.  We were often surprised at the conclusions such reflections led us to – in other words, how it changed our perspective and made us more insightful readers, aware that all writers come to their task with biases we need to take into consideration, sources we need to question.  I loved the fact that Kylene and Bob made note of the fact that responsibility takes stamina – if we care about the issues of the day, and as citizens we should, then we must cultivate this stamina.

The more capable readers are of compassion, the more likely it is that they will be able to read well.  Compassion should sharpen the readers’ ability to see other points of view, other perspectives, and to imagine the feelings of those who hold them.  It should enable readers to take, if only momentarily, the perspective of someone else and thus better understand motivations and thinking. (pg. 45)

In a recent podcast about summer book lists I listened to, I was struck by the call for books that were empathetic – that called for the reader to bring the compassionate stance to his/her reading as a way of moving forward in an increasingly destabilized and uncertain world.  This important work needs to begin in our classrooms, with our youngest readers.

Part II: The Framework We Use: walks the reader through strategies we can use in our classrooms to nurture responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers.  The fiction and non fiction signposts, as well as the “Three Big Questions” are essential elements of my sixth grade reading workshop, but I especially loved the inclusion of this newer strategy:

Image result for disrupting thinking beers probst bhh chart

I loved using this framework with my kids, as Kylene and Bob write:

…we read to do more than learn from the text; we read to do more than enjoy the text. We read to learn more about ourselves. We read to become more than we knew we wanted to be.  (pg. 71)

It was that last aspect that was a game changer in my classroom – the idea that we bring our hearts into our reading lives, we read to be changed and to grow as individuals.

Part III: The Changes We Must Embrace was a thoughtful discussion and analysis of big changes that must take place and assumptions that must be challenged: how we teachers can go from “best practices” to “next practices”.  This would be a wonderful section with which to frame discussions among our literacy colleagues.  The issue of relevancy really spoke to me, because I believe that my kids are most engaged when the learning in our classroom is made relevant to them; whether it’s teaching about the Constitution or reading John Green, my kids are most “with me” when they feel the content of our work together speaks to them:

…the issue of relevance is relevant.  It can shape the way we choose texts for students, the way we invite students to choose the texts that they will read independently, and the approach we take to all of that reading.  The issue of relevance reminds us that the work children do in  the classroom should be significant to them, not simply preparation for something significant they will undertake years in the future.  If they are to undertake anything significant in the future, it will be because they have learned the importance of significant work early on in their schooling. (pg 122)

Disrupting Thinking was a fitting start to my summer PD adventures, and now that I’ve read it I want to keep the thinking it has inspired growing by participating in the FaceBook book group, as well as the Twitter chat Kyle and Bob will lead on #G2Great.



6 thoughts on “Disrupting my teaching and reading thinking with “Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters”

  1. Before I left for vacation, I read half of this book and marked it up. So much wisdom and practicality. I look forward to trying the BHH framework with my students next year. It just makes sense. Thanks for your reflections.

  2. I mean, wow, as Mr. Slinger in Chrysanthemum. Sometimes that little palindrome helps when words fail me. Your thinking, your mind flow, and your capacity for digging out what you need in order to teach well astounds me. You are a scholar and teacher indeed. It helps to have good rich books, but it’s the processing, the taking taking of time to make it come together that matters in the end.

  3. I’m rereading the book now, Tara, to really digest it and to make informed concrete plans for what I want to remember to include/change in my teaching.
    This was a concise overview of the book, and I especially appreciate that you included your thoughts and your plans for your own teaching.

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful post that shares your important thinking as you read the book and plans for how you’ll implement it in your classroom. I’m sending this post to some of my former 6th grade team members.

  5. I am stuck by the need for relevance and how it connects to our hearts. I am through the first part of the book. Looking forward to reading on with your thoughts beside me.

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