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Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters book is disrupting my summer reading plans

I love my summer reading list.

You know the one. I put together a list of stuff I want to read over June, July, and August. Of course, not once have I ever been able to actually finish the list. I always get sidetracked by something. One summer, I got distracted and went on a whole Civil War tangent. Last year, it was old presidential election books like The Making of the President 1960.

This year’s distraction?

I just ran across the latest by literacy gurus Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. And I have to be honest, not that familiar with their work. I was part of a conversation several years ago that focused on their Notice and Note book. But I’ve gotten hooked by their current title: Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.

Beers and Probst begin Disrupting Thinking with a quick story about a company called LittleMissMatched. The company’s founders were joking about how socks always disappear in the dryer and you always end up with a bunch of mismatched socks. Why, they asked, do socks have to match? Why not sell socks in packs of three? And make sure that all three socks don’t match?

Can we disrupt the frustration of being stuck with just one sock when the other one gets lost? Why can’t we, they asked, disrupt how people buy and wear socks? So they did. And you already know how this turns out. People loved the idea and give LittleMissMatched tons of their money.

I love that idea. Beers and Probst suggest that we should do the same thing with reading.

In an early article for Voices from the Middle posted not long after 9/11, Probst wrote that our students wouldn’t be able to read about those events or other difficult texts by:

taking quizzes or preparing for them, or by collecting points and prizes for numbers of books read, but by engaging stories and poems that touch them, reading them in the company of other students and committed teachers who will help them make connections, explore responses, raise and answer questions.

. . . Without those stories, and without the ability to read them responsively and responsibly, feeling at least some of the pain and the loss, our students will remain separate, distant, unconnected, vulnerable. If we learn to read them, we may learn to watch the news on difficult days and think responsibly about what we see and hear and be better able to read not only the texts, but our very lives.

disrupting thinkingIn Disrupting Thinking, the authors explore a new approach to literacy that is “transformational,” that explores how we help students become readers “who do much more than decode, recall, and choose the correct answer to a multiple choice question.”

Beer and Probst suggest that it is more important than ever for our students to become not just skillful readers but also

  • responsive readers who are aware of their own emotions and reactions while reading
  • responsible readers who think about what the text means for others, society, and themselves,
  • compassionate readers who, through reading, develop empathy that helps them understand others

I love that idea. Seriously. How cool is this? The concept of responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers ties in perfectly to both our state social studies standards and the NCSS C3 Framework that looks to create knowledgeable, informed, engaged citizens who make a difference in the world.

Reading that supports social studies. Social Studies that supports reading.

They also talk a ton about how we can get caught up in “best practices in education” rather than “disruptive practices.” About reassessing what success looks like. What relevance looks like. And the importance of silent reading. Of giving kids choices in what they read. And how to build community if and when we all read the same book.

The cool part? Disrupting Thinking is not just theory. In the book, Beers and Probst share something they call the Book, Head, Heart (BHH) framework that teachers can use to create the responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers that we all want. Some of you might already know and use the BHH Framework but it’s new to me.

You really need to get the book to fully appreciate the power of the framework but here’s a quick BHH overview as a bit of a teaser.

The authors use the phrase as a short hook for you and students to suggest that we need to pay attention to the text of what we read, we need to pay attention to our thoughts about the text, and that we especially need to pay attention to how the text makes us feel. To how the text might have changed us, even if just a little bit.

Book, Head, Heart. It helps kids focus on where they start (the content of the text) and where they end up (how the text is changing them.)

Basically you’ve got three steps:

  • Have kids ask questions about the book or text. What does the author want me to know?
  • Have kids ask questions about the intersection of text and themselves. This leads to thoughts about the content and how what it says fits with their own thinking. What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?
  • And have kids ask questions about how the text makes them feel. This helps kids recognize and respond to emotions aroused by the text.

The authors mention a teacher who asked whether their ultimate goal was to create a bunch of social activists.

We said that we want all students to become productive participants in their community and that we believe our democracy requires responsive and responsible reading from all of us. Does this mean we’re trying to create social activists? If than means being willing to solve society’s problems, yes.

What’s not to love? This really is awesome stuff. Using reading and fiction and nonfiction and primary sources and evidence and questioning to grow people who are ready to make the world a better place for all of us. Isn’t this what school should be about?

Beers and Probst provide a ton of examples in different grade levels with different types of content. You get video links. And sweet suggestions for implementation.

Need more reason to pick up the book? A teacher who purchased the book posted this comment on Amazon:

 I read the first 1-2 chapters of Disrupting Thinking the moment I got the shipment. I decided to try some of the questioning techniques in my classroom the very next day. We had the most amazing conversations about the book we were reading as a class. All it took was a few of the questioning techniques where the teacher doesn’t control the conversation but leaves it in the hands of the students.

If a student doesn’t see the connection between themselves and the reading they are asked to do, they tend to not be interested. This book is helping me become more “student centered” as a teacher and let the students develop their critical thinking skills.

The book focuses more on fiction and nonfiction text.  But I think you could use the BHH Framework on both secondary and primary sources. Especially with things like political cartoons, oral histories, and editorials / commentaries. I’m still working on ways to integrate this with the SHEG Historical Thinking Chart. Perhaps use some of the SHEG sourcing and context stuff together with BHH Heart stuff. Mmm . . .

But do know that I can go jump back into my original summer list with a few extra tools for making sense of what I’m reading. And the ability to use those tools to help others do the same thing. Summer days don’t get much better than that.


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Glenn is a curriculum and integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

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