Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
Every once in a while, a professional development book comes along that hits the sweet spot of affirming what you already do and believe while challenging you to think in new ways and do more. Disrupting Thinking: Why HOW We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst does just that. Somehow in our educational system’s rush to improve test scores and assess our students continually on their reading levels and Lexile scores, some forgot that reading is not mere decoding but a personal transaction with the text. Beers and Probst outline the contrast between reading as extractional vs. transactional. Reading is not about being able to skim to find the second half of a question stem; it’s about personally engaging with and thinking about the text. After all, reading and writing are really about thinking, and sometimes, lately, I fear our society has forgotten how to.
Part One: Opening Comments
This chapter will sadly confirm how the way we do reading instruction in schools often kills the love of reading. What follows are short interviews of students in grades one, three, four, seven, eight, and a freshman in college. Beers and Probst ask students directly about how they experience reading instruction, and it will make your heart ache. Here are two brief excerpts.
Kylene: Do you have a favorite book?
First grader Jason: This Book Has No Pictures. I LOVE that book. It is so so so so so so so so so funny.
Kylene: Do you like to read?
Seventh grader Monica: What do you mean?
… Kylene: Do you read on your own?
Monica: Like for homework?
Kylene: For homework and for fun.
Monica: For fun? Fun? I don’t think so.
We can’t do it alone
We must be literacy leaders on our campuses and proselytizers for the right way to get our students engaged with reading. One of the best tips in the book is how to ask students questions about what they read, starting with: Book/Head/Heart and these three questions:
- What surprised you?
- What did the author think you already knew?
- What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?
Testing these theories
I’ve been conducting student book clubs for fifteen years, and I love crafting a good opening question. In fact, my students have gotten good at coming up with their own open-ended questions that get us stirred up and passionate. Now I’ve added questions one and three above. At the risk of a spoiler, our Word Wizards book club spent a lot of time talking about Auggie’s dog, Daisy, in the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, in response to the question: what surprised you? They both wanted and needed to talk about Daisy. After all, reading is a silent (not always) conversation between the reader and the writer. We want our students to have those conversations in their heads as they read.
Changing reading practices on your campus
Our 8th-grade American history teachers complained when students plagiarized part of a historic book project. Rather than writing their own summaries of their selected book, such as those from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America series, some students plagiarized. The teachers then decided not to assign the historic book project, which is one of my favorites. I tried to convince them not to change the books they were assigning as choices but instead to change the nature of that part of the assignment. A summary cries out for plagiarism while a reflective essay, responding to the Book/Head/Heart questions, is much harder to fake. Perhaps I was over-passionate in my appeal and suggestions, which caused hurt feelings. I avoided that particular lunch for several weeks, but in the end they agreed to continue the historic book project, including such titles as Steve Sheinkin’s fabulous The Notorious Benedict Arnold. It’s hard to be the one on campus always arguing for better ways to engage kids in reading and thinking, but we must take on the role. Librarians are disrupters after all.
Beers, G. Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting thinking: why how we read matters. Scholastic Inc., 2017.
Author: Sara Stevenson
I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.