Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters

Review by Laurie Thurston

It’s no longer about “best practices.” It’s about disrupting practices.

Authors Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst open their new book with two essential questions: What needs to change? What assumptions make that change hard? The goal of their work is to create a classroom culture that empowers readers to embrace struggle. The goal is not to make the work easy, but to create conditions that support the student during challenging moments in order to find their way toward deeper understanding.

The text is divided into three main sections. Part I addresses the reader we are trying to create—one who is responsive, responsible, and compassionate. Part II focuses on the framework used by these educators, and Part III chronicles the changes that must be embraced. Each section includes references to brief video clips (URLs are in the text) prompting the reader to go online for an extension of a particular point.

In Part I, the “responsive, responsible, and compassionate reader” is defined as one who is aware of the effect the text has on them as well as on others. The authors suggest posing big questions in order to draw out these reflections, such as “How did reading this change who you are? How might it change what you do in the world?” Creating the opportunity for kids to link their own experiences to the text in order for it to matter “may then evoke more rigorous attention, reflection, and analysis.”

Part II is titled, “Book, Head and Heart” and is the name for the framework of the approach described. The idea is to get kids to respond to text in three ways:

  • “In the book” refers to getting the student to consider what the text is about and the author’s purpose.
  • “In your head” connects the reader to the text: What surprised them, what changed or challenged their thinking?
  • “In your heart” refers to what the reader comes away with after having read the text: What they’ve learned, and how they’ve changed as a result of the reading.

Throughout Part II, the authors highlight specific strategies and scripts they’ve used with various grade levels. They showcase some useful tools such as “signposts” and “fix up charts” that help students become more independent while reading challenging texts.

The changes that must be embraced for this shift to occur are addressed in Part III. This section will likely cause the most discomfort for teachers. While the first two sections pretty much preach to the choir (Don’t all teachers want our students to be better, more compassionate, and insightful readers?), this last section confronts some of the “best practices” and encourages some “disruption.” The authors’ main arguments for improving student engagement is allowing choice, supporting silent reading in the classroom, and focusing this reading through questioning and individual conferences. They cite several studies that support the reasons the amount of reading matters and how the quality of reading conversations will support a student’s ability to become critical thinkers.

As a whole, there are some very useful elements in this book. For newer teachers or teachers just beginning to embark on a shift in pedagogy, it would be a terrific start. For teachers who’ve been at this a while, Part III will offer the most “disruption.” While missing some of the actual nuts and bolts for creating cultural shift in the classroom, Disrupting Thinking is a useful tool to get teachers talking about pedagogy, how they want their classrooms to sound, and what actions on their part are needed to make that happen.