Each summer, I aim to read at least 2-3 professional titles to improve my teaching. These titles always get me to reflect on what I do in my classroom, and then I decide if what I am doing is in the best interest of my students. The first title I finished this summer was Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst, and I am so glad it was my first choice. I found myself pumping my fist in agreement quite often. I loved their blunt wording, for I know their proven views will not be lost on any reader. Below are some of my takeaways from this essential title.
- If we want our children to read, it cannot be a chore. Mountains of packets, study guides, sticky notes, vocabulary worksheets, and other tasks like these can make reading downright boring for our kids. Reading needs to be more than just extracting information from the text. Yes, we need to teach students this skill, however, we need much more. As Beers and Probst state, “We have, while racing to the top, lowered our students’ vision of all that reading can be” (47). Instead of task after task, our students need time to simply read. We need to change their assumption that reading is always a chore (99). Let them find a book they are interested in. If they cannot find one, teach them how. Allow them to get sucked into a new world. Let them fall in love with a main character. We teachers must be willing to embrace this change. Giving students time to read is far from wasting time. It’s opening our students’ eyes to what’s going on in the world. When students fall in love with books, they are more willing to try those challenging texts they may have once dreaded.
- Reading inspires positive change in our students. Once our students begin to fall in love with new titles, they become more empathetic. We are disrupting their thinking. They begin to consider the thoughts and feelings of the characters, and make connections to the people in their lives. As Beers and Probst say, “…if we can convince our students to read with compassion, perhaps they will begin to act with compassion” (51). It’s true. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve watched a student come into my classroom and throw Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt on my desk with tears in her eyes as she asks me, “Why didn’t you tell me that THAT happened to Joseph?” This student saw the good in a character that supposedly tried to kill one of his teachers. What a wonderful discussion we had that day! There are so many amazing titles out there, and more are coming out every week. We teachers need to get those titles into the hands of our students to inspire that change. Change equals learning, and learning equals growth.
- Students need a framework to work with while reading. The BHH framework that Beers and
Probst introduce on page 62 is simple to remember, and really gets kids thinking. The “B” stands for what’s actually in the book. This is where students can summarize (using Somebody Wanted But So on page 64), but also use the signposts that Beers and Probst introduced in Notice & Note. Using these strategies, students can explain what they notice with specific detail, and it shows their thinking while reading instead of pinpointing what we want them to notice (like study guide questions can sometimes do). Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for giving students text-based questions, but I wholeheartedly believe that our time could be better spent on teaching students “fix-up strategies” to help them when they are struggling with the content. The first “H” stands for what’s in your head. This is where students can share what surprised them, what prior knowledge the author may have assumed they had, and what
changed or proved what they already knew (66). This is where teachers can really get a good look into what students are thinking about while reading, and thus differentiate instruction for struggling students, or challenge advanced readers. Finally, the second “H” stands for what’s in a student’s heart. This is where we can provide students with helpful questions to get them thinking about how topics or events in the book may have changed them. More than anything though, we need to remind students of the importance of enjoyment first (81). Let them enjoy the journey the book takes them on, only stopping when they really want to write something important. Otherwise, they can go back when done.
- Students need to be given time to talk about what they read. So often in English classrooms, students are asked to write about what they read (see #1 above), or a teacher leads a “discussion” that is really more of a quick question-answer session. During it, students could hunt and peck for the answer within the text, or just wait for another student to answer a tough question. The teacher is guiding the discussion, and thus determining what is important. Plus, a teacher cannot learn what students really understood about what they read. I used to do this myself. I thought it was my job to show students what was important within the text, but really I was just doing all the work for them. We need to have faith in our students. They realize a lot more than we give them credit for. There are many ways to incorporate discussions into our classroom. We could first do what Beers and Probst suggest that we doing while reading their book: turn and talk. I use this method a lot, as well as small group discussions. I used to be scared of them, for how would I know if they were staying focused during that given time? Well, there are ways. Last year, I used MicNote to record discussions. Students would have ten-minute discussions that I could then reference later on. Sometimes I had a student “recorder” who took notes. Other times, they participated in writing notebook conversations where they wrote down their thoughts in their writing notebooks, and then passed them to the next person so he/she could respond. There are many ways to hold our students accountable, and I found that these three methods told me more about what all students were thinking instead of just a few who were willing to raise their hands and answer for everyone.
- There are “best practices” for reading that definitely work. How do I know? I’ve
tried them. Anything new in our classroom takes time to get used to, but we can’t give up. Each year I am always revising, adding, and deleting what I do. Beers and Probst mention some “best practices” that show up in many other professional titles by Donald Graves, Richard Allington, Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller, and many others. I could go on and on. They are best practices for a reason: they have been proven to work. I agree with every portion of the chart on the right, but I’ll admit some were harder to implement than others. As I mentioned above in #4, getting students to talk without leading the discussion myself was tough for me. I had to disrupt my own thinking, but it was worth it. I was willing to accept failure in attempt make positive changes for my students (107). It was a risk I needed to take, and I was pleased with the results.
- A change in our mindset is oh so necessary. We all know by now that tests have driven what’s in our curriculum and have take over our schools. Teachers feel the need to teach to tests. Administrators feel obligated to mandate modules. We need to disrupt the thinking that teaching to the test is a best practice. It’s not. There is no research that proves this to be true. What is proven to work is mentioned in chart F above. As Beers and Probst say on page 110, “When the purpose motive for school is to help kids become confident, passionate, lifelong learners…then the profit motive has less to do with high test scores and more to do with engaged students.” There are schools that have already started to change their mindset, and are reaping the rewards. Students enjoy school more because they enjoy learning. And, yes, focusing on these essentials in our schools while raise those all-important test scores too.
Beers and Probst conclude with reminding the reader that “all children in every school deserve an education that inspires curiosity, encourages creativity, requires critical thinking, urges collaboration, and nurtures compassion” (159). We teachers need to remind ourselves of this, and let go a bit. Tests should not be the first thing we think of. Our students should be. So it’s time to share this book with your co-workers and administrators. Disrupt their thinking and inspire them to change. Only when we remember this will we truly put our students first.
Has your school made positive changes like those mentioned in Disrupting Thinking? If so, what did your school do, and how was it accomplished? Feel free to leave a comment below.