Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters – Book Review

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My son is two and a half and a voracious “reader.” He isn’t truly reading yet, but he already has an intense love of books. We read four or five books every night before bed. He requests things like “a hippopotamus book” or “a book about cows” or “dinosaur books” when we head into the library. He can often be found sitting among a pile of stuffed animals or perched atop a mountain of pillows with books scattered all around. He will read aloud to himself by either reciting portions of favorite books he has memorized or by just talking about what he sees on each page. I am thrilled we have successfully instilled a love of reading in him.

I do worry, though, because something is happening to so many kids as they grow up, and I don’t want it to happen to him. By the time they reach their freshmen year of high school, they hate reading. One of the greatest frustrations for me as an English teacher and a book lover is when a student is an apathetic reader, meaning they no longer care to read at all. For these students, reading books has lost all meaning.

It is easy to see why our students are losing their love of reading. Reading has become a painful endeavor in the classroom; the standardized testing environment in which we are being forced to teach has managed to suck all of the fun out of reading as we dig and dig to find the answer and we dig deeper to find support for the answer. I imagine you could take any hobby that you love and then pick it apart incessantly until there’s nothing left to love. That’s what is happening to reading.


What is this product?
Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters calls into question several common English classroom practices, including reading for supporting evidence, classroom discussions that revolve around answering questions, and the whole-class novel. The premise presented by Beers and Probst is that “disruptive thinking” is the thought that something needs to be better. They provide anecdotes about various inventions and entrepreneurs and how these came about from disruptive thinking and two important questions:

1. What needs to change?
2. What assumptions make that change hard?

This book is ultimately about how we can change common classroom practices that lead to apathetic, frustrated student readers to instead make sure we are helping students become readers who are responsive, responsible, compassionate, and determined.

Beers and Probst say that, if we want to change something ineffective, we must be willing to:

  • Be brave.
  • Accept failure.
  • Be open.
  • Be connected.
  • Get uncomfortable.
This book, divided into three parts, is somewhat backwards designed. Part I focuses on the readers we ultimately want to create, the kind that are responsive, responsible, and compassionate. Part II is where Beers and Probst start getting practical, by offering a framework for building this kind of reader. Part III is where we get uncomfortable as the authors hold up a mirror to common classroom practices and show us how we are killing a love of reading.

The Good and the Bad
Far and away, the greatest takeaway from this book was the BHH (Book, Head, Heart) Framework. This framework encourages readers to think about what was in the book, what is in their heads, and what is in their hearts. Readers are able to respond to a text and provide support for their thoughts, but students are also given the opportunity to explore their own learning as they read and how the reading changes them in some way. The book mentions several other strategies that students can use while reading, but the BHH Framework is definitely the most useful.

Another thing I really liked about this book is the way the authors were able to take a topic (like the BHH Framework) and show how it can be applied across grade levels. I worried that this book would be heavily geared towards upper elementary, the age at which kids start reading to learn instead of learning to read, but I was pleasantly surprised. The authors even had the thoughtfulness to include feedback from college students. I think most of the ideas presented in the book could be applied to any grade level.

The biggest let-down of this book, for me, was the idealism of changing how we do reading in the classroom without truly taking into consideration the current educational climate. It is clear that Beers and Probst are really against all of this standardized testing (I mean, aren’t we all?), but ultimately their call to action is a hard one to do. They want us to be brave and open and willing to accept failure, they want us to change the way we teach our readers, but at the same time I felt there was some disconnect between the authors and reality. I agree with them that focused silent reading is probably the best thing a child could do to improve their literacy, and I love the ideas about having students asking the questions instead of answering them… but those things are not as practical when so many teachers have an administration breathing down the backs of their necks trying to boost test scores. I wish that Beers and Probst would have offered some direction for implementing these reading strategies without completely tossing the test-based questions and requirements that we are forced to deal with.


Final Thought
Ultimately, I believe this book is worth any English teacher’s time (although the $34.99 price tag is maybe a bit high for what it is). There are some great strategies to take back to your classroom, and the book does have a way of feeling inspirational.

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