Helping Kids Rediscover the Power of Reading

Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters
By Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
(Scholastic, 2017 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kevin Hodgson

Ignore the disruption for a second.

In their new book, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst articulate a problem that has long been the subject of discussions among colleagues in my school and beyond: too many of our students don’t read for the pleasure of reading.

As professionals, educators like us can cite the research and anecdotal evidence on the benefits of a well-read person, but how to help young people see books and other forms of literacy again as a place of refuge and expansion … that’s become a difficult nut to crack.

Negative impacts at school and beyond

Beers and Probst provide valuable data showing the decline in students’ independent reading lives in Disrupting Thinking. In fact, I found the graphs they provided here rather alarming, as you should, too.

And their conclusion, after years of writing about teaching and in visiting many classrooms, is that there is no single answer to the question of why reading has declined. Factors include a shifting focus to technology, current state testing environments, family literacy priorities, and mandated and paced curriculum directions for classroom teachers.

A call to arms to rethink how reading is taught

Their “disruption” is a call to arms for educators and administrators to rethink the way reading is being taught at all levels and to come up with strategies to engage emerging and older readers in ways that will not just meeting learning goals, but will allow the power of literacy to spark change in the lives of those readers.

The authors are wise to counter a potential criticism that they are advocating a left-leaning social justice shift (although plenty of teachers would find that welcoming) when writing about “change.” Instead, they are advocating for helping readers transform their own, personal lives through powerful literacy moments.

A shift to reading through multiple lenses

The framework they suggest and outline, along with a critical examination of curriculum that might need some disruption, is known as Book-Head-Heart.

Simple in concept yet complex in action, the whole concept of Book-Head-Heart is to teach students to read books through multiple lenses – the “head” is trying to understand what the author is intending and doing with language and story while the “heart” is how the reader moves beyond just taking in the information, but processes it to grow as a person and make deeper connections to what we in our school call “beyond the text.”

This requires a different kind of teaching, as it moves beyond the surface learning of text. Much of this book is Beers and Probst acknowledging the struggles of readers, and teachers, to make the “heart” aspect a natural part of the reading experience.

Seeing disruption through the authors’ reports

There is much to like about this book, and many teacher groups are now using it for book studies and Twitter chats. Beers and Probst provide an experienced look at the classroom and offer us an experienced pair of collaborative voices (including asides in the book’s margins where the two authors engage in their own conversations about the text, giving us a folksy take on their points).

Plenty of captured dialogue from students, teachers and administrators allows you a chance to listen in on the struggles of this kind of disruption they believe in, and the windows of success that can be opened by empowered readers who read for themselves, not just for the test.

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle.

► Read Lisa Belcher’s MiddleWeb review of Disrupting Thinking.

► Read an excerpt from Disrupting Thinking here at MiddleWeb.



MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

2 Responses

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Love this review and will definitely read this book. “…they are advocating for helping readers transform their own, personal lives through powerful literacy moments.” Book-Head-Heart is a great idea.

  2. Kevin,

    Succinct review.

    You provided just enough overview of the book that the teachers get interested to pursue it & will need to explore the merit of the book by themselves.

    Yes, tests have hijacked the reading. AR tests & Battle of the Books, in my humble opinion, are not much better. Yes, they allow students wide range of choice, but is it necessary to know which book has sword as pen (Battle of the Book Q for Percy Jackson) or what is Ms. XYZ’s room # (AR Question for Frindle)

    Happy Teaching.

    Purviben K, Trivedi-Ziemba

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