Disrupting Thinking: Part 1...The Readers We Want

It's officially time to share our thoughts about the powerful first section of "Disrupting Thinking" by Beers and Probst!

When I first read this book, I think that what first piqued my interest was the title of the section..."The Readers We Want".  Interesting, right?  After all, we've talked about "backward design" when designing our units for years.  Doesn't it make sense to start thinking in reverse--when students area finished with us, what DO we want them to look like and do as readers?

I'm guessing if you take some time to reflect on this, that none of you would say any of the following statements...

"I want them to be able to test well."
"I want them to be able to make 3 text-to-self connections per chapter."
"I want them to be able to able to improve their fluency rate by 25% over the course of a year."


So what DO we want?

In the STEM fields, we constantly talk about preparing students for the ever-changing world of science and technology. We tell them that we are preparing them for careers that may not even exist yet! So...Beers and Probst are sending the same message--but are we thinking differently about how we teach reading to meet this changing world as well?  The more I think about it, the more I realize that we aren't.
In this section, the authors write about being "responsive" and "responsible" readers.  They say it isn't enough to have students attend to the messages in the text but is equally as important to pay attention to their feelings and reactions to the text and how the two interact. This is directly related to the ideas shared about reading the news and other information responsibly--and making decisions on what to do with the information (true or not) that we read.  With social media at the tips of even our youngest readers, the power to share information is often more accessible than the mature thought processes needed to make these decisions.

Finally, the fourth chapter refers to the "compassionate" reader; and I know that in my fourth grade a word we use a great deal is EMPATHY.  We try to empathize with different characters in books to "feel" their side of the story.  We try to empathize with people and animals that we read about in the news to more deeply understand the experiences they are living.  After reading this chapter, I realize that I am on track--but need to do more. Much more.

So after this first section, I have a few questions that I need to mull over--and would love for you to chime in about!  If you haven't read the book, feel free to add your comments as well, but if you HAVE read this section, I'd like to know your thoughts about any or all of the following:

1.  How much does this idea of  "empathy" come up as you do your literacy instruction?  Are there resources you have used that are helpful?  For example, I think Eve Bunting's picture books are AMAZING for this...as are many quality novels...from The One and Only Ivan to Out of My Mind to Rules and TONS more.  Feel free to add other titles to the comments as well as ideas, grade levels, or other ideas to help teachers know how they could best be used.

I love that we have a "social issues" unit with book clubs we do at the end of the year...it's so great to really push their thinking outside themselves and see how these stories unfold and impact all the characters.  This year, I read several of the books I listed above plus "How to Steal a Dog", "Hoot", "Because of Mr. Terupt", and "Shredderman".  I also used many different picture books to get students thinking and talking.  I also did searches on Amazon and our local library for books on all sorts of issues from race to gender equity to homelessness and more.  We had some amazing discussions--so make sure to share any book titles that would help others!  To tie in, we also read a variety of articles and nonfiction texts to help us build our understanding of some of these issues.

2.  How do you balance the amount of informational reading and fiction reading in your class?  What is the ratio you currently have?  Is it what you want it to be?  What are your thoughts about increasing the amount of reading done with these more intense "social issues" texts?

Over the last years, our district has worked hard to incorporate far more informational units into our curriculum from kindergarten on.  I still see many students self-selecting primarily fiction texts, however.  For every content topic we study--human body, forces and motion, chemistry, pioneering, immigration, etc--I try to immerse the class in informational texts to help build background for deeper understanding.  Share out any ideas you have for getting more varied texts in your students' hands!  

3. What strategies have you found most helpful in developing readers who are thoughtful and responsive?  What can INTERFERE with this?

I think the selection of powerful read alouds is the great equalizer!  Not all students need to be reading at grade level to be exposed to deeper ideas and discussions about quality texts.  Finding texts with interesting characters, problems, and issues can help teach students to think deeply and talk meaningfully about texts.  I also think providing students with lots of independent, "just right", self-selected reading is critical.  There are lots of things that can interfere with this of course...challenging schedules, curricular demands, and behaviors.  Sometimes resources are scarce as well.  Often certain texts and reading lessons are prescribed and mandated which may make teachers feel as if there isn't time to do more.  What do you think?

I hope you are enjoying the book and are starting to do some thinking about the implications for you and your students.  One thing I am ALWAYS worried about is finding ways to impact and motivate my most reluctant readers.  I'm hoping to get some great ideas from the rest of you!  Still need a copy of Disrupting Thinking?  Here is an Amazon affiliate link if you are interested.

Want to pin it for later?


  1. My disclaimer is that I'm a second grade teacher who is entering my second year as a 6 - 8 math/reading interventionist.

    I noticed right away how many references there were to really current events - fake news, empathy, etc. The next thing I loved is that this approach really seems to blend two approaches that I've experienced - a more reaction/connection based approach and the more evidenced-based approach that came with CCSS.

    I love that Beers and Probst have approached this from a backward planning POV. Reading the first section I was just thinking: YES! YES! I have always been about creating readers - it seemed like my best readers (who read the MOST) did very well in their thinking too. But I knew I was supposed to be teaching something ... you know? Now, rather than teaching kids strategies all day every day, the point is teaching EMPATHY and the focus is growing as a PERSON. This feels VERY appropriate for middle school to me. In fact, I truly believe that middle schoolers could skip the majority of middle school academics and be fine as long as they'd been growing as a person during that time.

    In order to really focus in on that, I'm thinking I might change me reading requirements - rather than focusing on certain genres or book levels, I think I'm going to have students rank books based on how it impacted them. That way we can be having a discussion about the book's impact; it'll be fine to read a low impact book every now and then, but they could "push themselves" by reading a book that impacts them. This feels SO much more authentic than reading by book level.

    Finally, I think that time and student writing are the things that get in the way of really feeling that impact. I've been reading Penny Knittle's "Book Love," and I SO think student journals are he way to go to make this vision a reality. But kids hate writing! I have to get them to see writing as a way of thinking before we really get there.

  2. So glad you started this book study. I just received my copy in the mail yesterday and am enjoying the insight into why how we read matters. I have so many ideas for my upcoming year with my 4th graders. In 4th grade, we really get away from connecting with the characters and the enjoyment of reading since so much emphasis is put on state testing and finding evidence to back up your thinking. The fourth grade conversation on pg. 14 was so on point to what one of my 4th graders would say. Sad! I started book clubs with students towards the end of the year because I joined one myself. The students loved it and over half of them really delved into them. They kept up with their reading and met with their groups several times a week to discuss the reading. After reading the section "Alert to the Responses of Other Readers" my students were becoming more responsive readers. Yay! My goal for next year is to start book clubs sooner and get the other 50% to buy in.

    I am enjoying reading your insight into the book.

    Hope you will follow me! Looking forward to reading more of your blog posts.

  3. I ordered my book from Amazon but it's not due in for awhile. Will it be relevant for first grade?

  4. Thinking of empathy, I try to always go back to it when doing a read aloud. "Wonder" by RJ Palacio was our main read aloud last year in 5th grade. We discussed in depth about August and our feelings, but we also looked at why some people are like Julian and some are like Summer. Students really seemed to get the idea and it was a reference the whole year. One of my books clubs LOVED "Freak the Mighty." They were devouring the book and couldn't wait to discuss all the things that were happening.

    Our district puts out curriculum maps that are about 50/50 fiction to nonfiction. Like your students, mine tend to gravitate towards fiction, so I find that I teach more nonfiction to whole group and then fiction with small groups. Because I have to tie all of my social studies curriculum to reading, my whole group lessons are more social studies based. If I can find a fictional book that uses the time period as its setting, then I pull that in for small groups or even for individuals to read.

    I agree, the read aloud is the great equalizer. This past year I introduced Socratic Circles to my group and we loved it. The students led the discussion and learned to listen to what others were saying. Finding great books for book clubs and independent reading are key too. I give a survey at the beginning of the year so that I can get more books that are of interest to my class. Some things that interfere with developing as readers is time and strict protocols. I get my kids for 2.5 hours- 1 hour 15 minutes for reading and same for writing. We are required to meet with 3 guided reading groups/day, even in 5th and 6th grade. All students have to be in a group. Running records for all 56 have to be completed every two weeks. Our principal does not allow individual conferences and has stated that at no time should she see the students "just reading." They should always be doing something. I would much rather them reading than doing some busy work just to please admin. I tried to follow the protocol the 1st semester of school, but was so stressed that after Christmas I closed my door, and we had book clubs and Socratic Circles.