Monday, June 26, 2017

Disrupting Thinking: Professional Summer Reading




Summer is here and it's time for teachers to thrive!  Along with rest, fun, and odd jobs around the house, I'm honing my skills in the teaching of reading.  Currently, I'm reading  Disrupting Thinking:  Why How We Read Matters, from the authors of Notice and Note.  The biggest draw for me was that the book promises to address the "importance of media literacy and tips for teaching kids how to identify fake news." 

A book by respected authors that would explore solutions to a very current, timely problem was absolutely worth my time.  I couldn't help but think about my first fourth grade class from 12 years ago.  "Did I do enough to teach those kids, who are now adults, to help them seek out the truth and think critically about it?"  As elementary teachers, I guess many of us don't find out how the majority of our former students are doing 10 years later.  But reading this book became urgent for me so that I could feel like I'm doing my best to do right by my current and future students.

I was also given the opportunity to spread the word of Disrupting Thinking.  Scholastic gave me a second book to give away.  If you're interested, please join the discussion and leave a comment that relates to one of my pain points in red.  I'll choose an answer using a random number generator on July 5th.  It's a good summer read; there are enough anecdotes of classroom visits to make it feel relatable and humorous.  There are reflection questions at the end of each chapter, so the authors make you practice what they preach in terms of active engagement with their ideas.  And it's divided into 3 sections. This contest is now closed; winner will post tomorrow morning.

Section 1:  The Readers We Want
The major takeaway for me in this section is The Struggle Is Real.  As teachers, we struggle with standardized tests and canned responses.  If a test is standardized, the publishers are looking for a specific sort of response, and often have a rubric to assess it.  So creative thinkers are sometimes penalized.  Students struggle with an overabundance of boring texts as well as the conditioning that their initial response is not answering the question on the test. 

In order to bring new life into reading instruction the authors explore the idea that are aware of their reactions to a text (or film, or news report); they don't ignore them.  They make inferences, question, look for more information, all in a cyclical manner, but it starts with a reaction to something in the text.  Texts need to be about topics they are unfamiliar with, or disagree with, or be novel in some way.  In order to be better readers, students need to struggle.  So yes, the struggle is real.  But that's kind of the whole point.  If it was easy, why "teach" it?

That being said, the authors acknowledge that there is a fine line between bringing one's background knowledge and feelings to the reading and dismissing the author's message!  It made me think of practicing MCAS using an old reading and writing prompt about storms.  I've seen kids write about hailstorms and earthquakes when those were not the storms mentioned in the text. Obviously they didn't get enough new information out of the text to write coherently about it, so they stuck with what they knew.  Fortunately, the book offers very specific prompts for conferring with students to help them recognize when an author confuses them, earns their trust or distrust, or changes their minds.  This way they are recognizing how they respond to a text without adding or deleting information.  And it's funny; in the past I've seen students write total wrong answers to open response questions and assumed it was beyond their reading ability.  This text makes me wonder; is it the fact that it was so contrary to their beliefs that it was just easier for them to write what they knew, or thought they knew, because they are inexperienced with formulating a difference of opinion?  We also need them to accept that changes in thinking, in the wake of new information, is normal and often the goal of reading. 

So having read the first section only, I went back to my class and started using the term "disrupting thinking" in relation to reading.  (Spoiler alert: the second section actually gets into a different "hook," as opposed to the title of the book, so this is my own personal spin on the ideas of the author, but it worked for my class in May!)  We were about to read a nonfiction piece about animals in our anthology.  This tends to be an introduction to a science unit on animals that culminates in a written report from each student.  Now, in the past, I've done an KWL chart about animals because most kids have some knowledge of animals, favorite animals, and generally enjoy learning about animals.  But this time I changed my introduction.

I did record facts about animals that they knew prior to reading.  But then I told the kids, "We read nonfiction for new information.  Now, some of you already know things about animals.  But when we read this article, prepare yourself for it to disrupt your thinking.  Maybe you will learn a new fact about an animal.  Or maybe you'll learn something that goes against what you already thought you knew!"  Then, after reading, I asked students for NEW information that was in the text.  If there was any information that contradicted their prior thinking, I planned to guide them to see how their thinking would change (but there wasn't any). 

In the next post, I will talk about the second section of the book which promises to help me teach kids to pay attention to how their thinking has changed after reading a book.  It sounds like my lesson on finding new information is an important start, but only the tip of the iceberg.  And at this point, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the book if you're reading it.

Disclosure:  I received compensation for a fair and honest review in the form of 2 free copies of the book (one to keep and one to give away to one of my readers). Again, if you'd like a chance to win your own copy of this book, please leave a comment below that addresses one of my pain points in red.  This contest ends on July 5th 2017 at noon.  This contest is now closed, but feel free to post a comment to join the discussion!






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