Disrupting Thinking About Pedagogy (Part 3 of 3)

The third and final section of Disrupting Thinking felt like it was written as a salve for burnt out teacher feelings.  It was less about “how” to help kids approach reading and more about why a change in your teaching is critical.  It was more to say, “You’re not crazy.  Teaching has become crazy.  Don’t stop questioning why, even if you’re feeling powerless.” 

Much of this chapter did not Disrupt my Thinking; it confirmed it.  The section tells a bit about the history of pedagogy in this country has evolved as society has evolved, (although it always has and always will need to catch up) how prepackaged “Common Core Ready” programs are not the be all and end all, how kids need Silent Sustained Reading in order to read better, choice when kids are required to read (and general tips on scaffolding when choice is not an option) and how to structure a reading block in a sort of Daily 5 style. 

Because this section sort of leaped around (in my mind, anyway) I had to slow down a number of times to relate things back to the BHH (Book, Head, Heart) framework that was promoted in the previous sections.  I kept coming back to the questions:
  1. “What kind of readers do I want to turn my students into?” 
  2. “Which good reading skills/habits do I value?”  (And what standards can I name to justify at least some of those if I was asked about it) 
  3. “What am I going to do about it?”
I made notes after each section to keep my own thinking more focused.  I’d like to share how I could relate to 3 sections that most hit home for me.

Disrupting Thinking about Best Practices

As I was reading this section, I thought about the Second Step social-emotional curriculum we used to use at our school.  I loved this program.  It was sequential and boxed, but the photos were such a great jumping off point each week to getting the kids thinking about multiple points of view, facial cues and feelings, naturally occurring consequences and choices.  Then one year we were told it wasn’t research based so use Kelso instead.  We got posters to hang up and were told to use the language on it to remind them to solve problems, but that was it.  All because Kelso was research based and Second Step wasn’t. 

The same thing happened with our ELA program, and then our math program (although the math was an improvement, I’m not totally sold on the ELA).  The authors point out that when we all start following these boxed programs that work for limited student populations, we strip out the creativity and input from the students, communities, and professionals who understand their specific population.  But school districts do it because they’re afraid of failing test scores.  Which I can certainly relate to.  Find me a teacher who can’t!  But here’s the line that disrupted my thinking:  “We’ve become an educational system guided more by fear of failure than respect for innovation.”


Think of all the scientists and entrepreneurs who failed dozens of times before they discovered something that changed our lives!  And don’t we want our students to be innovators?  YES! 

At this point I had to calm down a little.  Yes, I hate MCAS, but let’s bring it back to what we can do to help our students.  We want to make sure that our teaching is not just about recall, of course.  But we also want to make sure it’s more than the rubric, as I talked about in my first post of this 3 part series.  We need students to think about how a text is changing how they think, and to do that, they need to be aware of and discussing the connections they’re making to a text.  They need to recognize the “call to action” in a text, and evaluate how it confirms or clashes with their values.  That’s the reason standardized texts can not be the focus of our instruction or our year with each class. 

Disrupting Thinking about Bringing Up the Middle

In chapter 11, the book gets into a second problem with standardized tests, and that’s how the low performing kids are (dis)serviced.  And yes, I have encountered a principal who wanted us to focus on bringing up the middle at the expense of the low performing kids (hence the name of my blog).  And again, this book basically says that we need to be asking ALL ability levels those same higher order questions.  “What does the author think you know, how does it make you feel, how does it change your thinking?” 

That being said, the authors maintain that using the BHH framework will improve comprehension.  So it stands to reason that it WILL improve reading test scores.  It will prompt students to enjoy reading more and thus opt to read more and therefore practice reading skills more.  So if you are pro-test-score-improving this framework is still relevant for your instruction. 

Disrupting Thinking about Student Interest (vs. Relevance)

Chapter 12 was even more mind-blowing.  And again, it’s not so much about how to help kids read better.  It was a list (by age range) of issues that kids think/worry about.  It wasn’t about topics that are interesting for kids, but relevant for kids.  It made me realize that I need to update my back to school surveys.  Obviously lots of kids are interested in animals and sports.  I don’t need to read those surveys each year to know the topics the majority of the class will pick.  But seeing what issues kids are aware of and want to grapple with and wish they could solve will start to bring relevance to the curriculum.  The list in the book is an amazing start for teachers to refer to, (so you can see how deep students are capable of digging) although asking your own students is kind of the point.  I know once I asked them, I will then need to find texts to match their passions.  And I know I still need to address the standards, but BHH will address comprehension standards. I'm not too worried about time/adding stuff in, because I know that I can at least start with science related materials until our district relaxes their reliance on our ELA anthology. 

The Bottom Line

Once students have read and it’s time to discuss, instead of focusing on plot, you might want to try the BHH framework for you classroom discussions: 
  1. What surprised you?
  2. What did the author think I already knew?
  3. What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?
The authors really want to emphasize that open ended questions, especially those that probe the book, head (thinking) and heart (empathy) are how the way to improve students’ comprehension, but also deeply engage them in what they are reading, and know why reading is important throughout their lives.  Their final interview with a classroom teacher was such a perfect way to illustrate why these are the questions that matter, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. 

So have you read Disrupting Thinking?  What surprised you?  What did the authors think you already knew, and you want to further explore?  What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?
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