With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the newest work by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst comes at the perfect time for a “World Turned Upside Down.” In an era of partisan news and standardized, high-stakes assessments, the authors suggest that our best chance of turning the tide is to build a generation of critical readers who not only probe text for accuracy but also make personal connections. We disrupt thinking when we encourage our readers to read text not only with fluency but also a heart bent toward personal reflection.
The book is laid out in three sections: The Readers We Want, The Framework We Use, and The Changes We Must Embrace. Each section provides a review of concepts found in their previous works, Notice and Note and Reading Non-Fiction, to consider how we might disrupt the way we think about the teaching of reading and guide our students think critically about a text. While much of the book targets schools facing state mandates for testing and ratings, there are takeaways for our independent school universe.
“When a right answer is most important, students come to believe their thoughts don’t matter.” (p. 19) This hits to the heart of exploring a text for meaning beyond comprehension and recall. In a world that requires flexible thinkers who can reach across a spectrum of perspectives, empowering learners with an array of strategies to build these skills is crucial. The authors suggest that opening student awareness of their own responses as well as the responses of others, based on individual life experience, is a learned skill. Responsible readers, who approach the text critically and beyond recall, are responsive readers.
Beers and Probst reiterate their Book, Head, Heart (BHH) framework as the centerpiece of disrupting thinking around reading. This strategy teaches readers to consider not only the context and contents of the text but also the intellectual and emotional responses to it. This strategy can be widely applied beyond the English/language arts classrooms as a way to engage critical thinking and self-reflection. This second section of the book also offers a quick rundown of highly-regarded strategies that open readers hearts and minds to explore deeply into text beyond the Lexile.
“To encourage and expect nothing more of students than unexamined statements of feelings is to encourage intellectual laziness.” (p. 32) It is apparent that these authors are on a mission to promote a wise, and critical thinking democracy. With a publishing date of 2017, it seems clear that much of the mission here is in response to the current state of dialogue and division that has risen around the country. Regardless of party or clique, this book does offer practical and theoretical applications to open students to perspectives other than their own while at the same time building a solid foundation.
Part of this strategy is to disrupt the status quo of instruction and embrace educational change. They make no bones about it: disruptions are necessary to drive change. While this particular book’s primary audience is teachers of reading, it has applicable lessons for all teacher-leaders who seek strategies and ideas to jumpstart critical thinking in their classrooms and schools.