March 2021

Janice Thornton Cate, NBCT Jackson, Mississippi

Do you want your students to read for themselves, for enjoyment, for the future? Do you have students who are able to read but hate to read? Do you want to learn how to change yourself and your students? If so, then this book is for you.

Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst have each written books using their experience and research in reading. Together they have written several books on reading instruction including Disrupting Thinking. I heard them speak at a literacy conference in 2019 and was thrilled to find some answers to my questions about how to motivate and engage readers at their session and in this book.

The book starts with two questions about disruption: 1)What needs to change? 2)What assumptions make that change hard? The answers are found in the three parts of the book. There are fifteen chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. The chapters are easy to read and include discussion questions. The questions guide thoughtful discussions by professional learning groups or book clubs. Additional videos and printable resources are available on the Scholastic website.

There are many things I think teachers of English Learners can use after reading this book even though it was not written specifically for English Learners. Upper elementary, middle school, high school, and even college teachers will find the main points useful for guiding all levels of readers in reading engagement. The authors have demonstrated their technique with students from first grade to college. They have spent time with the research and developed those foundations into a framework for changing how we read.

As a middle and high school ESL teacher I like their framework of Book, Head, Heart for all types of reading. I use it myself when I read but had not thought about it before reading this book. The questions associated with the framework focus the reader on how the text affects them personally. How. It. Affects. Them. Not some random questions about obscure details but how this book, poem, or article affects them, the readers. That is definitely empowering.

The main message to me from Disrupting Thinking is how as a teacher I can engage my students in connecting to reading that will change them and their world. For some, including me, that is a scary idea. In the US, I think our students need to learn how to change their world. There are so many benefits to engaging and empowering students instead of turning them off from learning or making them dread reading.

If you teach reading or include reading in your coursework try these questions with your students. BOOK questions: 1)What’s this about? 2)Who’s telling the story? 3)What does the author want me to know? HEAD questions: 1)What surprised me? 2)What does the author think I already know? What changed, challenged or confirmed my thinking? 4)What did I notice? HEART questions: 1)What did I learn about me? 2)How will this help me to be better?

I used just one question, “What surprised you?”, with some college students. That question led to great discussions about the text we were reading and let me know a lot about what my students thought.

If you want to know more about the whole process and the research that resulted in these questions, read Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Beers and Probst.


Beers, Kykene, & Probst, Robert E. 2017. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. New York, NY. Scholastic.

Janice Thornton Cate is a National Board Certified Teacher, past president of AMTESOL and past chair of EEIS with over 25 years of experience teaching ESL in public schools in Mississippi. Most recently she has worked as an adjunct instructor at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.