This problem, identified as the biggest problem teachers face in the classroom, is the motivation behind the book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.
The Goal: Get students excited about learning by helping students connect to their reading in a personal way, not for the sake of a multiple choice test.
In part 1, Beers and Probst define the readers they believe teachers want to develop. The readers are:
- Tomorrow’s Leaders
- The Responsive Reader
- The Responsible Reader
- The Compassionate Reader
As this post is a “Reading Response,” I will be responding to selected questions that appear at the end of each chapter.
I’d also like to encourage you to read the book along with me and respond to the selected questions in the comment sections.
Chapter 1- Tomorrow’s Leaders
How often do you ask your students, “How did this reading change who you are?” If not often, explore why that is. Do you believe that reading can change who you are? If you do, then why not discuss that with students?
Honestly, I very rarely ask this question. While I do believe reading can change who we are, I find it difficult to take my EFL students to that level in a text. There are two challenges:
- The mismatch between text level and language proficiency
- Barriers to discussion in a Confucian Heritage Culture
On the first point, I have found that English school curriculums in Taiwan generally overshoot text level, which results in difficulty in doing anything more than a superficial reading of the text. Along the same lines, curriculums in programs I have worked with use Western books with Western cultural themes. Much time is spent building background knowledge rather than connecting with the text.
Second, students in Taiwan, a Confucian Heritage Culture, are not accustomed to discussion-based classes. This is not to say they are incapable, it is only to suggest that a barrier exists and much time is required to open them up to this type of format. Add in language issues and it becomes a difficult situation for teachers.
However, I believe both of these issues can be overcome, but I’ve yet to do so.
Chapter 2- The Responsive Reader
We’ve occasionally had teachers tell us that they don’t care how students respond to a text. “My job is to teach them to understand it.” Our point is that responsiveness is critical for understanding, even more critical for close reading. What is your thinking about the role of responsiveness?
I believe just teaching students to understand a text is a very superficial way to read. As teachers, we should not only have students understand the words and sentences on the page, but also understand the characters or the point of view of the author, who may think differently than we do.
However, this can be challenging in an EFL classroom. Some of the challenges come from the students, as stated above, in terms of language proficiency and culture. But some of the challenges come from the curriculum and the teacher’s pedagogical skills.
For responsive reading to work in an EFL, all of the elements have to be in place. The students should have a text that matches with their language ability, and the teacher should have the pedagogical toolkit to elicit a response from the students. For lower language levels, that may mean fill-in the blank or sentence stems. For higher levels, it may mean write-then-speak or open discussion. If one of those areas are off, a superficial reading may be all that is possible.
Chapter 3- The Responsible Reader
Would you say that responsibility in reading must be both to the text and to oneself, or exclusively to the text?
If we believe in having a responsive reader, then we need to believe in a responsible reader that has a responsibility to both text and oneself. To be responsible exclusively to the text would mean no response.
I think educational standards have swung so far the other way toward looking only at the text because many “readers” formulate responses with actually reading or understanding the text. The response is often disconnected from the text that is being responded to.
As an EFL teacher, I do think the first level of reading should be a responsibility to the text. Without that, language acquisition benefits of reading may not occur from a text. But I do believe teachers also have a responsibility to challenge our students to think deeper about texts, agree or disagree with texts, and grow from texts, not just in language ability but as a person.
Chapter 4- The Compassionate Reader
We rarely think of reading as encouraging compassion and if we do, it is usually not discussed. Why do you think that is? Do you think encouraging compassion has a place in school?
One time in an in-service workshop, a principal I worked for shared with us that it would take 20+ years to complete the K-12 standards in Texas. Teachers, particularly inexperienced ones, feel pressure to try to complete everything rather than focusing on the “must-knows” in the curriculum. And as the principal pointed out, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to complete everything. Compassion isn’t a part of that 20+ year list, and therefore, is not talked about.
I think it is time for us to evaluate what really are the “must knows.” In 2017, which has the potential to affect my life more- my understanding of photosynthesis or my ability to be compassionate? Regardless of profession, compassion is necessary. Not to say students do not need to know photosynthesis, particularly if they go into a science field, but compassion is a universal and necessary skill.
I do believe encouraging values such as compassion have a place in schools, and I think all teachers have a responsibility to cultivate compassionate students. I think reading good books with rich characters or nonfiction texts on relevant issues that we face today are great agents for developing such values. Under that premise, reading teachers are in a prime position to teach these important values to our students.
I enjoyed Part 1 of Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, but what is evident from my response to the questions in the book is that developing tomorrow’s leaders, responsive readers, responsible readers, and compassionate readers is no easy task, particularly for EFL teachers. We face challenges such as language, culture, curriculum, and limits in our own teaching abilities.
Yet these challenges are not impossible, and despite these challenges, a real opportunity is presented by Beers and Probst. This opportunity not only allows us to rethink how we teach texts but also could allow our students to grow in ways they may otherwise not.