Christina Nosek, an elementary teacher in Palo Alto, California, spent this summer working in a school enrichment program. One of her students, a girl transitioning from fourth to fifth grade, is an English language learner, and Nosek says she “almost never spoke” during the school year.
During the program, Nosek introduced kids to the Book, Head, Heart framework, a new way of talking about reading outlined in the book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. This quiet girl quickly absorbed the new vocabulary, Nosek says, and once she did, she sprang to life in the classroom.
“Now, her thoughts are being honored,” says Nosek, explaining the shift. “She’s willing to take chances and risks. It’s almost like [the model] is giving her permission to speak.” Nosek plans to kick off the school year by introducing her whole class to BHH. “I’ve fallen in love with it,” she says.
These striking results, for Nosek and other teachers, stem from a reading framework that emphasizes something so deceptively simple, it almost sounds like a trick: getting students to focus on what their books make them think and feel.
“We’re trying to create classrooms that are places where kids come together to learn, to explore, to discover,” says Kylene Beers, who developed the BHH framework with her coauthor, Robert E. “Bob” Probst.
“What we need to do is make students into ‘real readers,’” explains Probst. “If they are real readers, they will approach a text with curiosity and perhaps skepticism but with intellectual energy, and they will take responsibility for making sense of it.”
The demands of testing, say the authors, have stripped reading of its joy in many classrooms, where students have had to focus on extracting information and backing up conclusions with textual evidence. In their conversations with kids, Beers and Probst have found that many think the point of reading in school, especially as they get older, is simply to pass a test or to increase their Lexile levels.
Yet if students focus on making meaningful connections with their books, the authors believe, they will master the reading skills that show up on standardized tests—and they’ll have fun doing it.
Beers and Probst are already known to and trusted by countless teachers from their previous books, which include Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading and Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise Into Practice. Disrupting Thinking, which was published last spring, stems from the authors’ many visits to classrooms, where they experimented with different ways of helping kids make more meaningful connections with their reading.
Already, educators are buzzing about the way the new model uses a kid-friendly framework to help students deepen their thinking—and rediscover a love of reading.
Book, Head, and Heart
Central to the Book, Head, Heart model is how questions are posed. Teachers who have used the framework write a simple set of questions on chart paper (see sidebar) to get kids thinking and talking thoughtfully about what they’ve read. They’re asked to think about who’s telling the story and what the author wants them to know (“Book”), what they noticed or what might have changed in the story (“Head”), and what they learned about themselves while reading (“Heart”). They might draw pictures to express what they’re thinking and feeling, or make colorful bookmarks that answer some of these questions.
“The nice thing about the BHH framework is that it gets kids thinking and talking about books in such an enjoyable way,” Nosek says. “If we’re talking in a read-aloud, they’re able to name whether they’re talking about what’s in the book, or about what’s in their head or their heart. They’re able to say, ‘This is making me think or wonder,’ or, ‘This is making me feel or realize something.’ It’s making higher-level conversations about books more accessible and more engaging.”
The sort of thoughtful engagement with texts that’s encouraged by the model, Beers and Probst say, produces readers who are able not just to parrot back what a book says, but who can also critically evaluate what they read.
“We want to give kids the responsibility and the capability of making meaning for themselves,” says Probst. “We don’t want them just extracting. If they just extract, they are vulnerable to manipulation by skillful writers.”
Brent Gilson, who teaches a sixth-grade self-contained class in Magrath, Alberta, says he’s noticed positive improvements in his classroom culture since introducing his sixth graders to the BHH framework. Kids aren’t just thinking more deeply about their reading; they’re also enjoying their books and clamoring for more.
“Since I started focusing [in greater depth] on the thinking aspect, they’ve read so much more,” he says. “They’re reading for enjoyment, and because of that, they’re getting exposed to fresh ideas. There’s far less, ‘Oh, why do we need to read?’ It really has shifted the culture in the classroom.”
No Wrong Response
Michael Carpenter introduced BHH not with a book but by showing his fifth graders in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a video about making the transition to middle school. “I asked, ‘How does this change what you’re thinking about middle school?’” he recalls. “‘How does that make you feel?’”
“The kids really glommed on to it,” Carpenter adds. “And I can see it as we’re doing book groups. They’re noticing these things in their own reading.”
Literacy teacher Eileen Ours introduced the BHH framework through a picture book read-aloud, asking her sixth graders in Solon, Ohio, to track their thoughts in their notebooks or on sticky notes. She told them not to get too hung up on whether their observations belonged in the Book, Head, or Heart columns, but rather to focus on the ideas and feelings brought about by prompts like What surprised me? and What did I learn about me?
“I never let them argue about whether something is Book or Heart,” Ours says. “To me, that’s a worksheet mentality. It should be about that deeper thinking. That’s the power of this, that there’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you’re thinking.”
In fact, Beers says, kids can learn more about their books—and themselves—by seeing how people respond differently to the same text. “We’re not looking for, ‘This has to be a Book response’ or ‘That has to be a Head response,’” she says. “We’re just looking for a response.”
Pitfalls and Solutions
Any teacher who has asked kids to make connections with books can spot one potential pitfall: superficial observations. “This book has a dog,” a student might say. “And I have a dog, too, so that’s my connection.”
As with any framework, it’s up to teachers to help students make the most of BHH, and to push their thinking beyond their comfort zone.
“You have to walk the line of validating students’ thoughts while also pushing them to go beyond the surface,” says Gilson. “It’s teaching them that not everything is always a [meaningful] connection, and helping them shift their thinking to what stands out for them.”
This approach, Gilson adds, has allowed him to jettison the “highlighter-type” lessons where kids merely search for text evidence, while encouraging the type of thinking that will allow them to be successful both in classroom work and on standardized tests. “It feels to me like the kids are guessing less because they’re thinking more,” he says. “And they’re questioning what they’re reading. So if something doesn’t make sense to them, they’re asking themselves why, and how they can fix it.”
If the method is working, students will begin making meaningful connections even when they don’t have a BHH chart in front of them. “It’s a great tool,” says Carpenter. “But I wouldn’t use it every single day. Eventually, you remove the scaffolding, and hopefully that thinking is happening organically, and kids are doing it on their own.”
Nosek says she plans to begin talking with kids about the BHH model on the first day of school, and go deeper with it over time. “I don’t think it’s something that will ever fade into the background,” she says. “Watching my [summer] kids, this is just how they talk now.”
Photo: Ken Blaze Photography