Now Open Your Textbook to Page…

June 3, 2006 at 3:09 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 32 Comments

Now that you have participated in classroom discussions and read chapters 3, 4, & 6, what are your thoughts on textbook use in your content area?  Comment on Daniels and Zemmelman.  What do you agree with and what do you question?  How do ebooks, Wikibooks, etc. fit into this discussion?



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  1. The discussion on textbooks in the classroom is one that comes with a lot of different opinions. After reading the chapters for the class, it is clear that Daniels and Zemmelmen have a problem with traditional textbooks that weigh 10 pounds. I agree with the authors on most of their points. Not all, but most. I think in a subject such as math, speaking only from personal experience, having a textbook is a definite must. I need to have something that I can refer back to when I am trying to do certain problems. In math class, having a clear and concise textbook is more important that in the other subject areas. It is the teacher’s job to bring in problems and ideas from outside of class that can still be related to the textbook that is being used, because many students rely on that as the final reinforcement after the teacher’s explanation. That goes into the point that I thought was a great one in the book. That was that textbooks should be reference books, they should not be the be all and end all. Kids should use their textbooks in the same way that adults do, as supplements and as a convenient way to look up information. They should not be where they get their entire understanding. I think back to my days in history classes. Most history textbooks make students focus on the wrong things. Is it more important to know the specific date that Pearl Harbor was bombed, or to understand the events that led up to that point? If you were having an argument as to the specific date of that attack, you might want to reference a textbook. If you wanted to actually understand the circumstances surrounding the event, you might be better off with alternative sources such as first person interviews and newspaper articles from that time period. That is where you are going to get true understanding. Of course all of this is impeded by the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the back of the room that nobody wants to talk about and that are those standardized tests. How do they fit in? The answer is that they really don’t. So what do we do about that?

  2. I agree with Jason and the chapters in the book. The textbook could never be the be-all end-all for the curriculum. How boring! This year in the Greece Central School District, we received new textbooks for our Social Studies curriculum. However, we are also supposed to be doing new Case Studies this year, ex. Immigration, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights. There is very little in the textbook for this. It’s been interesting and challenging having to come up with our own stuff to teach the students.
    There have been times when we use the textbook, but there is little information in it. We took time in the beginning of the year to puruse the book and take a picture walk through it. It’s very current and the kids loved looking at it. They have used it for references.
    I am in full agreement that the textbook should be a tool to use in the classroom, but not the only tool.

  3. I believe Daniels and Zemelman make compelling arguments for the use of supplementary materials. I would argue that textbooks should be used however, if they are good textbooks, and if they are used approriately. I agree with Jason when he states that a math textbook is a necessity, even if it is only for use as a reference. In college classes, much as in high school, I often find it necessary to look something up (a formula, derivation, proof, etc.) and a textbook is a terrific time saver in this respect. But many times I do find it usefull to look for alternative sources, where an idea may be presented in a different way that is clearer or “clicks” better for me. After all, we all think differently, and an approach that works well for one may be confusing to another. The authors make a great point when they state, in so many words, that textbooks in the US traditionally adhear to the “mile wide, inch deep” concept of education. They state this as a limiting factor preventing thorough understanding if the text is treated as the only information source – and I fully agree. In my experience, math books ARE the most difficult texts to read and understand due to the extensive use of symbols and the sheer density with which ideas and vocabulary are presented. But this breadth of coverage, and information density are reasons why I feel we are cheating students if we exclude math textbooks altogether. GOOD math textbooks have their uses as references and information organizers at the very least. They can also be good sources of examples and review problems. (Remember, I said GOOD math textbooks! – I’m not a teacher, but I have difficulty believing that there are NO decent math textbooks out there that can serve these purposes)

    I loved the strategy pointed out by the authors of selecting 10 or 15 core ideas during course planning and then exploring these concepts in depth – realizing that other concepts deamed less important may be glossed over or skipped altogether. This provides teachers with a tremendous opportunity to incorporate a variety of engaging activities and reading materials. I would be interested to know if many of the practicing math, science, and tech teachers in our class find this to be a common and usefull practice. Do school administrators support this strategy or is the idea of covering as much material as possible still more prevalent? It’s been 25 years since I was in high school, and I know which strategy was more commonplace at that time!

  4. The use of textbooks in the classroom is an ongoing debate lately. They have their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s hard to really conclude if textbooks should be used or not. One thing to consider is the content area. A co-worker down the hall might have found an excellent math textbook, while another is struggling to find a sufficient science one. This brings me to a meeting that I had with Dr. Barrett earlier this week. She was explaining to me the difficulty she had when choosing a textbook. She went through four “dry” ones before she finally found the one she would use for the fall. Dr. Barrett even went into detail about one of the books. She explained that they used too many analogies and metaphors. Instead of being direct with the material, the authors tip toed around important topics and concepts. This discussion was in perfect time for this class. It really got me thinking about the conversations we had in class about textbooks. Unfortunately, Dr. Barrett is right on the ball. It’s extremely difficult to find a resourceful textbook. Also, it’s possible to go through four or five different books before you find one worth keeping. Does that mean that we’re not providing our students with sufficient material during those bad four or five books?
    As for the reading, I agreed with most of the points brought up by Daniels and Zemelman. On page 38, they state “The big problem is: to pass the statewide test, the kids have to actually remember the material.” Unfortunately this is what our school systems are come to. We are putting so much on the state tests that most of our teachers are teaching to the tests. This is a debate in itself, but it makes me wonder can a textbook teach to the test as well? I think that textbooks can be a great resource for teachers as a guideline for curriculum. I also think that textbooks have many other pros as well as cons. However, I don’t feel that these three chapters talked much about the pros. They mainly talked about the cons, and I agree there are plenty on cons about textbooks. On the other hand, what about the positives?

  5. As the year winds down and I have to collect the textbooks from students I am constantly hearing, “Oh, it’s been in my locker the whole time.” “You gave us a textbook?” “I think mine is here on the shelf, I guess it never left the room.” One thing about textbooks in Greece that really upsets me is that when there is money for a “new textbook”, it must get used for a textbook even if there are better materials out there. I teach a General Chemistry course that currently doesn’t have a textbook and I liked it that way. It is the kind of course where supplemental materials are great. I am working with a very diverse crowd of students who have diverse needs. So let’s keep the reading materials diverse. Why can’t I subscribe to different journals so that the students can read a magazine or two? What about the newspaper? Next year General Chemistry will have a textbook unfortunately. If my Regents students do not use one regularly why will a General Chemistry group of students? I don’t doubt that textbooks CAN be a great resource if used correctly, but I agree with Catherine: “The textbook could never be the be-all end-all for the curriculum.” Greg also put it nicely: “…we all think differently…” so why not have different sources of reading to promote our thinking? Textbooks are pretty cut and dry, they don’t promote self-directed thinking. This is what you do, and this is how you do it. Where’s the inquiry?
    Speaking on inquiry vs. state testing… Jessica chose a nice comment from page 38 about remembering the material. There is SO much! I have 5 days of school left and I’m not done with new material. Scary, I know. But at the same time if students do not have the correct tools for reading the test the outcome may not be too favorable. A brief story: Five years ago I was co-teaching in Brooklyn, NY. This was when the Regents Chemistry test just started to change. The teacher I was working with asked me to sit down and take the June exam while she taught of the class. I thought, “Ha, I will ace this!” Boy did I feel embarassed after I graded it. 80%, a third year college student, chemistry major, earned an 80% on the HIGH SCHOOL Regents Exam. I went back and looked at the questions I got wrong. Each and every one of those questions I missed was because I did not read them correctly! What a shock.
    Reading is so important for these students who have to take these state tests. Will reading a textbook help? Maybe. How about supplemental materials? Probably. Is there are perfect mix to reach all learners? Let’s try to find it!

  6. Not being in a classroom and teaching makes it hard to really know the impact textbooks have on a classroom and your students. Looking back on my experience with them when I was in high school all I can remember is “not another reading from the text book! Can’t we reading something else?” They were boring, dry and hard to follow. So when I was reading the chapters from our book, Daniels and Zemelman really hit on some great points. They said that textbooks are not enough and they are right. Textbooks can be viewed in my opinion as reference books. Something for students to use when they need information on a topic that they are learning about. Even then can you really trust the information you are reading. It was amazing to see some of the mistakes that Daniels and Zemelman found in some textbooks. I was astonished when I was reading some of them. It really goes to show that even textbooks can be decieving.
    I have to agree with Daniels and Zemelman in Chapter 4 of our book, kids need a “balanced diet of reading”. There is such a vast amount of information out there other than textbooks. For kids to be able use other sources in their class work makes it that much better for them to see different sides and many aspects to a lesson they are currently working on. Kids need to be able to coorelate what they are learing in the classroom to their every day life. This will help them not only know the material but understand it to the point of being able to recall it over and over again after the lesson is complete. I know that I really enjoy reading science mysteries and stories about true crimes and the forensic science behind it. It really helps bring together what I have been learning in the classroom into the real world. Some what of a clairification to what I am learning. This also gives kids a break from the everyday dry stuff that we teach them. It gives them excitment and something to look forward to when they walk into our classroom.
    I understand that textbooks have to be part of our classroom. There are state mandates that require the use of them because of the state tests that kids have to take. Sometimes it is a necessary evil. If you take the time and teach kids how to use a textbook and help them understand what they are reading, it will make it that much easier to work with them (textbooks) in your classroom. Like Heather said in her blog, “Reading is so important for these students who have to take these state tests. Will reading a textbook help? Maybe. How about supplemental materials? Probably. Is there a perfect mix to reach all learners? Let’s try to find it!” What a great statement…I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  7. I have been reading some wonderful comments already about textbooks, but I think there’s an even more important idea to think about in regards to textbooks. Imagine if we have the “ideal” textbook, one that covers everything we need in our content area perfectly. Does that mean that students are going to be able to read it? There’s no guarantee that the students in your classroom are going to be able to use that textbook as a way to gain the knowledge they need to be successful in your class if they struggle to read the material.

    Yes, a textbook may be extremely helpful to a new teacher who is walking into their classroom with no knowledge of what they are supposed to teach. It can help guide them and lead their instruction initally, but after a year of teaching and going through a textbook the odds are they will learn that supplementing materials with that textbook will help students become better prepared as learners.

    Heather brings a very interesting perspective to the discussion. If her students are receiving a diverse amount of information from a variety of sources that she has located due to the lack of a textbook in the past, why force a teacher to use a textbook?

    May of us are expressing our interest and frustrations with textbooks. We as, educators, are responsible for preparing students for those big state tests that help administrators and the community judge how well we do our job. Keeping that in mind we need to seek out a textbook that is appropriate to our cirriuclum and will be beneficial to our students. Are they really out there?

  8. I have to say that it has been interesting reading Daniels and Zemelman and the class discussions about how everyone seems to feel that for the most part, textbooks could be left out (but not completely). If we are only using them minimally, it seems like a HUGE waste of money for our districts to spend on books for every student. I like the idea of each student having one, in his or her locker or at home, to use as a reference. On the other hand, Daniels and Zimmer made a good argument when they said spend your allotment on one class set and then use the rest of the money for supplemental materials.
    My question is, what do new teacher’s do? When I was teaching last year in a city school, I did not have textbooks for my entire class. As a non-tenured and fairly new teacher, I did not know what to do, so I spent the first few weeks hunting down a class set. Once I got the books, I began to use them and found that this was pointless, because none of my students were able to read them, and no one understood any of the content. So, I spent a lot of time looking for nonfiction books to use as a supplement to the textbook, and I only used the textbook when I could not find anything else. The problems I ran into started with a lot more planning time than I anticipated. This meant reading the text and trying to find these other materials. I also spent hours in front of the copy machine making duplicates for the whole class. I ended up finding many creative ways to get around this by using jigsaw-like models where students would be reading different books and then explaining or presenting to the whole group.
    When using alternative materials to textbooks, money becomes a huge issue. Libraries do not have what we need, and most of the time these books need to be purchased. I liked the way that Daniels and Zemelman discussed building a classroom library on pages 63-64. They made me feel more comfortable about not spending all of my money at once to be brilliant in my first attempt, but rather to take my time accumulating sources as they come to me and take years to become brilliant. After all, becoming an “expert teacher” takes years of practice and mistakes.

  9. There are so many excellent points from all of you that responded. There are many points I agree with and some I do not. When it comes to our own text book, the authors have many valid points regarding textbooks. In regards to textbooks, they should not be viewed as the absolute authority. Unfortunately, as Daniels and Zemelman stated, teachers are teaching to pass statewide tests. Why is it that the regurgitation of ideas has become the standard to rating/grading teachers? Is it not the educators job to teach not memorize? It is a fine line but ultimately it decides how you are viewed as a teacher.
    Textbooks are not the main issue here. There is a larger issue that should be addressed and that is education as a whole in every subject, is not uniformly taught. Being a BOCES tutor and working with many districts in the area I have seen that even among school districts and even different teachers in the same school district they use different textbooks or lack there of. Now I am not suggesting that teacher all be come robots but as a collective there should be an agreement in each subject area as to what should be taught and how to teach it. I truly believe that education should be taught universally the same through out the entire US. It is a proven fact that US education in K-12 has fallen and keeps falling behind the rest of the world. Why is that? Is it because we use inferior text books? Is it the fabric of US society? We have all stated that “kids these days” are not the same as when we went to school. Now I am not that old but yet I find working with students I do not remember having to deal with the problems and concerns that they do.
    Now in my content area of Physics, textbooks I feel are an absolute must. There are too many concepts and formulas that need to be in print and easily accessible. Lets face it for most subjects the information has not changed other that in current ideas. I know that 2+2=4 no matter how far back you look. The same holds true in Physics. The formulas have not changed in years if not centuries. A textbook is a necessary part in education.
    As for the teachers that sit in front of a copy machine I question the reasons why this happens and the lack of productivity. In essence, I see it and have heard from my colleagues and classmates that they need to make their own textbooks. Is that not basically what is happening when thousands of copies are made? When did teachers have to also become the author, editor, and publisher of their own educational needs?
    When it comes to eBooks and things of that nature they have a place in the classroom but like textbooks are not the ultimate authority. I know that I am long winded here but as teachers/educators sometimes we need to look deeper into what is being asked. Aren’t we all students of the game as well? Maybe I am way off, but I question the reasons as to why textbooks are poorly written, not used or irrelevant. Why is that even in our small class we see the problem and yet little to nothing is done about it. If it was broken down, wouldn’t the teachers unions make up the largest union in the world? Now I know that this debate is not unique to our classroom discussion and yet nothing seems to be done. Have we as a country become that soft?

  10. Math and physics are driven by texts in most schools but I believe they should be part of the process of learning as place that might help make a clearer picture of the area of study. As many have already stated texts definitely can be used as a reference. Math and Physics texts would mostly show the important parts of the subject but will not be engaging if the text is only used. Math and physics are dreaded subjects by many because they are frequently taught with text only and students don’t grasp how they affect their own world. After going through my own education and learning how there are so many different ways people learn teachers need to find ways to make class’s interactive, fun and inquiry based. Students that are fully engaged with important information are learning. After doing projects interactively, when they read about the subject they most likely make the connections to understand the process they are learning.
    Stated in Subjects Matter students need a “balanced diet of books” is important but it is also important that students have books they can read at their reading level and age appropriate. We have plenty of books for good readers and better but for middle and high school students that reading is hard for this can be difficult. These are the students that need brought into the circle of learning. This is where I think you go to as many different avenues of collecting information as possible to find what impacts students personally. I think you use eBooks and Wikibooks as another source of information possibly putting their own ideas into the source. They could be used as skill builders.
    John I have learned if I want something to change I have to take an active role and it can be beyond frustrating. Becuase there are so many people that believe if it works for most don’t touch it. They don’t care who is left behind. I thank those teachers that are searching and copying trying to make there students understand the information. The teachers that come up with innovative projects are even better. Don’t stop questioning.

  11. Daniels and Zemmelman hit the nail on the head when it comes to their theory on textbooks. I thought this statement pretty much sums up how textbooks are used in my classroom, “How you use your textbooks may also be under your control – or it may be tightly constrained. Some teachers are free to “pick and choose” from the textbook, inviting kids to dig deeper into some chapters, while skipping or scanning others. They can dip into the textbook occasionally, use it mainly as a reference book, or even make it a supplement to other materials and activities.”
    I chose not to give a textbook out this year for lack of use by the students as well as myself. I have found that it has some great information; however, students are unable to understand it. In addition they rarely even bother to open the book up unless it is to do the assigned homework problems. The last two years I assigned the students textbooks and we used it for maybe two units. For the rest of the units I taught, I pulled information from other sources as well as used ideas from the book.
    I think it is so hard to find one book that encompasses everything you want your students to know. That is why it is essential that we consider supplementing our instruction with multiple texts and literature. By finding alternate text sources students will gain a better understanding because they have multiple representations of the material. It is my goal to create a learning environment that is meaningful and promotes literacy. I believe in order to achieve this I need to find ways to make connections within the real-world and mathematics. I am tired of my students not knowing how important mathematics is in their everyday life.
    I really appreciated how Daniels and Zemmelman provided an extensive annotated resource list of all the great books associated with each content area! I love how there are so many math books. I hate to admit this but, I never even thought of having my students read a book related to math in addition to what we are learning. I think I may have never really considered it because of time constraints and standards to be met. The more I think about it I think it is a great idea, maybe if I pick excerpts from certain texts students will become more involved with what they are learning.
    At this point I am trying anything and everything to help make learning mathematics fun and interesting!
    Oh yeah! As for the e-books and wikibooks, I checked out some of them online and I never even knew they existed until now. Pretty amazing what kind of resources we have available. I found a really cool wikibook on logic. It would be great to use during our logic unit in Math 2. Our resources are endless!

  12. On our first day of class we were presented with a variety of questions to either agree or disagree with. I remember thinking instantly that I disagreed with the notion that textbooks provide adequate reading passages for students. As I read the chapters in Subjects Matter, I found that my initial reaction was backed up by well founded research. From my own experience as a teacher I know that all learning cannot and should not come from a textbook. Last year I was appointed a probationary job as a fourth grade teacher. As a fresh out of college student, I was thrilled about the opportunity to be teaching. It was only as I started to prepare for the year that I became fully aware of all the expectations that awaited me. At new teacher orientation I was given a weeks worth of pamphlets, curriculum maps, and all sorts of best teaching strategies. Just thinking back to all of this is overwhelming! Looking back at my first year reminds me of all that a teacher must overcome in order to do their job and elicit student success. When you are starting out you first need to become acclimated with the expectations and standards. As an elementary teacher, that means becoming familiar with ALL subject areas. As I looked at the materials left in my classroom from previous years I found few textbooks. The only textbook that seemed to be still in use was the social studies one that followed the history of New York. Now, I have lived in New York my entire life but by no means felt I was an expert on the history of our fine state. Starting back at basics was similar to the strategy our class textbook did, when they shared a passage about RNA research. I was reminded of how as a student you acquire knowledge and must build on your existing schema. The textbook by no means answered all of my own questions about our states history but it did provide me with a framework. Throughout out the year I found the best sources to be historical fiction books, nonfiction books, maps, timelines, magazine articles like National Geographic for kids, poetry and a variety of other sources. I searched long and hard not just for my students but for me! I know that the excitement and knowledge that my students and I gathered together from the variety of sources that we used was not only meaningful but it was highly engaging. Just as the fictional Steve from the text was a testimonial for how textbook teaching leaves students bored, confused and unable to determine the purpose for the material they are learning. Student after student sharing with you things they discovered on their own reading about explorers or the industrial revolution shows that a different approach does work. There is without a doubt, a use for textbooks in the classroom and it seems we can all agree with that. But, when we take into consideration the diversity of our students, their background knowledge, their reading abilities, their interests, it is clear that one book could NEVER meet all of their needs! I loved Heather’s story that she shared about taking the high school regents and saying how she was shocked to find that she didn’t do as well as she expected after being a chemistry major in college and realizing her mistakes were not content related but actually reading mistakes. That is exactly what, the focus of our class I’m sure is going to tackle next. If we can agree, and I can tell from other comments that we are on the same page, it is not just what we read but what strategies we are giving kids to help them understand what they are reading (or what to do when they do not understand what they read!).

  13. While I was student teaching, I was introduced to a textbook that was supposed to directly cover the NYS standards for the Living Environment Regents. What I found with this book was that it did not sufficiently cover the important topics of the course and that many key concepts were lost by the extraordinary amount of details. The book was so technical that many of the students had a difficult time understanding the content. In the case of this textbook, I agree with the authors’ comment, “[text]books just scratch the surface, and that’s because they contain too much material. Often, the really key concepts, the big ideas of the field, don’t stand out clearly, aren’t given enough time and depth for students to grasp them” (p. 39). I definitely understand what the authors mean when they explain the necessity of incorporating supplemental texts. I gathered a great deal of other sources to clarify and develop understanding of the topics we were covering. I thought the chapter 6 on using the textbook was useful, because it provided good suggestions for enabling the most effective use of textbooks. I particularly liked the section on jigsawing because I believe this encourages students to become accountable for the information they will be relaying to their peers. Adolescents love interacting with each other, so it’s great to utilize this fact for educational purposes.
    I agree with the comment Heather made that when working with a group of diverse students, it is important to keep the reading material diverse as well. The authors raise an interesting point on page 43. “When we rely upon a single source for all of a course’s content, we are teaching kids to accept one view, one authority; we are saying that it is right to depend upon a single voice, even on complicated, value-driven questions.” Providing students with many sources allows them to form their own opinions, ideas, and develop a deeper understanding of the topic. It is important to meet the diverse needs of students and create the opportunity for more dynamic learning.
    Stephanie also raised a great point that textbooks can be a great tool for new teachers. I haven’t started teaching yet, but I imagine that the textbook will be useful in organizing how I teach the content. However, I agree with the comments made by everyone, that textbooks can’t be the only resource. I believe (or at least hope!) that as our experience as teachers grows, we gain a better understanding of how students learn the content most effectively. Along with this, I believe that our repertoire of resources and supplemental texts will increase to accommodate our students’ needs.
    I think ebooks and wikibooks would be useful supplements to textbooks. I think it would also be fantastic if students could all have a bloglines account and start researching and investigating topics. My only concern with this type of medium is that many students that come from low-income families may not have regular access to this type of resource. However, if students do not have access, it’s always possible to print these resources for them.

  14. Everyone in this class has delved deep into all the facets of this debate – Textbooks or No textbooks. This is outstanding dialogue with input from seasoned veterans and also the aspiring teacher. My initial conclusion is there will never be an absolute correct procedure, but rather, best practice should and will prevail. Kelsey made an insightful statement when she referred to her textbook as a framework. I think this philosophy is our answer. We students at St. John Fisher College are submersed in the concepts of inquiry, constructivism, scaffolding, etc. True learning is experiential in nature and the textbook is an integral component of this school of thought. Many students have stated that textbooks are a great reference point and resource for the student and the teacher. I agree also. However, like Daniels and Zemmelmen, I believe supplemental materials are what give a curriculum punch, relevance and intrigue. They can be used to entice the students to want more.
    In my opinion, our job as educators can be described as facilitators or orchestrators, if you will. We provide the sheet music, the students provide the musical notes and emotion and we ultimately try to pull the symphony from their instruments – their minds. I know this is corny, but I hope it illustrates my position. We can’t force our students to learn, we must coax, entice and motivate them to want to learn. Trade books, magazines, newspapers, internet resources, and poetry are all possible supplemental sources of content literature to supply that “balanced diet of reading” Daniels and Zemmelmen refer to while giving “dry” content personal relevance and life connections.
    Now I must return to reality and mention the significant quandary that teachers face resulting from the emphasis and requirement of standardized testing. Our students are expected to do well and their performance is a direct reflection on our competence as educators. Right or wrong that is our reality. The stress of that responsibility is where our confusion and frustration originates. There is no correct or complete answer to this question. That is why we are here discussing our views, to gain a deeper understanding of all the possible alternatives. This blogging thing is way cool!

  15. As is noted in most of the previous entries as well as the chapters in the book, textbooks seem to very controversial in the classroom recently. I don’t have my own classroom, but I have been in a variety of classrooms, some use textbooks and some don’t. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages as we pointed out in class last week, and I believe that they should be included, but not relied on.
    One comment that stuck in my mind was from page 40 “Or why no one ever buys a chemistry textbook and stays up all night reading it straight through? (‘I just couldn’t put it down!’)” This shows how the students feel about textbooks, they are a burden. It is not a book they enjoy reading, it is one that they have to read because it is their assignment. I don’t think there is a way we can make the textbook itself a page-turner, however this is where we need to include additional sources that allow the students to obtain the information in a variety of sources.
    The “balanced diet of reading” is exactly what we need to provide for the students. We, as teachers, need to show the students that the content we are teaching them is all around them, in magazines, books, stories, articles, etc., not just in their heavy, long, boring textbook.
    One thing to be sure of is that when including the textbook it is still important to make sure the students know HOW to use it. It shouldn’t just be read to fill in the blanks on the homework assignment. Textbooks have many tools highlighting key ideas, recent updates realated to the topic, examples of stories that show students becoming involved in the environment, plus many more! We just need to make sure that the students are able to use their textbook to it’s maximum ability.
    As for the Wikibooks and ebooks, I think that we can incorporate them into the curriculum, but it may be hard to work it into the clasroom. Not many classrooms have a full set of computers available regularly, unless a computer lab trip is planned. Also, I think that reading online is something that would be a good homework assignment or project. Literacy is important to be included in all classrooms because it is a skill that will be used throughout life. The more information we can share with our students the better!

  16. I found it amusing how many times I found myself unconditionally agreeing with Daniels & Zemelman (2004) on their opinions of the use of the textbook in the classroom to the way our classrooms are run with the idea of the state tests coming at the end, but then realizing that although I agree and would like to change almost every attempt at instruction of Geometry, I don’t. Is it fear of something new, something that would engage my students in every class period and get them thinking about the math they see and use in the outside world? No, that’s not it. Would be the administration and higher – ups that make me teach a standardized curriculum for a not so standard student? It just may be. I am stuck with the textbook given to me and I appreciate it in some ways and hate it in others. I like having a guideline so I know where I am going to get my students to that test that I know they are worried about at the end of the year. Although in having that guideline, it also keeps me from exploring the abundant connections and inferences and dare I say the tangents during the lessons on what seem to be boring tasks. For example, The Pythagorean Theorem, instead of learning the definition and applying it only to triangles (which is what they are tested on), I could engulf them in the mystery and questionable scientific research on whose Theorem it is instead.
    I believe that there is no “great” math textbook. There are some good ones, but only for their abundance of examples and their nice colored pictures. Math textbooks are not honored for their fluidity of the material and how much they keep our attention.
    In math, what is there besides that textbook? Are there alternative text resources? Do they convey the material in a more easy to understand way, than the huge companies who spent hours upon hours putting together the math that our students have been using year after year? Would they take too much time away from the curriculum we need them to master? I believe that there are a numerous amount of excellent sources, both fiction and non – fiction, that almost every student could find something that interested them that they would delve into and learn more about a math concept. The problem arrises when not every student is a great reader. What happens when you take the math curriculum as it is today and focus more on the reading of mathematics than just the computational component? What happens to those students who love math because they are good with numbers and do not have to read or write which they struggle with in English and Social Studies? Would I lose them? What type of battle would I have on my hands? In the end, will helping them struggle to learn how to read math, benefit them more than helping them with their struggles with computation? Perhaps, but not so much with the Regents at the end of the year, maybe a word problem will be a little easier to figure out, but how many are there on the test that deal with just reading?
    As for Wikibooks and ebooks, they are the becoming the “new textbooks” in schools today. They allow students to communicate through one their favorite tool of technology coming in second behind the cell phone, the computer. Instead of text messaging and IMing, students can write and learn more about their school subjects. I find it to be a cutting edge, but almost too cutting edge for all schools to adopt wholeheartedly. I also find issues with lack of funding already in place with schools not getting enough textbooks, to not being able to afford anymore computers for this technological instruction to take place.
    Textbooks, ebooks and Wikibooks come together under the same heading in my concept map of this course, “Instructional materials that somewhat work”. Textbooks fail to be easy to read or understandable by the student of today, while ebooks and Wikibooks lack full application and the funding or computer use that is required for this type of alternative text.

  17. Everyone has contributed some great comments and analysis on textbook use in math and science areas. Since I don’t have the bias of actually having my own classroom, I’m free to imagine the ideal world where I can teach the content the way I want with materials of my own choosing! But before that can happen, some things must change and in some schools they are. I have personal evidence from my observations of secondary math and physics classes in Gananda that textbooks are used sparingly, primarily for practice questions and very little for content. The teachers I observed created their own materials and used many ancillary sources and materials. This bodes well for the way I would like to teach, but is clearly not universal.
    This is course #5 in my GMST program, and I have learned an amazing number of things about what this all means. By “this” I mean teaching, education, curriculum, assessment, strategies, methods, lesson planning, and so on. Out of all of it, a key conflict that seems to rise above all is the notion of curriculums that are too broad and too shallow. References are everywhere to this idea, and Daniels and Zemelman mention it as well. Schools that use a textbook as their curriculum perpetuate this practice, and the crushing juggernaut of big textbook publishers, state standards and NCLB don’t provide much in the way of potential relief.
    One of the most hopeful signs that there is a way out of this is that we have recognized that we are doing it incorrectly. As D&Z state “students are reading the wrong stuff and … they don’t understand what they read. Other than that, everything is fine!” Textbooks are not meant to be “read”, and the comparison to dictionaries and encyclopedias is an excellent assessment. A textbook is a reference book containing all the knowledge of a subject, and should be used as such. It has no storyline, no characters and no reason to continue reading for pleasure whatsoever. If this is a student’s only contact with content area text, no wonder there are problems with achievement.
    My content areas are math and physics, and I agree with the comments from other math teachers that math textbooks are in a special class (no pun intended). I feel that one of the best approaches to breaking down the “math wall” is to be sure students are exposed to a lot of interdisciplinary material. Math does not stand alone, and should never be treated as such. Any ancillary textual material used in a math class should illustrate the way math pervades every area of science and technology. As I mentioned in my first post, I personally love non-fiction (and basically I am not entertained by fiction at all aside from George W. Bush speeches). For proof, my annotated bibliography of alternative texts is at Apparently you can’t make comments on a bloglines blog – if anyone has figured this out, let me know. If you have any thoughts post them here or via email. My only other blogging experience was with Blogger for the GMST560 class journal, and comments were allowed there, so I may switch to that one, or to WordPress.
    I have an additional reflection on D&Z and unconscious reading strategies. Was everyone else as amazed as I was at the notion of activating prior knowledge and schemata? The example passages in the book, such as the one about Columbus, are just incredible. Isn’t the brain cool?

  18. I'd like to respond to a brief part of a comment I read from Minda about WikiBooks. While I don't claim to be an expert in any of your content areas or the area of wikibooks, I'd like to share an idea with you all…

    If we are talking about literacy isn't part of literacy the ability to communicate information as well? Afterall, that's what you are doing through out this blog. Each of you are adding to the content of this course (communicating ideas, thoughts, strategies, etc.). You will learn from each other as well as from your knowledgable instructors. My point is using something like a wiki or WikiBooks is powerful because students wouldn't just consume content, they would construct their own knowledge and share it with a larger audience rather than just a teacher.

    If you are not familiar with the concept of a wiki, take sometime to learn a bit more about it. I have linked the word "wiki" above to the Wikipedia article describing a wiki. To view how teachers are using wiki's check out Will Richardson's PBwiki.

  19. After completing the assigned readings, I have changed my opinion on text as being “all bad”. My thinking was that text books were a great way to make a young mind hate Science! I thought that they were unfriendly and such a bore. The chapter on Text books in Subjects Matter, really stresses that we cannot wholly depend on them, however; work some strategies into your repertoire to bring out the most important aspects of the text.

    I really liked how they suggested that you start gleaning the most important points from each chapter and use that to base what you assign the students to read. Once you do that you include a guide-o-rama, although we were exposed to that in class, it is a brilliant way to “be there” with your students while they read their material. And even before you let them read the text, you should get them thinking, sort of whet their appetite, for what they are about to experience. You in a sense plant little seeds in their minds. Then, during the actual reading, and who says it has to be done at home, you have them reading more “intelligently” because you gave them a focus. They offer many delicious strategies to make tackling the text book reading assignment more manageable and that really is the goal! Keep it fun, or as fun as it can be.

    They suggest breaking up the work and using a jigsaw-type strategy to discuss it. I have tried Jig sawing, in my FLCC classroom. The college students actually got upset at first (some of them did anyway) because they felt that they were doing all the work and that I wasn’t teaching them (i.e. standing up in front, lecturing them-handing it to them on a platter). I spent the whole semester getting them retrained and used to my teaching style. When I use some of these techniques with the MS and HS they respond with a sigh of relief! They love the change up. You just can’t do the same “cool activities” every day or else they will not be cool anymore.

    However, the most important thing that I hear them stressing in the three chapters is not being afraid to take the time to teach students how to read, navigate, or translate the big bad text and that this is not a waste of a teachers time, because it will allow students to get more out of what they learn in the classroom.

  20. I would also like to add, that E-books are interesting and engaging for students for several reasons including “novelty”. However, I have to agree with Tess, when she said, that some students may not have the access and some classrooms may not have computers. One school I completed my student teaching for did not have easy access to a computer lab because it was so busy. That was a real dissapointment and it shot down a whole bunch of great ideas that I had!

    However, after exploring a Wiki or two, I am firmly excited about them as a way to have students engaged in learning new vocabulary. A Wiki, could be completed in class. I could see a teacher allotting a small amount of time every other class to allow students to define words and post them. Having them be responsible for this would keep them engaged. It is also has a high “neat-factor” because they are in a sense being published. I found this website that had some cool information on Wiki’s and how to use them in an educational setting: ~Hope you enjoy.

  21. Response #2: I was reading though some reponses and I noticed that Tamara pointed out from the reading

    They said spend your allotment on one class set and then use the rest of the money for supplemental materials.

    I've tried to do this but if the money is designated for a "textbook" you can get the supplementals that come with that text but you cannot just order strictly supplementals.
    Flinn Scientic has these awesome Lab/Demo/ Activity books, a 23 volume set covering the entire chemistry content plus more, but we could not get those for each teacher or even each high school in Greece because the money had to be put towards a textbook. It's really unfortunate that we cannot purchase the materials that we KNOW will benefit the students because the materials are not a "textbook".

  22. Response #2: I was reading though some reponses and I noticed that Tamara pointed out from the reading

    They said spend your allotment on one class set and then use the rest of the money for supplemental materials.

    I’ve tried to do this but if the money is designated for a “textbook” you can get the supplementals that come with that text but you cannot just order strictly supplementals.
    Flinn Scientic has these awesome Lab/Demo/ Activity books, a 23 volume set covering the entire chemistry content plus more, but we could not get those for each teacher or even each high school in Greece because the money had to be put towards a textbook. It’s really unfortunate that we cannot purchase the materials that we KNOW will benefit the students because the materials are not a “textbook”.

  23. I attempted the quote thing… I’ll have to work on that 🙂

  24. The use of textbooks in the classroom is an interesting one for me. I currently teach math, and throughout part of my high school math career I didn’t have a text and thus relied upon the handouts of my teacher. I now happen to teach in the same district I graduated from and now find that I am doing the same thing as my teachers did. I do not use a text book in any way, shape, or form for the classes that I teach. In fact there is a text book for about half of the courses taught at FHS. Surprisingly enough, the classes that do use textbooks don’t rely solely on the text. The text is not a complete guide to the course and is often supplemented with other sources.
    Unfortunately much of what we teach in New York State is driven by standards, and a standardized test. The textbooks that we do have for courses that end with a standardized test vary. Math A and B there has not been one series of textbooks that I have come across that successfully covers both “courses” within three years in a logical fashion. In fact, our district spent $50,000 on textbooks that we do NOT use!! It is a travesty that we spent that much money to have books that simply collect dust. This is the reason for most teachers in Fairport using hand made materials.
    The aforementioned paragraphs simply emphasize the fact that I am a proponent of not making a single textbook the primary focus for a course. I feel that many small books could definitely make for a stronger curriculum, if the standards would allow us to go into greater depth. I liked the ideas mentioned in Daniels’ book of having students read a variety of literature such as periodicals, journals, novels, etc. I myself have found both fiction and non fiction books that would be great to use in my classroom that convey mathematical ideas. I am just waiting to implement them. I don’t think that jig sawing and guide o ramas are great ideas. I could see value, but I also look at from the high school point of view where you can’t truly rely on all of your students, so it would probably cause these two activities to fail.
    Ebooks is a source that could be of use because I could search a genre and test the book out, and if the book is decent I could order (or have my kids order) it and we could use it in the classroom! They would definitely be much more engaged in the material if they were reading a novel as part of a math class.
    I am not a proponent of wiki’s because it is not a reliable source in some cases, but I do think it would be kind of cool for kids to develop their own ideas and share their knowledge or points of view with other students. It would be interesting to do with Math, but possibly a little more challenging(impossible in some cases).

  25. I’ve read all the blogs (so far), and there’s so many great points made, I don’t know where to start. I really enjoyed reading these chapters as they seemed to read more like a magazine article than many course books. I definitely also loved the part Larry mentioned in his post, about how the text compares reading a chemistry textbook like it is a NY Times best-seller. It’s just such a ludicrous idea because the only time I ever read a chemistry textbook was if I was having trouble sleeping (no offense Heather). These textbooks are supposed to give the best explanations for their intended audience. Even if the explanation worked amazingly well for one student, it still may not work for another, since everybody learns and processes information differently. This is where I think alternate sources would be best applied, especially when dealing with topics like Probability. In my undergrad, both the professor and the students used the textbook more as a reference to supplement lectures. But we also used old textbooks, websites, newsletters, and even other people for help. It worked really well, and I wonder if this, or a version of it, would be more effective in a classroom? We all knew which professors excelled in which topics and went to those individuals for help on those topics. I wonder if that would work for high school.
    I also wonder if the textbooks are so mundane on purpose. Out in the corporate world, employees read many boring pieces of information. Is this maybe a means to get them ready for that? Besides that, shouldn’t we teach them how to analyze and digest the information anyways? I am not saying that I think we should stick it out with the textbooks, not at all. But maybe there is some good in reading them. Teaching students to highlight and to take notes is something many students never get taught.
    As for what John said about universal teaching, I must completely disagree (and not just to be that person). I think learning has to be geared towards the learner. Not so much the content, but the manner in which it is taught. In some areas of the country, grammar might be a significant enough problem that you would tackle that first, before teaching quadratic equations. But the opposite may be true somewhere else. To make anything universal is unproductive. After all, isn’t that what they are doing with state assessments? Students who worry about their safety in their own homes can’t be fairly compared to a child who only worries about what to wear to a party the next night. Universal is a scary term.
    I have to say I never thought of the role of prior knowledge on my ability to read a book. Yet after reading the chapters, I really agree that it is important to find and activate that knowledge to get the wheels going before tackling new information.
    One last comment… Why are we picking our textbooks according to standards? I mean, I know why, but who decides these standards? Do we as teacher get any say? Or are we supposed to be the robot that takes orders, and completes the task in a timely fashion?

  26. I couldn’t agree more with Daniels and Zelmelman that textbooks are best used as references. Real learning and deep understanding of any content area requires much more than a good textbook. Understanding requires prior knowledge, integration, real world application, hands on experiences, a student centered approach, emotional connectedness, exploration, opportunities to utilize and apply multiple intelligences, etc., etc., etc. No textbook in the world can provide the necessary combination of all of these things. In math class, textbooks can offer a wonderful summary, examples of problem solving techniques and a plethora of skill building problems. What a great idea it is to keep one set of textbooks for the classroom rather than have one textbook per student. It would cut costs and save backs!

    While Daniels and Zelmelman encourage us to fill the gaps left by textbooks through a “balanced diet of reading,” I believe we must approach with some caution. I have heard students complain, “I like math class because I don’t have to read and write! Don’t make me read and write in there too!” What about our students who excel in our math class but struggle with reading and writing? We must be careful that the introduction of literacy strategies supports and does not hinder the learning of these students.

    The use of wikibooks and ebooks to support our curriculum can be an excellent step towards growing lifelong learners. As a undergraduate math student, I found these sources to be a terrific help in the areas in which I needed extra help. They were much easier to use and to find information in than any of the textbooks. I am certain that our high school students will agree. I am imagining sending students on a scavenger hunt in wikibooks as part of the introduction to a new unit.

    Regarding supplemental reading, I read “by the time you heard all of the stories, you feel that the equation, and indeed the theory of relativity itself, has entered your bones forever” (p. 51-52, Daniels and Zelmelman). In my educational experiences as student, mother and teacher, I have found that emotional connectedness with both content and people, is a key element in student success. Sitting here, at the brink of my new career as a high school mathematics teacher, I look forward, with a pinch of skepticism, to finding such beautiful opportunities for emotional connectedness with mathematics content!

    Thank goodness for Chapter Six, “How to Use a Textbook”! The tone of the Daniels and Zelelmans approach to “Why Textbooks are Not Enough” is full of cynicism. Their opinions are strong and negative. While the authors may be 100% correct, I always believe a positive approach is more persuasive, effective, and meaningful. Chapter Six takes a more positive tone by providing tools to use our textbooks more effectively.

    Great responses and blogging by my classmates! I look forward to learning and using more blogging techniques such as inserting hyperlinks.

  27. Slight change of subject – Help Brian!!!! : Heather put us all inside her quotes!!!!!!

  28. All fixed folks! wOOt! to Heather for trying something new! No need to worry or be afraid to try new things in this blog. Just as you are learning about literacy, you are learning through the tool. Integrating technology is not about acquiring the tool, but using the tool transparently.

    Feel free to play with it and ask questions of me…

  29. It was very interesting to hear how others felt about textbooks after reading the comments on textbooks Thursday night. I have been teaching for three years 9th and 10th grade math without a textbook. I almost prefer not having a textbook. I have been able to create my own
    “textbook” over the last couple of years by making note packets for my students (guided notes). I do use textbooks and other supplemental resources as references for my own planning of a unit. I do think it would be helpful have a class set of textbooks to use within the classroom.

    I agree with Daniels and Zemelman that textbooks are difficult to read. I remember in high school having to read history and science books. The information was not presented in a manner that made it easy to understand. Math textbooks were so much different. There were a couple of sample problems and then pages of problems. My experience of reading a math textbook didn’t occur until college and even then the language was difficult to understand.

    The list of resources in the book is great. I have always found it hard to find useful math resources that I can use. I look forward to exploring some of them.

    I think the key is to use multiple resources with your students – not just a textbook. I also agree with Minda that it be difficult at first to incorporate e-books and wikibooks into the classroom but not impossible.

    Literacy is a lifelong skill and guiding our students to become better readers is important.

  30. Wow! It seems that as more people add their thoughts and ideas to this blog, the wealth of points to comment on is growing arithmetically, (I bet you thought I was going to say “exponentially!”) As many other bloggers have noticed, there are a lot of great thoughts captured in the responses above. Being that my content area is Physics, I agree with John Campana, regarding the need for a text in this particular content area, (and some other content areas as well). As John stated, “There are too many concepts and formulas that need to be in print and easily accessible.” However, I do feel that as Daniels and Zemmelman pointed out, the text is a great reference, so long as it is used as just that… a reference. There is a wealth of other relevant and interesting reading materials that students can use to actually learn many of the content area concepts. Just this past Spring semester, while doing my observations at East High School, I noticed that the Physics teacher who I observed did not reference the text during any of my 50+ hours of observations. The reading material was almost exclusively given to the students in the form of handouts. When I become a Physics teacher, my preference would certainly be to have the students do as little direct reading from the textbook as possible, (if any at all). There are way too many other more interesting and memorable ways to learn!
    I thought that the sections of the reading where Daniels and Zemmelman gave examples and descriptions of various trade books and other reading materials that they recommended using in the classroom was fabulous! There were many books that I want to go out and purchase right away!
    As far as e-books and wikibooks, I must admit that I have not actually used them in the past. They are very interesting conceptually. I would like to try them, so that I can get a better understanding for how I might be able to use them in the classroom. I would like to talk with some teachers who have used these with their students. One concern that comes to mind is that some students may not have internet access at home, especially in lower socioeconomic status districts. I would need to provide appropriate options for those students. I am not sure if simply providing computer access at the school would be enough. Please let me know if anyone has thoughts on this.

  31. I agree with the arguments that Daniels and Zemelman cited on page 39 from the American Association for the Advancement Science, “Today’s textbooks cover too much topics without developing any of them well…few books help students learn the ideas or help teachers teach them well.” In spite of the fact that I have a degree in chemistry, I sometimes find it difficulty to understand and to agree with the way the authors are trying to present certain concepts in chemistry. Thus, I know that this can be discouraging for an individual who is learning these concepts for the first time. With that being said, I again agree with Daniels, Zemelman, and the majority of the posts on this blog. Textbooks should be a reference source and the teacher should be given the liberty to choose whatever alternative sources she or he sees fit for their students’ needs—just as long as the students are meeting “standards.”

    Wikibooks, books, etc are a great start in the direction of alternative sources because this is what the typical student is accustomed to nowadays. Many may argue that students may not access to a computer at home, but what about the computer access in the classrooms, in the community, and at the local libraries? I feel that if a student can use computer to access “,” “Yahoo Instant Messenger,” or “” they can access a computer to read books or to make a blog post. This may seem extreme, but it is the truth because computer resources are out there—no matter where you live.

  32. I completely agree with text books being a tool in the classroom, but not the only tool. In science there is factual information that students must have. However, I think that supplemental text are absolutely a wonderful thing to use in the science classroom. Using alternative texts that take the topic they are learning about in for example my content area biology and putting it into a real life stories such as a news paper article makes the topic that much more real and relevant to the student engaging them and interesting them in what they are learning. As stated by Greg, many times giving a student a topic stated in a few different ways may help them to understand it better. Like Heather stated students are diverse, they learn differently and by providing them with the material in as many different ways as possible will better ensure that they are absorbing the information. I also agree with Greg when he discussed how textbooks in the US traditionally adhere to the “mile wide, inch deep” concept of education, by providing our students with alternative texts we are deepening their understanding of the material beyond that first inch.
    Heather- I loved your story!!!— Who has not taken a test—got a question wrong and think—how did I get that wrong I knew that stuff!!—then you go back and read it and realize that you read the question wrong!-this story just emphasizes even more so the focus all of us no matter the content need to put on reading strategies/test taking strategies.
    As for me- like Sara not having a classroom it is hard to say/know the impact textbooks have on the class and students. I can however put myself in their place as a previous student and say that had my teachers provided me with more alternative texts instead of just constantly assigning me chapter after chapter in my textbook I would have been more engaged in my reading and I may have gotten a little more out of it. Sara also brings up a good point from the Daniels and Zemelman in Chapter 4 stating that students need “balanced diet of reading”. What better way to prepare students for the real world ahead of them than to expose them to various types of texts they will encounter in the future! For some students their only chance to be exposed to any literature at all is in school so we need to give them as much exposure as we can while we have them! As for alternative texts I think they are a must in any classroom used with the right mix along with the occasional textbook reading.

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