Tackling the Textbook

May 23, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 8 Comments

There are quite a few blog posts against the use of textbooks. To read what others are saying, click here, here, here, and here.

But for many pre-service teachers, the textbook may seem like a cozy security blanket during the first few years on the job. What other options are there? Along with your own search, check out these sites and then share your thoughts on how you would tackle the textbook issue on the job.



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  1. This sure does seem like a lot of impassioned whining to me.

    Consider a textbook for what it is and for what it should be–a resource. It is one more tool that a competent teacher has in the arsenal. It is not the only resource. It is not the answer to every question. It is not necessarily infallible on every topic. Textbooks are written and edited by imperfect humans. The textbook is merely one more place to look for “the answer” among myriad other print and non-print sources available.

    The big problem is not the textbook. The problem is the teacher who is not innovative or competent enough to do anything beyond it. As one commenter posted, “[Textbooks are] perfect for below-average teachers with limited imagination and limited love for their own content areas, the sort that need a pick axe, a shovel, and a map to the goldmine handed to them before it’ll occur to them to start digging.” Instead of railing against textbooks, let’s rail against a system that allows for and perpetuates this sort of occurrence. Classroom excellence begins with the teacher.

    I use a textbook in all of my AP and non-AP chemistry classes. I was fortunate that I was able to select the texts that I wished to use for each class. I looked for and chose books that have solid, straightforward, comprehensible explanations. They have a wealth of practice exercises for the students. They have a minimum of fluff.

    The textbook is not the only resource that I use, though. There are articles from newspapers and magazines. There are online sites that provide practice problems. There are additional problems culled from other print sources. There are lab experiments from lab manuals, conferences, and fellow chemistry teachers. There are video clips.

    Teachers should look constantly for more, and perhaps newer, materials to enrich and enliven their classes. Textbooks need not be banished. They do have a place–as an option to strengthen a teacher’s own presentation of course material.

  2. I have never used a textbook regularly in my Regents Chemistry class. The textbook that my school has is, in my opinion, very poorly organized. In addition, most of the book is above what students need to know, focusing very heavily on complex mathematical calculations and not on the basic concepts they need to understand. I do give the students textbooks that they can use as a resource throughout the year. Throughout all of my high school science classes, I cannot recall one course where we used a textbook on a regular basis, and I must say it didn’t disappoint me at all. I have no problem using a textbook for practice problems and ideas, I just haven’t found one that has what the students would need. I prefer making up my own assignments that reflect what I think the most important concepts are and provide some questions that require more thoughtful answers than the textbooks seem to require.
    In my General Chemistry class, I started out using the textbook a lot more, as it does do a good job showing relationships of chemistry to life. I did add a lot of my own resources as well to help make it easier to understand and to expand on the topics we were learning about. My principal at the time told me that i should stop supplementing the textbook with other materials. By giving students other resources to use in addition to the textbook was making the course too difficult. Having one authoritative source with all the right answers simplifies things. All you have to do is memorize things and spit them right back on the test.
    Whether or not you use a textbook, it is important to give other resources for students to use. However, this can be a battle since textbooks have played such a central role in the classroom for so long. Sometimes, both parents and administrators don’t see the benefits of using other sources. It takes time to sit down and explain to them why it is so important to not stick to the textbook as the completely authoritative source on any subject.

  3. For once, I don’t think I’ll need to cover my head with a textbook.. Have any of you been in a tornado warning? Who came up with that suggestion to put on a poster?

    I loved the Ruth article. For once I read an article that gave some really fantastic alternate solutions to the use of the textbook. I love the idea of organizing cards for the periodic table. understanding the organization makes understanding chemistry so much easier, yet few teachers really help students understand it. I remember just memorizing parts. Like that really was going to help. Chemgo is a great idea as well.

    It really is important when people talk about the evils of textbooks, that they don’t just talk about the textbook, but have solutions they are willing to offer up. Preservice teachers may have ideas, but imagine a first year of all new lesson plans, all untried. The students are willing to forgive one or two failed lesson plans, but if all the inquiry or problem based, non-textbook lessons are new, there is a good chance of more than just a couple of failures. Ruth didn’t just talk about the failures of the textbook, he gave opportunities for teachers to try new approaches that could be successful for many teachers, and only need a little tweaking to adapt to their style.

    Knowledge is power, but we shouldn’t be holding it up on a pedestal, away from the uninitiated. If textbooks are so evil, share more lesson ideas.

  4. I have to say that we all seem to agree that textbooks are resources and not something that all class activities are based on. That they are reference books and that is it. There is some variance to what degree do we use them, if at all. For me textbooks still hold their own value, even if relics of the past. Like Brad said they can “strengthen a teacher’s presentation of the material”.
    I found it strange to find that Pamela’s principal had said that adding more sources makes the course more complex. In my opinion I find it to do the opposite. With more opportunities to implement different media the better chance of being able to have the students make more connections with the material at hand. Adding in Web 2.0 and other technologies can enhance the students learning experience.
    With a little innovation and ideas from Subjects Matter Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading, by Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman we can even make textbooks more user friendly and beneficial to students. Such ideas as using textbook circles, vocabulary word sorts, and the Guide-0-Rama that allow students to interact more with what they are reading.

  5. Everyone made some great points. Brad started off saying everything I was thinking. As someone learning to be a teacher, I feel the need to have the textbook, almost as my backbone. Not that it is all I will use, but to at least get me started. I liked what Ruth said about how he used the textbook during his first year and less of it each year. Relaying on the textbook can, I believe, create tunnel vision for teachers. Causing them to become to comfortable with their plans and using them over and over rather than seeing the importance that outside sources can bring to the classroom. Another fact I completely agree with is it is not entirely the textbooks problem but the teacher who depend on them for everything. It is like a drug, just because it is there does not mean you have to use it. So many teachers become addicted to how convenient it is and all the gifts it brings (overheads, tests, homework etc.). I can see the temptation, but I believe what we need to do is see what works and what doe not for each individual class.

    Web 2.0 technologies are new to me but I definitely see the importance of using them in the classroom. Technology is constantly growing and is something our students need to learn to use, especially teachers.

  6. While reading the suggested materials for this blog post (my “during reading” strategy!), I wrote down a few things that struck me. The Ruth article in particular was important to me, as it is a primary example of a teacher experimenting with alternate text sources. He even provided some striking consequences of doing so. He says: “I found that students learned far more when I didn’t assign the [text]book” and “I asked them whether they’d prefer to use one. More than 95% said no.” These are the kind of things I need to hear as a pre-teacher considering not relying on the textbook. Since I started the GMST program at Fisher, I hear so much negativity about textbooks and how they are too difficult to read, too heavy, contain too much information, etc. Finally, Ruth gives me some proof that students agree and it’s not just the teachers preaching against these books.

    So, how will I plan on incorporating alternative textbook options? We’ve talked about a lot of them in class, but Jacobs provides some additional examples in her blog post. She suggests having students organize book clubs or publish online magazines. Our text, Subjects Matter, suggest creating a classroom library and establishing a class librarian. These are all great because they are student-centered and fun, while still promoting literacy.

    Andrea brings up a great, honest point too, however. Brand new teachers sometimes see the shiny new textbooks as gateways to easy lessons, assignments, and tests. As much as I would love to not rely on the textbook, I am not going to punish myself if I do during the first year or so of teaching. Ruth also eased me in this aspect. He, too relied heavily on the text during his first year. Us newbies can’t drive ourselves crazy trying to come up with a brave, innovative, new lesson for everyday! It just isn’t realistic…

  7. Here’s another comment, courtesy of Peter Atkins, author of a widely used textbook on physical chemistry and emeritus professor of chemistry at Oxford. It’s an interesting take on e-books vs. “p-books.”


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