Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What to do With Textbooks?

I haven't used a text book in my classroom in 4 years.  There, I've said it.  I did have a dozen copies of an Algebra 1 textbook in my class two years ago so the students could use it as a reference.  I love having copies of teachers editions of several publisher's textbooks for math at each level from Pre-Algebra to Advanced College Algebra in my room.  I also have copies of Algebra for Dummies and other "self help" math books that students may choose to use.

Today I took a sick day so I could work on getting over my bronchitis and I happened upon a discussion on Twitter - #beyondthetextbook.  That's one of the many things I love about twitter - I was able to sit at my laptop and cough my brains out without disturbing anyone (other than my wife and cats) while following an active, interesting, and relevant discussion.

As a teacher it is my responsibility to guide my students to finding the best resources on a topic.  And, once they have chosen resources teachers should be guiding the evaluation of the resources.  And, finally, teachers should be there to provide insight and understanding of the information found within the resource.  If the resource my students choose is a textbook then that is fantastic - as long as there isn't something else that explains the information in a better way.  If there is a better resource, then it is my responsibility (the evaluation of the resource) to guide them to this other media.

And so the things I kept seeing seemed to be avoiding the fact that a textbook is just a reference source.  I saw lots of things about going hi-tech with textbooks and having students create textbooks but I think too much time was spent on finding ways to replace the textbook with another form of something that is still, basically, a textbook.  IT IS A REFERENCE BOOK PEOPLE!  There I feel better now.

One of the better posts I read on this was by Doug Belshaw.   Doug went so far as to say that "the textbook is a symptom of a problem around assessment," in a tweet.   You should take time to read his post, read the comments, and read any of the posts he references in his post.

I live in a world where students research a problem.  They need to find and evaluate resources that help them find solutions to the problem.  If one of those resources is considered a textbook then, who cares? Notice I have not said anything about the political minefield of state textbook adoption.  You can't pay me enough to walk through there.  I found out a few years ago that textbook adoption committees mean nothing in my state and I'm sure they don't mean much in many other states who have textbook publishers in the lobbying business in their state.  Wait!  I said I wouldn't go there and I won't go any farther....