Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Teaching Tip #31

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #31
The Trouble with textbooks.
I’m stealing this from a book I read this summer for a graduate course on teaching reading in the content areas: Subjects Matter by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Steven Zemelman.
Trouble #2 – textbooks are exceedingly hard to read.
I don’t know about you, but when I page through sample textbooks when we research them every 8-12 years for our curriculum cycle, I get ADHD.  There is just SO much going on.  Graphs.  Images.  Bold. Italics.  Maps.  Drawings.  Charts.
What if a textbook actually tried to tell a coherent story?  Could it honestly be any worse that our current textbooks?
I mean has anyone every fought toot and nail to keep their damn textbooks when it’s time to order new ones?
It seems to me like the curriculum cycle exists so we can choose a new textbook with the hopes it will replace the one we have grown tired of.  Yet, we get the new textbook (this time Collections) with high hopes only to realize it’s going to take a few years until we realize if it is any good.  Then in six years when we realize it isn’t really all that good, then we are eager to start the curriculum process over in order to get the mythical “good” textbook.  And the vicious cycle continues.
I think our current Collections textbook series is the third one I’ve used in 18 years.  The one I like the most is the first blue (Elements of Literature) textbook I ever used.  Now, I only think of this one fondly because it was my first one.  And I clung to it like a lifeline.
But I know it’s all nostalgia.  Kind of like how I now fondly look back at summers spent baling hay with my father.  I reflect on those times as precious moments I spent with my father, who was attempting to teach me the definition of hard work.
Still, I know if I were to travel back to that damn hayfield north of Red Lake Falls and embody by 16 year old self standing on the lurching hayrack, I’d hate every damn second of it.  Just like I did 26 years ago.
Yet, I still recall that blue textbook fondly.  For some reason.
It was still a crummy textbook that had its one Edgar Allan Poe story (“The Pit and the Pendulum”).  It was still a reference book.  And when was the last time you picked up your thesaurus or dictionary or encyclopedia to read for pure joy?
The authors make a great point.  It’s not that they dislike reference books.  They’re vital.  But accept them for what they are.  Too often teachers, “actas if textbooks were novels that kids should plow right through, from cover to cover, remembering and caring about what they read” (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014, p. 54).

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