Next month I will have the pleasure of working on curriculum mapping with Heidi Hayes Jacobs for two days in New York City!
With this opportunity in mind, I decided to rewatch her TED Talk from a few years ago. One of her lines caught my attention:
“Every textbook, in every school, that’s in paper, is dated.”
So, I ask myself, in general…Are we (educators) being a bit melodramatic when we talk about the struggle of having to instruct with outdated textbooks?
The Solution (What)
In talking about curriculum, Dylan Wiliam states:
A bad curriculum well taught is invariably a better experience for students than a good curriculum badly taught: pedagogy trumps curriculum. Or more precisely, pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught.
So…If THE HOW (pedagogy) supersedes THE WHAT (content), how much does it matter if the information in our traditional textbooks is somewhat dated?
As a classroom teacher, across all major subject areas, my methodology mimicked the beliefs of Wiliam. This is not to say what I taught was insignificant, but I was most interested in whether my students became problem solvers, collaborators, and critical thinkers. One of the primary ways in which I “measured” their progress was by the confidence and resilience with which they tackled projects at the beginning of the year vs. the end of the year.
Also, many Language Arts and math textbooks have not substantially evolved within recent memory. In my previous district, we were “forced” to update our math books due to discontinued publishing, and the new series looked very much like the old. Science and social studies are a bit different (and these are the two subjects that Jacobs highlights as outdated), but couldn’t we harness these “old” materials as teachable moments in order to demonstrate how things have developed?
The Solution (How)
Finally, Jacobs also addresses a problem with the how, when she announces, “Skills [in textbooks] get dated where we’re using old time skills instead of modernizing them.”…But, does this mean that we need a change in textbooks?
In a previous blog post I addressed this issue as it relates to the Common Core:
With the Common Core State Standards staring everyone in the face, many districts are left scrambling to either (1) purchase “Common Core certified” materials or (2) adapt their old materials for the Common Core. In general, I prefer the latter. Simply purchasing a new series could most likely lead to teachers “doing the same thing” but with new materials, treating the series as if it is the curriculum when it is just a tool or resource…By starting with the “old” series and working from there, Common Core professional development can meet participants within their comfort zones. As a result, successful change is more likely to occur. At the same time, the Common Core will not be seen as just another series that needs to be taught, but as a new set of practice and content standards that should be implemented with help from available tools and resources.
In the End
Overall, the point is not whether I (or anyone else) agrees or disagrees with what Heidi Hayes Jacobs has to say, but that we are thinking critically about the significance (or insignificance) of “outdated” textbooks. On several occasions, I know that districts have had the belief that everything would work itself out if they could just get a new series. In the end, in my opinion, although the newest and shiniest series can certainly help, often times we throw down cash in hopes of avoiding the hard work of shifting culture, attitudes, and instruction.
What are your thoughts on “outdated” textbooks? Do we need to do a better job of keeping our content current, or is the how that much more important? What really matters?
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