The textbook! Now if you want to teach somebody how to become passionate about…American history, why would you give them this (as he waves the textbook in the air)? Do people walk into Barnes & Noble and say, “I’m really interested in that latest, gripping thing that’s gonna get me all engaged about the Civil War. Do you have one of those textbooks in stock?”
I love the practical way in which Godin addresses an overreliance (or reliance) on the textbook, a problem that is often viewed as one of the main obstacles to educators moving forward with their practice.
While some districts are prideful of being able to thrive without a textbook series (mostly, Language Arts), other districts consider these materials a non-negotiable.
Todd Whitaker encourages administrators to make decisions with their best teachers in mind, but there are administrators who justify using a series because their “worst teachers would be lost without one.”
Two Points of View
First, the idea for this blog post originated from a conversation I had with Dr. Tony Sinanis, the 2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year. His thoughts on the subject:
In my years of experience as an educator and specifically an educational leader, the quality of learning that unfolds in a classroom is rarely about the materials, resources, or curriculum; instead, the learning is about the practices and techniques implemented by the teacher. The best teachers will be awesome no matter what materials they use, whether it’s a novel or basal. It's not about what they are using but how they are using it. And the ineffective teachers, they will even make the “best” resources look weak because of the way they are implementing them. That is one thing I am certain about in education – it's never about the stuff because it's always about the people.
It is clear Sinanis does not believe textbooks can “save” our worst teachers.
Personally, I do not agree with an overreliance on textbooks, and we should not be handing them out just so teachers can use them as a crutch. At the same time, abruptly abolishing textbooks for the sake of calling ourselves “progressive” is not the answer. As a fourth grade teacher it took me roughly four years to be able to comfortably instruct without my texts.
The Solution / In the End
So, can textbooks save our worst teachers?
In thinking about this issue further, I have come to believe this is not the question we should be asking. Instead, the conversation needs to shift to:
- What is best for the majority of our students?
- In supporting teachers, how can we meet them “where they are” and guide them to where they need to be?
Memorable learning is unlikely if we blanket an entire district with a program simply because we are afraid what could happen without one.
Our focus should be on the possibilities, not the what ifs.
There is nothing wrong with rolling out a series while having the end in mind. And this “end” should involve teachers eventually phasing out parts of the series because they have developed a certain level of comfort with (1) the curriculum, (2) all of the resources at their disposal to teach said curriculum, and (3) effective pedagogy.
After all, most would agree that the “best” student learning experiences are when the textbook is nowhere (or almost nowhere) to be found. So, teachers should work towards kicking the habit while being supported along the way.
What are your overall thoughts on textbooks? What role should they play in the classroom? Should we be implementing a new series with the intent of eventually phasing it out?
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