Should We Really Just Ditch Our Textbooks?

I had the difficulty and benefit of spending my first year teaching science without a course textbook*. Without a book I started out on my own figuring out how to teach the class and cover the standards. Although I was the only person at my school who taught that specific subject, I learned to seek out other teachers for advice in covering topics I knew they taught as well. I learned to find help beyond my school and reached out to the teacher who taught my class before me, she had transferred to another school in the district and happily shared the materials she made and gathered from others before her. And I learned to look online, both for materials and content. It was hard, but it was a great learning experience for me.

In my few years of teaching I have taught 4 years with no virtually no textbook because they didn’t match the standards, were horribly outdated in the case of the Earth Science book whose main environmental goal was banning CFCs, or we just didn’t use them anymore and 2 years where I had a textbook I closely followed.

Why Textbooks Can Be Good: Some students learn well from textbooks or at least like having them as a crutch to go to for extra help. Yes, I could’ve essentially make my own textbook by pulling from sources, but having the textbook as well can be a great supplement for the students. Plus, there is value in learning how to gather information from a text.

There can be some awesome labs and activities that come as supplementals to the textbooks, these are especially useful when teaching a subject for the first time and aren’t sure how to demonstrate some of the abstract topics.

They can help you figure out how to approach teaching the standards, which is especially helpful as a new teacher.

Why Textbooks Can Be Bad: The section and chapter questions can be a homework crutch. Not sure what to do with your students? Assign the odd number questions. Sure, some of the questions are great, but most can be answered by searching online or just quickly flipping through the pages.

The books can be too much of a crutch. Instead of figuring out how to make the standards relevant to your students, you tend to just follow the sections and chapters. And when that chapter closes you often don’t go back because there is too much content in each chapter to look back.

The students don’t read them. Yes, there are some who will. But most wont because they are not engaging. There are other, more current and engaging articles that you can have your students read.

Conclusion: I am used to teaching without really using the book, but there is certainly value in having either a textbook or a good collection of resources that are provided to the teachers. Not everyone has good collaboration groups at their schools and that can make teaching without a book hard to start out. Textbooks can also help you consider how to approach a new topic; in our prolonged move to the NGSS, one thing I would love to read is a textbook (or just a really good course outline) showing a possibly path in addressing the integrated standards in an effective way.

While moving away from a reliance on one textbook is good, we need to make sure there are resources provided to teachers to give them that same support.

*Now, before you cry foul because California requires us to have a class materials I will say that there were technically two textbooks my students had for the class, though neither covered the standards well as the class was an integrated science class that began after our last textbook adoption. We hardly used the textbooks.

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