Sunday, March 30, 2008

textbook evaluation

When looking at textbooks and discussing their use in class, I began thinking about my previous experience with textbooks. As a student, I loved textbooks. They provided new and interesting information. They were places to look up information that maybe wasn't covered directly in class. And I especially loved English textbooks. I always flipped through them (often in class when I was bored) and read all sorts of things that weren't assigned readings. Yes, they were heavy and cumbersome, but I don't remember that really bothering me or being a huge issue. So it's a little strange that now, as a teacher, I don't really like English textbooks at all. I don't feel that the textbooks I have seen are not very high quality. There are not enough contemporary texts. The multicultural texts are not very representative - just the standards that are pretty much canon, like Langston Hughes' "Dream Deferred" or Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" or a couple Emily Dickenson poems. I also don't feel that a lot of the selections really appeal to students, and student interest should be a huge factor in text selection. Also, the additional activities provided with the textbook are not always the most interesting and may not reach a high level of Bloom's. Plus, students hate carrying textbooks around and complain whenever I say they need to bring their books to class. Or they forget their books, which can make classwork tricky.

Part of the reason I think the textbooks are so "blah" is because textbook companies must try to appeal to a wide range of interests, especially those of administrators and policy makers, and therefore include only texts and activities that will be noncontroversial and acceptable to everyone. A majority of "the people in charge" represent the dominant culture, which is more traditional and conservative. So multicultural texts and contemporary texts may not be valued and thus not placed in the textbook.

I do think that a high quality textbook would be a great tool and resource for teachers and students. But what would a high quality English textbook look like? First of all, it would include more contemporary (and yet still high quality) text that students could relate to language-wise. It would showcase a truly multicultural selection of texts that breaks out of the traditional canon to show the viewpoints, experiences, beliefs, and traditions of other cultures. It would also include activities and assessments that appeal to higher levels of thinking and are aligned with state standards, suggestions for content integration, problem-based learning, connections to prior knowledge and common student misconceptions that should be addressed. Maybe I should look into creating such a textbook...

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