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How to Spot Textbook Fatigue—and What to Do About It
By ReLeah Cossett Lent, Education Consultant, Atlanta, Ga.
Does your heart race when you count the days left in the semester and then look at the chapters you haven’t covered from your textbook’s table of contents? Do your eyes blur at the thought of reading all of the supplemental material that came with the latest adoption of your textbook? Do your students groan when you mention the word “textbook,” and you have to bite your tongue in order not to groan right along with them? If so, you may have a serious case of textbook fatigue that needs immediate attention.
Fortunately, the cure is restorative and, what’s more, reduces your chances of suffering from other school-related fatigue syndromes. Following are some suggestions to help you energize your teaching, increase your students’ learning, and make every classroom experience more relevant and engaging.
- Change your paradigm of what it means to use a textbook. Textbooks in the 21st century are only one of many resources, not a single-source curriculum guide. As such, they are useful in helping you access and organize information for lessons as well as for providing practical teaching tips, but remember that textbooks—even online textbooks—may not contain the latest or the most complete coverage of a topic. For example, it’s frightening to think that textbook-bound teachers wouldn’t have time in class for students to read about how the Voyager 1 probe made history by being the first human-made object to leave the heliosphere. Or that social studies teachers who had to cover chapter 5 by Friday couldn’t discuss the crisis in Syria. Or that English teachers felt they couldn’t interrupt a unit on the short story to read a poem by Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet who died in August. All of these examples provide an energizing and healthy boost to curriculum studies that can’t possibly be found in a textbook’s table of contents.
- Be on the lookout for inconsiderate textbook writing, lack of sufficient explanation of key vocabulary, or superficial mentioning of an important concept that may do more to confuse students than enlighten them. Effective teachers are skeptical teachers, and they monitor not only their students’ learning but also the texts that support it.
- Think in terms of inquiry, problem solving, and project-based learning where students find, evaluate, and apply new information instead of memorizing it for the purpose of passing a test. Textbooks are perfect resources for prompting thinking and providing background information that can spark questions and “what ifs.” Have students come at textbooks from an active, questioning stance instead of adopting a passive, receptive attitude.
- Take what’s best from the textbook and leave the rest in the dust. Look for performance or collaborative assessments that demonstrate understanding and discard low-level comprehension questions at the end of the chapter. Target key vocabulary and don’t feel that you must teach each word that’s in bold just because it is in bold. Try out something from the teacher’s edition you’ve never tried before and then adapt it to meet the needs of your students. Use what has been provided by textbook publishers to plan engaging units of study that motivate, rather than deflate, students.
- Work with your Professional Learning Community (PLC), team, or department to find web and print resources for every topic you teach that will build on and deepen content understanding for students. Following a teacher’s edition by yourself inhibits the most effective and authentic use of PLCs.
It may take a while to recover from textbook fatigue, but once you begin to change the way you use textbooks, you will find your students are more engaged and your life as a teacher is less stressful. And, after all, who doesn’t need a prescription for that?
Editor’s Note: To hear more from ReLeah, come see her during her Conference on Educational Leadership session Saturday, November 2, 2013.