Summer, a time of reflection and rest after a hectic school year, also provides a great opportunity to address textbook fatigue, a malaise that has become more prevalent and troublesome with each year of the 21st century. In this age of ubiquitous information, we know that following a text’s table of contents as if it were a curriculum guide and using the textbook as a sole resource doesn’t make sense, but after years of scripted curricula, bulging teachers’ editions, and terms like “fidelity to the program,” many of us aren’t sure how to alleviate this chronic syndrome.
Below are five tips to help you rejuvenate your curriculum (as well as yourselves) and put the textbook to better use by evaluating its effectiveness for your particular group of students while infusing all instruction with relevant, engaging supplemental texts.
1. Make a list of the most important topics or units that you teach each year, those that are core to your curriculum. Honestly assess your students’ learning by critically evaluating the information presented in the textbook. For example, what may have been included in the textbook that was so superficially covered that it only served to confuse students? What was not included that should have been—perhaps background knowledge your students didn’t possess or insufficient explanation of key concepts? Think, too, about when students seemed most engaged in their learning and when they seemed tuned out. Can you identify the cause of those responses?
2. If you could teach this unit with the textbook as only one resource, how would you change the instruction and what additional materials would you include? You may want to incorporate more writing, discussion, or inquiry projects, for example. What websites, videos, field trips (virtual or real), or artifacts might enhance the study? Don’t hold back. Create a unit that, in your professional judgment, will engage your students and ignite their passion for going beyond what is presented to them in the textbook.
3. Look back over the unit and identify key vocabulary that students must know in order to comprehend the most important concepts. Often textbooks don’t provide integrative word study that unlocks information for kids. Develop ways of helping students internalize meanings rather than memorize definitions for the purpose of passing a test.
4. If at all possible, collaborate with a colleague or team at your school as you work. Divide up the tasks of finding resources, creating engaging lessons, or evaluating what is most useful in the textbook and teacher’s edition. Then come back together to reflect, revise, and reinvent.
5. Be proactive in asking for what you need. Ask your principal (or central office if you are a principal) for stipends to cover the cost of additional resources. If you see a glimmer of a positive response, inquire about funds for supplemental texts, including subscriptions for content-area magazines or classroom library resources. Have in hand research that shows the significant positive impact that independent reading has on reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary skills in all disciplines.
If money is not available or support is not immediately forthcoming, do what you can to ward off textbook fatigue. Adapt what is useful from the textbook, peruse the abundant riches on the web, and be first in line to ask your librarian for help in collecting books and other resources that will energize topics that too often have been dampened by “one-size-fits-all” textbook coverage.
ReLeah Cossett Lent was a teacher for more than 20 years before becoming a founding member of a statewide literacy project at the University of Central Florida. She is now an international education consultant. Lent writes, speaks, and provides workshops on topics ranging from literacy to creating communities of practice within schools and districts. Learn more about Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalize Teaching and Learning or purchase a copy of her book.