Keep calm and throw out your textbook

There are lots of reasons for teaching without a textbook. Having a middle school science classroom driven by a textbook is neither beneficial to student learning or skill development. Seth Godin in Linchpin says schools should teach students only two things – how to solve interesting problems and how to lead. I don’t think either of those things can be taught through a textbook. The Foundation for Young Australian’s The New Basics Report  talks about the essential enterprise skills that young people will need to navigate their careers (17 jobs in 5 industries is predicted for a now 15 year old in their working life). Again, I fail to see how a textbook could help teach any of the enterprise skills listed in the report: creativity, problem solving, communication skills, teamwork, digital literacy, critical thinking and presentation skills.

Here are 10 more reasons why I think a teacher is better off without a textbook:

1.Be more creative in the content and presentation of it.

2.Facilitate differentiation: how many textbooks come with alternative worksheets, different levels of scaffolding, options for extension? How many textbooks can provide options according to personal interest, present according to learning profile? Moving away from a fixed textbook allows you the freedom to differentiate your instruction, your assessments, your practical tasks.

3.Be modern: You might have the most recent textbook, but can it keep up with day-to-day events, with the news? To harness student interest and ‘hook’ them, taking current news articles or modern pop culture references/parodies/memes is a great way.

4.Cheaper: there are a huge range of free, online resources. These cost nothing, and so are a much cheaper option for resourcing your classroom that buying a textbook per child.

5.Tailored to context: Being able to tailor your content to the context is so important in connecting students to their learning, and connecting them to a community for their learning. Curriculum is often divorced from students’ own lives and there is a need to personalise and involve students. Without a textbook, you can study your local area, involve local industry, adapt the content to address an issue in students’ lives…e.g. rather than looking at air quality and pollution and acid rain in Europe, why not look at your own community and the air and water quality in the local area? Dr Milton Chen talks passionately about students being connected to place as part of their learning.

6.Easily changed: Linked to the above point – it’s difficult to change a textbook, but easy to change teaching when you don’t have one. Need to change a ‘science fact’ (Pluto is no longer a planet), want to update some statistics (the world population is now 7.5 billion), want to reflect a current event (most recent local earthquake), do students no longer like Justin Bieber and are now into Ed Sheeran?

7.Fits one-to-one devices: Learning Management Systems is how a lot of schools are planning and distributing learning materials these days. You can source videos, simulations, games, lectures, reading materials, forums, polls, and other online resources and tools. Students with a device can access these resources anytime, anywhere with internet.

8.Focus on Science Inquiry: Inquiry skills of proposing problems, investigating questions, collecting data, conducting experiments, measuring variables, displaying data, communicating findings – they are hands-on skills and students need to experience science and the wonder of inquiry to authentically grow these skills. That comes from doing science, not reading about science in a textbook. I would encourage you to consider science lessons as at least 50% hands-on!

9.Allow time for in-depth study: Rather than surface learning and skimming pages of content, encourage deep learning that comes from project/problem based learning, from research into topics of interest, from science inquiry.

10.Allow for inter-disciplinary teaching: In mapping the skills and content of curriculum, you may notice overlap in several areas. Science teachers have teamed up for the past 3 years with HASS/Geography teachers in year 9 to co-teach our Ecosystems/Biomes respective units and go on a joint field trip and complete a joint authentic inter-disciplinary task. These rich connections between subject areas consolidate the content, allow students go learn deeply and broadly, and gives real world relevance to their learning.

 

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