Last night I was watching Kindergarten Cop. There is a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger walks over to get help from Penelope Ann Miller; her character is a teacher. He knocks on her classroom door and she is sitting on her desk teaching an English lesson. I don’t even know if I can use the word teaching. It feels wrong. I wouldn’t really consider it teaching. She is reading from a teacher’s edition, something about an i before an e.
“We have learned that…..”
“Now write five words that…”
I wanted to cringe. Boooooring!
I’ll admit it. I used to be a textbook teacher. I used to cling to my teacher’s edition. I read from it. I used it to plan. It was my lifeline. This was in my first few years of teaching when no one had explained to me what benchmarks were and I had no clue about backwards planning. I was woefully ill prepared for teaching my first year and I marched through my textbooks. I never looked at the big picture. I never questioned what I was doing.
By my second year of teaching I was pulling away from textbooks. I was learning more about pedagogy. I was using authentic literature. I was finding or creating my own materials based on my student needs and our class goals. I still used my textbooks as guides for scope and sequence (this was before curriculum maps). But, more and more I was examining what I did each day and how it related to long-term learning. I wanted my students to remember what we learned. I wanted them to apply their learning in context. I worked through Big Ideas.
A textbook doesn’t know what your students need. It’s presenting information in a standardized format. Textbooks assume that information has been covered before and will be covered after. They assume that every child in that grade can read and comprehend on the same level. By the time a textbook is published it’s outdated. Textbooks give students questions to answer. They don’t allow students to ask their own questions. Textbooks ignore creativity and differentiation. They don’t promote collaboration.
Why are we still in a world where textbook teams review and adopt materials for hundreds or thousands of teachers in a district or school? Textbooks that are mandated for use. Textbooks that assume all teachers teach the same way and all students learn in the same way.
Educators want freedom and autonomy and many still rely on one of the oldest tools of standardization in their classrooms (think ancient history).
In my perfect world, textbooks would be resources and supplements to curriculum. Not, the curriculum. We are past the days of teachers delivering content through a textbook or a lecture. Can’t we do better than a textbook?