I Don't Teach From the Textbook
Our District, along with others around our state have recently completed the task of selecting a new Science textbook program to use for the next six to eight years. As we review our options, teachers tell me that they don’t teach from the textbook, so the program we choose doesn’t really matter. As I have reviewed our options, maybe the textbook programs need more emphasis.
The textbook publishers have employed countless scientists, teachers, curriculum specialists, computer programmers, photographers, writers, etc. to produce a textbook program that will not only meet the curriculum requirements first and foremost - but a program formatted to look inviting and exciting to the user. The publishers have developed interactive websites with teaching suggestions, virtual labs, videos, electronic worksheets - many of which can be scored electronically and the grade sent directly to the gradebook. As I have reviewed the textbook programs, I see every chapter, sometimes every new concept, opening with a hook! The hook helps to make the information relevant and realistic to the student. The chapters are filled with data charts and graphs for students to analyze, images of relevant models for students to interpret, and amazing photography of places many students will never visit. There are suggestions of hands-on activities, and this time there are kits with the exact complement of materials for the labs. These are not your mother’s textbooks!
One other feature of the textbook programs we frequently overlook is text. Yes, there is writing in the textbook. Textbooks contain informational text that has already been vetted, and the important vocabulary is highlighted. One of the reasons teachers say that students perform poorly on state assessments is their lack of reading abilities. Any reading specialist will attest that reading abilities improve through reading practice and use of specific strategies. We cannot ignore the text in the textbook and expect students to be able to read and interpret the text on state assessments. Inherently, Science text is more difficult to read due to its high level vocabulary. Often, it cannot be written in simpler terms, so students need to practice by reading in their textbook. Reading from the textbook, following along as the textbook is read aloud, either by the teacher, a classmate, or the recording on the textbook program's website can all increase student aptitude at reading higher Lexile Science passages.
As impressed as I am with the textbooks publishers who seem to have “thought of everything,” I am burdened by the voices of teachers who boast that they don’t teach from the textbook. Several years ago, after having taught Biology and Physical Science, I was assigned to teach Chemistry. I panicked. I was not a teacher who relied upon the textbook, but I did use it to bolster my Biology and Physical Science knowledge and to give students a primary source for reading. With Chemistry, however, I read that textbook cover to cover. Again, this was when the textbook was just a textbook, there was no website with student logins, but I was absolutely impressed with the readability of the book! It taught me, the teacher, so much. It gave me insight; it increased my ability to answer student questions with confidence; it gave me ideas for how to make the content relevant - yes, it brought every concept down to earth, and made the concepts of Chemistry make sense.
It’s impossible for every teacher of Science to be an expert at every concept in the standards. When teachers do not know the content, they generalize, they use dated examples that may only partially be relevant. I don’t want to hear another teacher reference large Christmas lights in which the whole string goes out if one light is damaged - I have never experienced this, nor have our students!
Teachers, there’s no prize for ignoring the textbook program. Actually, ignoring the textbook could damage your Science instruction. Countless scientists, teachers, curriculum specialists, computer programmers, photographers, and writers have collaborated to produce a textbook program to meet student and teacher needs. No single individual’s knowledge can substitute for the wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise contained in today’s textbook programs. To those who boast, “I don’t use the textbook!” Maybe you should. I implore you, teachers, it is to your students’ advantage that you use your textbook program.
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Kimberly G. Massey
Science Instructional Specialist, Rock Hill Schools of York County
The views/opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rock Hill Schools of York County SC.
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If you believe Science Education Matters, and you have something you would like to share as a blog post, papers are being accepted. Your post should be between 600 and 1500 words. The topic should be relevant to Science educators and those who care about Science education, and the future. The topic should be broad, yet specific examples should be explored in the post. Any references should be cited at the bottom in APA style and the websites should be hyperlinked within the post. Photos owned by the author are also a great addition. Please email Kimberly G. Massey to share your topic idea BEFORE preparing your post.