Monday, January 17, 2011

The Great Textbook Debate

This year, I volunteered to look at some new textbooks for our Freshmen English classes. Our current text is about 20 years old and we were thinking about an upgrade to newer texts that are geared specifically toward the current state standards. The rationale at the time was that these new texts will make it easier to be aligned with the new state standards and we will not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes curriculum review time. After using one book for the first semester, I have already made up my mind and have a recommendation. No Textbooks at all.

This might seem shocking to some of you reading this. You might say, "Nick, you teach English. How the heck do you teach English without a textbook?" That is a wonderful question. I would teach it the same way I taught this semester. The only only time students used a textbook in the first semester was during the short story unit. After reviewing the stories covered, many of them are available for free on the internet. For three weeks, students read from the text and answered questions I created on the class blog or discussion board. Students did not answer any of the questions from the text. These books were better suited a 15 pound paper weights.

The rest of the semester was spent reading To Kill a Mockingbird, Black Boy and Of Mice and Men. Second semester is going to focus on a research paper, Romeo and Juliet and a poetry unit. The poetry unit is where is the other demo textbook will come in. However, looking at the poems that are going to be used (Shakespeare, Dickinson, Frost, etc), most of those are available free on the internet. That is all the textbook is going to be used for the entire second semester.

For around 6 to 7 weeks of an entire school year, I use a textbook. As many of use know, textbooks are not cheap. For an entire school district, it looks like we would need to be around 1,000 books. That price, including all of the extra workbooks, lesson plans, etc. is going to cost a fortune. I can not in good conscience suggest we purchase new textbooks. The money that would be spent on new texts could be diverted to other purchases that would have greater uses in the classroom.

Later this week, I will explain what I would like to see happen with the textbook money.


  1. Kudos! I keep the literature textbooks in the bookcase and use occasionally for short stories, poetry. Much prefer to purchase trade books kids will actually read.

    Recently noticed that a "new" textbook for grammar has new cover and copyright date, but identical content from 10 yrs ago - which is already lousy.

    Good luck - uphill battle.

  2. An additional consideration right now, Nick, is the whole "common core" thing. How aligned are the proposed books with the common core? Could probably get class sets of iPod touches and students could access the resources you reference in your post, thereby saving copy costs, too!

  3. I remember Dr. Copeland discussing, in my Young Adult Lit. course, how book companies make their money. And a lot of it has been by using and rebinding Public Domain or out of copyright works in their books. Then spending a money on a few "new" titles of poetry or play or short story or an excerpt here or there.

    I sometimes forget that there are textbooks for the lit. side English courses anymore. Most of the English teachers I work with seem to be taking your route and opting for a classroom set of novels or plays.

    I'll be interested to hear how it goes.

  4. Totally agree with your thinking. There is so much free public domain stuff on-line. How about getting them to spend the money on wi-fi (for student-owned devices) or laptop carts instead?

    I think curriculum budgets should be shifted to PD and technology and stop buying books altogether.

  5. Nick, I had this very conversation with the head of our English department a few weeks ago. She sees it like you do. As do I. We can grow our own textbooks very easily. But we need to be 1 to 1 to get there. And that's where that money can come in handy!

  6. Nice! Now if you can convince them to put those dollars toward something that is worthwhile for learning.

  7. I haven't used a textbook for a decade. Not only does it save money and alleviate student back pain, it also makes the curriculum incredibly flexible and personal. Anything before 1900 is public domain, and anything after can be dealt with in a small anthology. We have novel sets, of course, and some contemporary poetry collections, but that's about it.

  8. Is your school or district going to follow your suggestion? You guys might be able to buy some cool technology!


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