Sunday, November 26, 2017

The flaws of (some) textbooks

Recently, I was asked "Why do you dislike Textbooks?" and upon reflection, here are the issues I see:

Problem 1: Textbooks assume you need to be taught and shown how to solve a problem before you are given the problem.

This is absurd to me.  When I, and probably most, encounter something I do not know how to do, the first thing I rarely do is look for an instructional video on how to complete the task.

Ironically, the first thing I do is actually play with the problem and see how far I can get without any assistance.  That is right; I play!   This play cannot happen if my hand is being held and shown how to complete the task.  Learners, specifically children, are not afraid to be wrong, take chances, and try to truly problem solve, yet a textbook is designed around the idea that a child loves to be told what to do.

This ruins the fun!!!  I say again, this ruins the fun!  It is comparable to turning on a movie and someone telling you "The main character dies at the end!"; Joy lost!

Problem 2:  Pseudo - context

In almost every textbook I have seen there is always some sort of situation that can only exist in "textbook land", a magical place where the following is true:

Textbooks usually tell students all the information, in the order the need it, and then call it "Problem Solving".  My favourite question and answer was when I read the following question from a textbook:

Jason weighed a fish, and found out that if you took the weight of the fish and added it to half the weight, the result is 20 lbs.  How much does the fish weigh?

The best answer was from a student who exclaimed:

Ask Jason he weighed the damn thing!

Brilliant response to a horrible question!

Problem 3:  They "unitize" learning.

Again, a common problem I see with textbooks, is they assume you need to learn A, then B, then C, to master idea D.  In my experience, creating these disjoint learning situations, or what I call "silos of learning" causes problems for students.  

A common practice in textbooks are "Chapter Tests", which means the pages after these tests have rarely little or nothing to do with the previous pages.  In essence, the learning that happened yesterday will have nothing to do with tomorrow.  

A great practice is to weave essential learning outcomes throughout your entire course.  This contradicts the textbook.  If you feel a certain outcome is important for all to master, I would hope that your students work with that idea throughout the entire course and not just for a finite time (week, or month) and then move on and never relate new learning to previous learning.  

Disclaimer:  Does this mean I don't think textbooks belong in schools?  NO!

This means educators have to be aware of the shortfalls of textbooks.  The biggest idea we always have to remember is that these resources were created, usually in an office, to be sold across an entire continent or country.  They are not designed for "your" kids; or really anyone's kids for that matter.  

Textbooks should be used similar to encyclopedias in the classroom.  Reference material.  If a student is struggling with a concept, give them a textbook, show them a certain page and advise him/her to complete some (not all) questions.  When completed, have a conversation, and then ask him/her to return the textbook to the classroom shelf.

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