Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Content Area Textbooks: Friends or Foes?

I have not had many teaching history related posts lately. As such, I am happy to have chanced upon an older ERIC Digest post from 1989 that deals with the topic of textbooks. It is Content Area Textbooks: Friends or Foes? It was written by Patricia Tefft Cousin and is from the now defunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. The US Federal Government shut down all the ERIC Clearinghouses in 2003.

Cousin argues that textbooks for K-12 and college students are boring. I found that shocking! (OK, not really.) She wrote, "Walk into any upper elementary, junior high, or secondary classroom and ask the teacher to tell you about one of the main areas of difficulty that students with learning problems are having as they learn social studies or science. You will hear the same reply echoed from classroom to classroom, "reading the textbook." There are many reasons for this--some having to do with the text itself, such as its organization and format; some having to do with the students, and their reading competencies, background experiences, or interests; and, finally, some centering on the teacher, such as his or her competence in organizing and presenting the material. "

A possible solution is noted by Cousin, "Studies of effective textbook adaptations have included recommendations to include more graphics (Burnette, 1982). Herum (1982) found that revising texts to include more graphics and to make the text more explicit supported college students with learning difficulties. Bergerud, et al. (1988) compared the effectiveness of two types of textbook adaptations--graphics and study guides--for the purpose of self-study, with students identified as either low achievers or learning disabled. The use of graphics, consisting of diagrams with parts of pictures or labels missing, was found to be superior to the other approaches as measured by a retention test. "

Are textbooks better now almost 20 years later? Has the integration of the Web into course textbooks (or the replacement or supplementing of textbooks with the Web) made classroom texts better? I think the answer is probably yes.

I can not imagine teaching history without using text. I always use primary sources as well as good books or websites which give good summaries of history. However, as always, the effectiveness of any textbook or reading has to do with how the teacher uses it. Just telling students to go read something is not very helpful. The teacher has to integrate it well into his/her teaching. And despite how the teacher goes about instruction, reading will always be an important part of understanding the past.


M-Dawg said...

I teach 9th grade World History and our textbooks are horrible. I tend to use it as a resource during some activities.

For me, the textbook is a foe. The textbook the administrators picked 10 years ago isn't even aligned with our state frameworks. And, there is no money to buy new and updated textbooks so use old books.

Ahhh . . . . the joy of teaching in a K-12 public school. :-(

M said...

"Ahhh . . . . the joy of teaching in a K-12 public school."

Other than talking to high school tour groups who visit campus, I have never had to teach in the K-12setting. However, I appreciate the work that K-12 teachers do. History is important. Good teachers can do a great job even with bad textbooks.

Good luck with your 9th Grade history courses. Some of those students are going to do you proud.