Is Reading a Textbook a Necessary Skill?

Using a single textbook as a resource is frustrating. Flickr photo credit to casalewebnet2.

I’ve been following the #flipclass chats, as well as doing quite a bit of research on flipped classrooms lately. I noticed a somewhat uncomfortable shift in the change of thinking and the pedagogy, all of which comes with being “new.” There is a growing concern about students loosing out on the “skill” of using a textbook. I can appreciate the value of being able to navigate a textbook, since I have $4000 of textbooks sitting on a bookshelf that I’ve needed to navigate to varying degrees in the last four years. Understanding how to interpret Academia in print isn’t always the easiest task to accomplish. I agree that learning how to do this is, in fact, as very useful tool for the students who are going onto any sort of post-secondary. I could also argue that most people will encounter professional or academic writing at some point in their careers regardless of whether or not they attend post-secondary, whether it be in the the form of a management report, highly involved news article, or a contract.

However, who is to say that a single textbook is the best way to teach this skill? I would like to argue that a variety of resources would teach this skill better. For example, looking at math since that is my background, most school divisions pick a specific publisher or series of math texts to use within their classroom. One one hand, that is fantastic for continuity. On the other hand, students are only exposed to one specific type of writing, style of problem solving, one particular format/layout.

One common fallacy that is easy to slip into — I did during my internship at times — is that the textbook is “perfect.” Once I made up my mind that the textbook wasn’t the bible for my math class, I instantly became a better teacher. I could feel it, I saw it in my students, and my students saw it in me. It was necessary to experiment with teaching from the textbook, but I’m glad I deviated.

As for the continuity argument, the curriculum is designed to encourage continuity. Part of a teacher’s job is to encourage retrieval of prior knowledge when students are learning concepts. Finding out what students do/don’t know through KWL charts, diagnostics, just asking them, etc., can help with continuity, and perhaps even inspire teachers to find other resources to help with continuity far beyond that of the standard textbook.

So here is where I stand now: the textbook is a powerful resource. Why not combine these powerful resources? Blend the use of several textbooks, online resources, self-created resources, resources from other teachers, and student-generated resources. I will admit that this will be a TON of work. I know that teachers are already bogged down with so much work and so little prep time, but why not give it a shot? This will give students multiple perspectives, different samples of academic (and non-academic writing), and a welcome change from their “boring” textbook (let’s face it — how many high school math textbooks do you read just for fun?). This, to me, puts to rest the need to learn how to use a textbook, since they’ll be better at it.

Am I way off base on this?


8 thoughts on “Is Reading a Textbook a Necessary Skill?

  1. What you describe is definitely my goal in flipclass teaching physics at the college level. I call my videos “resources,” not lectures, and I strongly recommend students to both read the text and watch my vids (with a pencil in their hand, of course). I also post links to all kinds of things on the same resource page for each new day of content. I’ve found this works best in mid- to upper-level physics majors classes but I think it should work at all levels if I can continue to try to build the proper learning environment with my students.

  2. Right on! A textbook is a tool for learning, not the.learning. I stopped using textbook for anything but reference years ago. I have taught at least 5 medical doctors in that time. They didn’t miss it.

  3. I completely agree, Sara. I think a wide array of resources trumps consolidating concepts and ideas into one textbook. Not only does it provide students with choice, it also shakes things up a bit – sometimes it is good to do this; the best part is, too, that we have the option to do this, and see how effective or ineffective the decision was.

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