Bloggary #1: The Problem with American Textbooks

Through many years of standardized education, textbooks have become the quintessential teacher tool. Powerhouse textbook companies are able to customize book topics to align with state and federal standards for students.  This process has not only driven out less dominant publishers, but also created singular authority on what should be taught and how teachers should teach. The problem is that students receive a disproportionate amount of their learning from a single source, a practice highly discouraged in academics. Additionally, these textbooks are so dense with material and core themes that essential topics are often glanced over to favor covering a wide variety of topics rather than truly integrating strong understanding of a single subject. Even worse, textbooks leave gaps in curriculum further challenging student comprehension of what they read and disengages learners. (Daniels & Zemelman, 2014)

What can be done about the textbook conundrum? Diversify! Textbooks are a great place to start, especially within the STEM fields, but should be used with caution strictly as reference books to start the conversation. Math and science are not closed fields and research continues to be conducted regularly. Classroom conversations should follow student interest, which is why external sources are essential in creating a diverse classroom learning environment. They engage student interests through investigation by research. Traditional math classes are operated by first using lecture, then textbook readings and finally homework problems from the textbook. Real math does not happen this way. Math is a way of logically representing real world scenarios with numbers, so the topic should be taught the same way. Learning through the history of math not only provides cultural perspectives, but encourages literacy. There are interesting stories about economics, stealing, cheating and even crazy people in bathtubs (Archimedes). While most of the new research is far too complex for students to study, learning how to take real world ideas and apply content concepts encourages students to implement their knowledge in a useful way distancing the use of textbooks.

Application allows students to learn about how other subject fields operate. Math is a support for almost every field, so reading and discovering fields outside of mathematics increases student application. One criticism by Daniels & Zemelman (2014) is that textbooks are secondary sources of information, recompiling first or even secondary sources to create a flowing article or document. Using secondary sources for research provides an incomplete picture of the topic area and generally does not help understanding. Math journals and research are not accessible to students and often primary sources are too difficult or dry to provide meaning for them. I believe textbooks are good at breaking down concepts into manageable bite size pieces for students. From here a student can solve mechanical problems. Conversely, the steps are often too simple and solutions are being spoon fed to students. There is sometimes no room for students to think or problem solve. Any math teacher would tell you that mechanical regurgitation of computer like output is not the desired outcome for students. We want real world questions to guide which mechanical concepts are needed to learn and use math techniques to answer those questions.

In general, the content should make sense and students should be able to reconstruct concepts from the ground up. Removing the textbook from the classroom can help with this. Students grow confident knowing that they played a part in their own understanding of topics rather than having a textbook tell them what to know. Integrating real world topics creates a guide to know how to proceed. Teachers can help by nudging students to asking the right questions and directing them to find the right mechanics for solving problems. Daniels and Zemelman suggest many literary reading strategies teachers use to build understanding. Many, but not all, of these techniques are directly applicable to understanding math concepts and becoming literate in the language of math. Sources: Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading (Second ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Entry Reflection:

(1) This blog entry demonstrates the HOPE principle O2 – Offer appropriate challenge in the content area. (2) The entry was made with many references to authors Daniels & Zemelman, who wrote “Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading. This entry summarizes much of their work and discussion around the impact of textbooks within the classroom. (3) Teachers should be able to recognize content as valuable or invaluable to students based on the sources of the information and the challenge offered to the students. A textbook may offer information deemed appropriate for the student, however sometimes student have a challenging time understanding the meaning behind what they read. By removing the textbook and creating many sources of information for a student, teachers differentiate their teaching style and engage many learners.

(4) Until reading the critiques, I did not understand the problem textbooks posed for many students, especially those tho are underachieving because of an inappropriate match of learner to reading. (5) Further, I learned that by extending the textbook reading by including more sources of information, teachers are able to differentiate their teaching to meet students needs for optimal learning. (6) The responses in the blog entry have helped me think about how to use alternate sources of information in my classroom. I hope to use textbooks as a reference for students to learn about the technical methods of mathematical processes. I hope to include external sources of information to guide the direction of what to teach in my classroom.

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