Chokeing on Textbooks…

I just read a post by Aaron Nelson over at “Teacher in Development? titled “Killing Classroom Energy?

Very interesting… Although I find myself in a different context (he speaks to ESL teaching), it made me stop and ponder.
Nelson speaks to the problem of a textbook reliant classroom, suggesting that the reliance on said text creates, on the one hand, legitimacy for the course: “Use a coursebook and you instantly are considered “acceptable? to students and admin. Your class is somehow made kosher and sound? ( Killing Classroom Energy ). The flipside of this, however, is that Nelson finds a ‘brain drain’ taking place in the presence of the text: “My coursebookless class is usually harder to prepare for, but energy levels (read: passionate interaction) are usually quite high? ( Killing Classroom Energy ).

I find a similar sentiment in my own teaching. My Literature 12 class has come to abhor their textbook. I think this is partly due to the fact that it is so stinking big and heavy. Translation: it is a pain in the neck to cart around; it is intimidating; it is not something you want to pull off the shelf and peruse at your leisure (I have a similar disdain for my Norton Shakespeare text at home. It is a brilliant text and looks smashing on the bookcase, but I don’t find pleasure in whipping it off the shelf and thumbing through it. The thing is just too big! I would much rather pull out an individual play and read it. There is something there besides the physical reaction of resting a ten pound book in your lap…).
The text is outstanding. I don’t think I have ever seen a textbook that is crafted so well and that contains and delivers so much information in such an appealing way, but it is, in the end, a textbook.

I digress…I think what Nelson is talking about is more the direction that a course book dictates. It has laid out a certain flow, and using a textbook compels you to enter that flow: “Using a coursebook is like stepping into, and being swept away by a fast moving river. Once you’re in, it’s really hard to get out? ( Killing Classroom Energy ). There seems to be an authority inherent in the format of a textbook. I feel it myself when I diverge from the text in class. It is like you are straying from the established truth.

Lets get one thing straight: a textbook is a valuable resource (if it has not been outdated). I can’t compete with the thought, planning, and ideas that went into the production of this text. Usually, if the text is in any way good, it has been produced by a team of educational professionals…what I assume is an experienced team. An individual can not compete with the collective imagination of such a team.
Any why would you?
Isn’t it in some way foolish to try and ‘outwit’ or ‘outsource’ the text? I have to admit that this seems to smell of academic pride. The idea that I could come up with better information than what you would find in my Lit. 12 class (and, at this point, I have to stop and shamlessly plug my student’s team blog ( herot . Their posts are nothing short of brilliant at times!) is a bit foolish. Me, a rookie teacher with barely more than one full year of ‘paid’ teaching under my belt, outdoing the development team at Pearson…..right.

I won’t leave it there, however, as doing so might leave you to think I support the idea that the teacher should just bow to the textbook and leave the room.

You can’t replace a living breathing teacher who has guts and passion. No textbook can do this!

I guess our job is to find some kind of co-habitation with the textbook, where we 1) recognize its value, and 2) we inject it with our ideas and passion.

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