The Purpose of Textbooks. Convince Me.

I was having a discussion with my colleague about teaching in general and we ended up discussing textbooks. She suggested that next year I use the book for Algebra 2 because it is closer to college level mathematics and students need to be prepared for that.

Then I spoke with a teacher that works with the hearing impaired who has been in my class at least one day a week throughout the year. Her opinion was that the worksheets and activities we do equal to or surpass the work found in textbooks. She said that the notes we do in class are fit more to student needs and add visual context rather than the canned curriculum of a textbook.

Both teachers have far more experience than me and both agree that there should be a balance, no all or nothing.

I think I don't know how to use a textbook.

As a teacher, I use the book as a problem bank, a guide for sequencing lessons, and in geometry I steal the diagrams and drawings because an artist, I am not.

For my students, we really only used the book to look up definitions or formulas in class.

Am I hurting my students by not using the textbook?

How am I supposed to use the textbook for their benefit? What is the difference in them taking notes from a book or notes from a Powerpoint or notes from a discussion? Is it not still reading, writing, and listening?

Am I supposed to have them just take notes and teach themselves from the book? I'm not saying there is no value in textbooks, I'm saying I haven't found a values that's worth using them for.

I enjoy creating lessons. It puts me in the mindset of a student and helps me think through possible questions and confusion that students may encounter. I use the book and my standards at the beginning of the year to create a pacing guide and priority standards to tell me what to teach. Then I search the Internet, blogs, and Twitter for ideas on 'how' to teach those concepts. Honestly, I don't see how a textbook can add to the rich resources I'm currently using. I don't know how using a textbook will improve my teaching or my students' learning.

So convince me. Why and how should I use a textbook?


  1. I am definitely not going to convince you to start using a text book. I encourage you to keep blazing your own trail and keep teaching in a way that respects the needs of all your learners.

  2. The internet has pretty much replaced them. But I'm sure they'll die a very slow death and won't go away for awhile. Keep up he good work.

  3. A good textbook is a wonderful resource for students, if they are taught how to read them, which many are not.

    I'd recommend looking at http://shiftingphases.com/2011/05/13/experimenting-with-reading-comprehension-constructors/
    as Mylène talks quite convincingly about the need to teach reading in technical courses.

  4. Thanks for the link. I'm reading through it and already finding useful things.

  5. I've been teaching for 15 years and use the text for exactly what you said - suggestions on order (which I normally toss out) and problem sets.

    I also will nab problems in the problem sets to use as examples on the board.

    Occasionally I'll have a student who will read the lessons - and bravo for them.

    Oh - and I usually point out the goodies in the gray boxes.

    The rest of the text is just for show, if you ask me.

    You're doing fine!


  6. I'm on the "I don't use a textbook" bandwagon. I have fought a battle for 2 years to eradicate them from my classroom and finally won this year. They are now snugly tucked away in the book closet. I have a strong preference for creating my own PowerPoints, using extensive group work, supplementing notes with rigorous worksheets and giving verbal and written feedback. I know my standards and strive to create a standards-based learning environment. I did not use the book last year and my test scores went up 40%!

  7. I also tend towards the anti-textbook camp. I teach better when I'm not bound to the textbook's structure and methods.

    I do worry about failing to encourage independence. I have had students who read the textbook beyond the class curriculum, even when I was not using the textbook much in class. And I worry that many college classes rely on textbooks and that I am not promoting those skills.

  8. That's what one of my teacher friends keeps telling me but I just don't buy it yet. Hopefully I'm equipping them with more than what I'm not giving them.

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