I disagree with suspending the purchase of textbooks

I just have to disagree with someone I usually agree with.

Wes calls for the suspension of textbook purchasing:

“The purchase of paper-based textbooks, along with the dearth of analog testing materials now flooding most public K-12 schools, represents an enormous WASTE of taxpayer money which should be spent on more relevant and flexible curriculum resources and tools for learners: Namely, wireless, mobile computing devices (laptops) and digital curriculum materials.”

I think that a digital only classroom at this time is as untenable as a paper-only classroom.

I am a visual learner and have to have a hard copy in my hands!

I am working with four students taking the virtual high school here in Georgia and they have their reading assignments per unit — after struggling with taking notes, etc. we finally had one student print out the units and then I went and copied it for all four of them.

Paper and laptop go hand in hand nicely.

I personally have to underline, write, rewrite, take notes in the margin and work with the text. I just have to. It is how I learn. Some would say — ok, tablet pc’s can do all that — but sometimes they run out of battery and even if they can, I need paper too.

But now that my virtual students have paper too — they can do much better on their essays, discussion boards, elluminate conferences, and everything electronic.

Yes, there is certainly waste! And the test prep materials are certainly a waste in my book — have a great curriculum and you’ll have a great test. So, I agree that there is lots of wasteful spending.

However, to get rid of all textbooks to force change is akin to cutting off a foot to get rid of the nail stuck in it.

And the great online curricular textbooks (which are being used by these virtual high schoolers) are marvelous — but it still doesn’t eliminate the need for something on paper.

I know, I tried to encourage the kids to go digital only and download on their jumpdrive for over a week as they floundered and tried to get a handle on what they were to do.

It changed my mind about 100% digital classroom.

I believe in engaging every single sense in teaching. And while we certainly buy way more paper than perhaps we should — I think the focus on eliminating paper is probably better suited to getting rid of the morning bulletin and sending it over e-mail than cutting out textbooks.

I use wikis and blogs and more but I have a paper textbook for EVERY class. I also have a book on CD for every class as well and give students the option to use either.

But the paper book goes hand in hand with what I do and serves as a starting point. A virtual starting gun in the race to acquire knowledge.

I just have to disagree on this one.

I would rather say — every teacher must be required to integrate multisensory technological tools in every course.

Call the moratorium on the exclusion of technology not on paper.

I am a radical for improving education, however, so many teachers get tired of the pendulum swinging back and forth in their administrations!

If it works — let it work and help it get better — improve it. Just remember, to totally eliminate all textbooks in all classes to all teachers in one year would be way too much for most teachers to handle (even me!)

Use good sense and build on the giants in teaching who have gone before us. Improve it with great new tools like wikis and blogs (see my post below on wikis) and make it better.

One reason that my school has done well is that when the pendulum swung and many got rid of what had worked for ages — phonics based learning and replaced it with whole language — we didn’t. We used whole language strategies in certain areas but stayed focused squarely on phonics and continue to have every child reading by the end of K5, particularly after adding a multisensory approach to learning in K3 and K4. Take what works and make it better. But throw out what doesn’t. Such radical moves aren’t good for a profession already in a lot of flux.

I think Wes has the right intentions, but I certainly hope that people think and test with pilot groups before making large scale sweeping decisions like this.

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11 thoughts on “I disagree with suspending the purchase of textbooks

  1. Vicki,
    I think the answer is somewhere in between where you and Wes are on this one. Two points:

    First, the enormous waste Wes talks about is undeniable. My district just adopted Everyday Math – huge costs, and they are apparently sticking with it for a while – even bigger costs.

    Second, we need to examine comfort levels – is the reason we choose something in the classroom because WE are comfortable with it, or because the KIDS are comfortable with it? When you lead with, “I am a visual learner and have to have a hard copy in my hands!”, hmmm… If kids are more comfortable with a better way or a different medium, then I think it is the teacher’s job to get right in there with those kids, and get comfortable with them.

    I understand your point about your older kids being what I call “tweeners”, but the young ones I teach in third grade are not. – Mark

  2. Hi, Vicki,
    You said,

    I personally have to underline, write, rewrite, take notes in the margin and work with the text. I just have to. It is how I learn.

    How do textbooks allow you to do that in the k-12 classroom? Students are not allowed to write in their books as they are reused from year to year.
    In any case, I think one point you are making is to offer choice of material representation – accessibility depends upon the learning style of each student and a textbook is by definition inaccessible to students with certain physical disabilities, visual impairments and some students with learning disabilities.
    Digital text is accessible because it is flexible and can be manipulated and customized for each student. In addition, it can be printed for those students who require “text in hand.”

  3. I’m not as familiar with K-12, but from a higher education perspective, it’s a large cost for professors who don’t go with a textbook – in that each year they may have to pay for the rights to use digital articles in class, or spend time copying and printing, or even checking links to make sure they haven’t gone bad over time. I’m not really taking a stand one way or the other in this comment – just offering another point of view.

  4. I think that electronic alternatives will organically evolve. Forcing the issue is not natural and therefore will not work.

    As a culture we physically write so little. Sending a handwritten letter is an act which is very personal and almost completely lost. Holding a book, marking a book, and saving a book are important for many learners. We must keep in mind that learning is not one-size-fits-all.

  5. Mark —

    Actually, I was personally FOR it until my four students with a variety of learning styles convinced me otherwise and now I see their validity — they do want a choice as Karen is alluding to.

    And perhaps people like me will have to live with our new learning disability when we are denied the paper we need.

    Mark — I don’t deny the waste — there is huge waste. But to eliminate textbooks is also the wrong answer.

    I believe that they can go hand in hand when used wisely. It is our job as teachers to differentiate instruction and provide a variety of learning modalities so that no one is left out!

  6. We abandoned maths Textbooks a few years ago. We felt that the time spent on everyone filling in the same answers to the same questions would be better spent on more “hands on” activities and writing about the learning that was happening in our Maths Journals. All students are better catered for rather than a “one size fits all” Maths Text.

  7. I’m interested in the fact that you’re able to get your text books as CDs as well, Vicki.
    I know in the past I’ve tried to find text books to recommend for students that have an e-alternative, but few seem to. I teach computing, so I’d have expected quite a lot to have the option. It’s also not really a case that I like to stick to a book that I know, to make it easier from year to year – as the books that we use are often updated, and I tend to change them quite a bit when I find a better one. (Like most University Lecturers, there isn’t a book that is ‘just right’ for a particular course, we have to have two or three to cover all the material)

    I’m not so familiar with the school level (under 18) publishing, but from what I’ve seen here in the UK, they don’t seem to have CD alternatives any more than books for University students.

  8. Kim-
    Perhaps this answer is different depending on the subject matter? Also, grade level I think makes a difference — third graders may not need textbooks as much as an AP level History course (such as my students have.)

    I just think a one-size-fits all has never worked because our kids aren’t one-size-fits all learners (nor are we.)

  9. I agree with finding a happy medium between electronic text and paper. I’m a teacher who is trying to implement a paperless classroom, but even I know the value of a good book. There’s nothing like the smell, the portability, and curling up on the bed with a favorite book. I barely use the textbooks in my classroom, but kids absolutely need to have books and write on paper from time to time.

  10. I am certainly in tune with Kim Pericles point of view here as student textbooks as I understand them have never been part of my classroom in 20 years of teaching. Teachers I know down under only use a textbook as a reference point and certainly not as a course of instruction, but a resource to be remixed and used strategically. Ban textbooks in the average Aussie school and you would hardly notice the difference. I think that maybe there are pedagogical differences in a textbook driven classroom – I don’t believe good teaching is scripted out of a book ever. Digital resources lend themselves more easily to the remixable customisation that Karen referred to. Of course, some digital textbook alternatives are just money spinning grabs for the education dollar in the same vein as traditional textbooks.

  11. Hi Vicki, this is a really interesting blog and one that has reminded me of the same discussion that I have had with myself. I am a kinesthetic learner and like you need to write and draw all over everything (I know – sounds visual – but trust me:)

    Anyway, after thinking that I could go for a completely virtual text book, I have discovered the kids need that happy medium. They are still learning the skills that we teachers have and sometimes a pen and with paper is easier to learn that skill with.

    SCAFFOLDING……. no less!!!!

    As for doing away for some text books – well some are so out of date and the new ones are soooooo expensive……!!!!!!!! However, I am reminded of the fact that when out students go to university – they will be studying from books and journals…. so why limit them to one source of literature retrival strategy, when as adults they will require many?

    Thanks for this blog Vicki, I think it helps us keep our feet on the ground.

    Lizz O’Hagan

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