Textbooks vs Teachers

Discussion in 'General Education' started by EdEd, Jun 5, 2016.

  1. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Great new blog post from Tim Shanahan on the false dichotomy between textbooks (and, more broadly, things like scripted curricula) and teachers. The predominant trend in pubic discourse surrounding education lately seems to be very "either/or" - either charters or publics, textbooks or teachers, etc. I'm certainly not one to argue that "a little bit of everything" is always the right answer - indeed, there are often right and wrong choices when it comes to selecting ingredients for our educational recipes, but there often isn't just one right choice.

    Shanahan highlights that education is like a team sport, rather than what sometimes gets portrayed in movies/media such as Dead Poet's Society or other "teacher savior" films in which the plot pits teacher vs. system. He also highlights his own experience with the success rates of schools that have used vs not used textbooks, suggesting that there isn't an apparent correlation - neither ditching nor hitching to textbooks is a solution that breeds success. It's bigger than that.

    Check it out: http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/2016/06/how-can-you-support-basal-readers-when.html
     
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  3. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I have seen it all the time. Such and such textbook or program will help improve student scores, more IPADs, more this, more that. While there is some truth to using good materials, I can tell you it is the teacher that makes a difference. Parents realize this deep down too. Which do you hear among parent conversations, "I hope my child gets ______ for a teacher" or "I hope my child gets to use _____ for a textbook". I know I have worked with teachers that are so poor (fortunately not many) that the parents wanted to pull their children out of the school, the children were scared to come to school, and the other teachers were up in arms on all their hard work in the prior grade was leading to nearly nothing by a teacher who was verbally abusive and basically sat at their desk and texted on their cell phone.

    Other professions seem to understand this. In baseball which is more important to a team, the baseball player or the bat or glove he/she uses? In music, is it the violin or the violinist that makes the largest difference? Ever see a major league baseball team mandating what glove or baseball bat that must be used by their star players? Never.

    A good teacher will find ways to get to the best materials, but a poor teacher will use the easiest materials that are available such as canned programs that may or may not be beneficial. In the end, it is people that make the difference--teachers, principals, and the parents.
     
  4. gr3teacher

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    I have no patience for scripted curricula, but I think there are a multitude of approaches that would work in the right hands.
     
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  5. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    I tend to agree with this, however, I think most of the "teaching" is away from the ball, so to speak. It is the other parts of the classroom that determines most of the learning, IMO. Expectations, classroom culture, relationships...etc.
     
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  6. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I have heard parents discussing different teachers based on how they teach different subjects, especially when there is an ineffective teacher who may be kind and nice matched up with an effective teacher who is also kind and nice. Effective will always be the desired teacher. There is sometimes a difference when the effective teacher for academics is emotionally abusive. The parents will then pick the kind teacher over the effective one because they know the damage that can be done by the emotionally abusive teacher.

    The parents might not say they hope their child uses a particular textbook, but you can bet on it that part of the reason for parents wanting certain teachers is based one what they use to teach.
     
  7. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    I think we can discuss which particular variable contributes the most to student learning, but the initial point of my post was that we falsely dichotomize teachers vs. things like iPads, textbooks, etc. Why do we do this? Why are we insistent in it being either this OR that? Why are we insistent in finding a winner, rather than the right combination?

    To be sure, I think your post is partially in response to other educational initiatives that have emphasized other strategies (e.g., iPad in every classroom) over or at the expense of investing in teachers. However, someone has got to stop the inaccurate thinking of either/or, and I think that should be us.

    Let's be the ones to get back to advocating for teachers and great curricula, not teachers versus great curricula.
     
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  8. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I guess I have rarely seen the two pitted against each other. What I have seen in the last 10 years is that for profit curriculum companies (that would be all or nearly all curriculum companies) want you to believe that a teacher nomatter how experienced or inexperienced, nomatter how innovative or non-innovative, should do nothing but exactly follow their canned curriculum. The best teachers ignore this and choose to use textbooks and other curriculum materials only when they are the best source available. The reason is strictly financial. Why would a major publishing company want you to only purchase some of their products and get better ones free or at minimal cost online? Good resources are nice, but the teacher is the one that make the resources come alive.
     
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  9. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Scripted curricula have some great advantages, such as materials already prepared. They're also good for teachers who don't have the curriculum desig
    I don't buy into the "it's a for profit company so it must have the least best interest at heart" - there are plenty of companies throughout the history of the world that have charged a fair price for their goods or services, and contributed benefit to education and other community-based industries. Being a company isn't inherently evil, and if a company puts forth a product that 1) has evidence of working, and 2) is set at a fair price, the burden of proof would be on the accuser to establish why that product shouldn't be used. Simply being from a for-profit company isn't enough, and I believe is educational malpractice to do so - to deny your students use of all materials made by for-profit companies. (Side note - by your logic, anything created by a for-profit would fit into this category, from computers and educational software to novels, which are often published by for-profit publishing companies).

    In terms of scripted curricula, for-profit companies didn't come up with the idea. You can read textbooks from decades ago talk about the benefit of scripted curricula, and both the theory and research are clearly laid out. Scripted curricula certainly do have drawbacks (as does the idea of completely teacher-made curricula), but they have some benefits as well, from overall inclusion/exclusion of material, content sequencing, and efficiency.

    I don't fault your perspective that teachers with expertise in a subject matter can go off script - either modifying the content or creating their own. However, you've made a big leap by saying that scripted curricula are never helpful, were created by the hands of folks purely interested in financial gain, and come with an inherent message that teachers should "do nothing" but follow their "canned" curriculum.
     
  10. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Here is an anecdote that goes with this idea. The local elementary school used a particular textbook for spelling, but gave the teachers complete autonomy regarding how they wanted to teach spelling. Many worked together as a team, but some did not. One teacher decided she didn't like certain exercises in the spelling text. She would assign certain activities throughout the week and always skip the one that taught the patterns of the words. Since the school didn't really hit phonics except for beginning word sounds, students that needed to have instruction and practice with the patterns in words suffered. Upon speaking with an acquaintance who taught the same grade at another school, I asked why this section would be removed. She was shocked that that activity was the one left out because it was the only one in the entire chapter that was specific to teaching spelling. All of the rest were to help learn vocabulary (which is extremely important but doesn't do much to help with spelling for kids who need more instruction to notice the patterns).

    There are many times teachers do not understand the ramifications of removing or not using parts of a text and go on gut instinct instead of understanding the purpose of the activity or information in the text. I'm not advocating for blindly following anything, but in haste or lack of time, some just remove without thinking about the ramifications of the choices.
     
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  11. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    a2z I think that's a good analogy. A counter might be that if the teacher who removed the component had more expertise, she might not have done so, which supports the assertion that teachers who know what they're doing should be able to go reasonably off script/curriculum. That still doesn't address, of course, the need for some level of standardization as kids move from grade to grade and school to school, therefore needing some cross-classroom continuity & coordination.

    I'm sure we're on the same page here - I just don't want this conversation to inadvertently turn into a teacher quality discussion. There are some fantastic teachers that I believe can and do routinely make modifications to curricula based on in-depth knowledge and expertise about how instruction works. I want to be sure we're very clear on acknowledging that, as it sounds like readingrules12 is doing some great work in the classroom.
     
  12. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    .
     
  13. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    EdEd, I think you need to read my post again. I didn't say "scripted curricula are never helpful". Those are your words, not mine. I said "The best teachers ignore this and choose to use textbooks and other curriculum materials only when they are the best source available. Sometimes, a textbook or other scripted curriculum is the best source. My point is that usually teachers can do better if allowed to do so. This doesn't mean giving teachers a free reign and having admin. turning a blind eye to how subject matter is taught. While some teachers go above and beyond with the freedom given them, some teachers may use that freedom to not teach important information or do it in a poor or lazy way. This is shown a bit in a2zs post.

    As far as textbook companies being concerned about financial gain, I find them similar to other businesses. It doesn't make them good or bad. Profit is not a bad thing. I just know the text book sellers are usually paid at least partially on commission and often will try to sell a lot of unneeded items. The teacher needs to see what parts of a textbook are beneficial and which are not. Often many parts of curriculum materials are not even in the state's curriculum. (This is very true in Arizona as most of the textbooks bought are from out of state.)

    I can see we have very different opinions on scripted lessons. Let's agree to disagree. Please do not exaggerate and say I am against all scripted lessons. I use some textbooks and lessons straight from the book. I do believe that teachers should be allowed to go above and beyond a regular textbook in order to make their lessons more relevant, inspiring, and rigorous.
     
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  14. Peregrin5

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    I've been pushing our district to adopt a particular textbook (at least temporarily) because at its core it requires teachers to engage in good teaching and science practices (hands-on, modeling, experimentation). I regard the textbook as the bare minimum of what teachers should be teaching, so I've pushed this because it will bring up the teachers who are lagging behind up to speed with the science and engineering practices they'll be expected to use (and many are apprehensive about using) in their classrooms, bare minimum.

    But I personally wouldn't use everything from this curriculum. I have a lot of my own curriculum that I've developed. I might use a few things here or there, but I think what I personally have is better. This has confused some of my colleagues, because they see me pushing something like a canned curriculum and their experience with canned curriculum isn't good. They think I'm just being lazy and want curriculum given to me, but that's not the case. I just think it pushes forward a better bottom line.
     
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  15. EdEd

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    I don't think we have to agree to disagree - I think what you've said here makes sense. It sounds like I over-interpreted your comments earlier about scripted curricula. Reading more closely, it appears we're probably pretty similar - that scripted curricula can be helpful, but that very good teachers can adapt and otherwise modify the curricula to even better suite their students.

    In terms of companies, I think it's important to use a scalpel rather than hatchet, to borrow a phrase from previous election years. You brought up a valid point, however, that we should perhaps examine for-profit curricula a bit more closely because there is the propensity for greed to enter the equation.
     
  16. GPC0321

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    I convinced my P to purchase a set of books last year that specifically targets the skills and material my students will need in order to be successful on their state end-of-course test. My test (English II) is one of only three state tests that are used to determine whether or not our school is meeting performance standards. I've been given all of the English II classes and these texts/curriculum (highly scripted) in the hopes that I can miraculously transform the test scores. If this doesn't happen, in my P's words, "People are going to start asking him what's going on and why the scores are so low."

    So I've spent this year trudging through this text, dragging students whining and kicking the entire way. First semester scores improved by leaps and bounds over last year's (another teacher, before these new books), so the consensus is that I'm a miracle worker and the books are magical too. We'll see how this semester goes. Finished testing yesterday, but have yet to receive scores back.

    I know I'm a worse teacher with this new text and scripted curriculum. I mean, I try to go "off script" on occasion and insert fun activities, etc. But the bulk of my class is drudgery and "test prep" now. It doesn't make me feel like a good teacher, but if my test scores are high, the people who I work for think I'm a great teacher. It's completely bass-ackwards.
     
  17. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    So, what are they not learning now if you are a worse teacher because of the textbook?

    I'm always concerned when I read the phrase "test prep" because many times it means learning the state standards in order to apply them on the state test. Many times it is a different way of learning the standards and how to apply them. Other times it is re-doing tests over and over and over to memorize facts and processes opposed to the content and application.

    I wouldn't necessarily say it is bass-ackwards, but it is different than the mantra that learning is always fun and exciting and needs to be creative to happen.
     
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  18. EdEd

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    So I'd say that, if your instruction truly is worse, this is an example of a poorly selected textbook, not an argument against textbooks more broadly. It's also an example of prioritizing "test prep" (whatever that involves) over "quality" instruction (however you're defining that). The textbook didn't do this to you, you (broadly defined - yourself, your administration, your state, your government) chose to do it.
     
  19. 2ndTimeAround

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    Unfortunately, parents always wanting the effective teacher is not universally true. In fact, I've found that this is seldom the case. In my experience, parents want the teachers that their kids like, that are easy and that push their children the least. They want a teacher slack enough that their kids aren't held to high expectations but firm enough that their child isn't bullied or dreads being around classmates. Pretty much "give my child an A and make sure that he is protected from hurt feelings in your class." The teachers that get the most requests in my school (and the most Christmas presents from parents!) are the ones that give the most A's but get the lowest standardized test scores.
     
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  20. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I'll concede it isn't universally true.

    I've found the opposite. Parents want kind and effective teachers. Kids in my district tend to like the effective teachers better than the ones where they learn nothing and get As.
     
  21. GPC0321

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    It's hard to explain. I DO think they're learning, and when I say I'm not as good a teacher what I mean is my class isn't as creative and inspiring as it would be without that state test looming over us. I want my students to enjoy learning. I want them to be inspired to read and learn and think on their own. I'm not sure that's happening with the scripted books I'm using now.

    BUT, it's only my first year with the books. I chose them myself after much research specifically because I knew they were high quality and would steer me and my students towards success on that state test. They're very thorough with excellent and challenging reading selections, tons of close-reading questions, vocabulary strategy exercises, projects, etc. It's a good book. I guess I'm just feeling a bit penned in by it, especially when I start dreaming up my ideal class/lessons and how I wish I could teach.

    Hopefully I'll strike a balance. I had my students two years in a row (English I last year and now English II this year) and they noticed the difference in my class. And some of that was actually good because I do think my class is more rigorous with the new book. But I feel I lost some of the "fun" in my class for sure, and that's something my students always have valued.

    I guess I'll have to work hard to inject more fun into the humdrum. :)
     
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