To Textbook Or Not To Textbook?

I’ve always been reluctant to rely on textbooks when I teach. For many, the explanations aren’t quite right for my students. Frequently, there is just too much stuff going on visually, which can impact students with sensory issues, executive function deficits, or attention deficits. And can we say enough about how terrible the problems are?

For example, from the Chapter 8 Test in the 2001 Glencoe Geometry textbook, we have this very important real world problem:



Now, I admit that I am not a xylophone maker, or even acoustical engineer, but I’m pretty sure that there is not a single reason why a xylophone player or builder, in the course of their day, must name the shape on the top of the xylophone as a trapezoid. Now, this is just one example, and maybe a particularly bad example for this outdated textbook, although it’s always stood out to me. Many bloggers out there have written about “real world math”, and how the textbooks aren’t fooling kids into thinking this stuff is real. In fact, the one textbook that I have used that was very good with real world math applications was the COMAP Precalculus text that was discontinued for several years with only one edition. A second edition has just been released, which I’m hoping addresses some of the other problems with the text – not terribly thorough explanations of the math, and an assumption that the reader has remembered significant skills.

A lot of math teachers have migrated to PBL (Problem Based Learning), and there are some good resources out there. But my question, something that I wonder about, is this: Is there value in teaching students how to use a textbook? I know that part of my schooling involved learning what to look for in a text, how to analyze the material, take notes, and in essence learn the material whether I paid attention to the teacher or not. These were great skills for me to develop so that I can continue to learn independently, 20 years after finishing my undergraduate degree, and five years after finishing graduate school.

So I think that part of my reflection and planning goals this summer are going to be around incorporating the textbook better into my class. Step 1 is probably to get an updated textbook, though.


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