Textbooks – servants or masters?

Back in the 1990’s I co-authored a couple of textbooks for Standard Grade Physical Education. The process of writing a textbook was both challenging and rewarding. We based our approach on creating a resource which would complement the teaching process – not govern or lead it.  What fascinated me when I saw schools using the books was that we had on many occasions failed to achieve our objective, i.e. the resource often led the teaching process. 

This pattern of the textbook becoming the “bible” which locks the teacher into a particular way of approaching the content is repeated in many subjects where a selected text introduces, leads and influences generations of children in a particular subject.  The problem with this approach is that it effectively “de-skills” the teacher by locking them into delivering specific and singular learning experiences for children – as opposed to exploring and experimenting with alternative and, hopefully, more effective learning tasks.

I know that when we wrote our book we worked out quite imaginative ways of exploring various elements of the body of knowledge which consitututes physical education – much of this was based upon how we taught these things in our own schools. The problem with committing these practices to paper is that the natural progression of these practices stops – despite the fact that the author might have come up with a much better way of doing it a week later. Of course, the teacher using the textbook does not have access to these ideas and carries on implementing practice which is essentially out-of-date.

But it was during one of my recent visits to schools that I saw a teacher using textbooks in a much more imaginative and creative manner where she used the texbook as a tool – dipping in and and out, using one book here and another book there, knitting them together with her own insights and practices. 

So how do we break free from the tyranny of textbooks – these things, which at one and the same time lock us down and provide us with support? Perhaps the first stage is to explore how we use textbooks in conjunction with the learning tasks we set children. For too often the learning task we set is simply a “re-heated” version of the activity outlined in the textbook – as opposed to using our professional imagination.

This will be an area I Intend to explore throughout the coming session in my visits to schools.

2 thoughts on “Textbooks – servants or masters?

  1. I think the trend to embed interactive tasks and hyperlinks in textbooks, such as with the Heineman book Geography Matters (eg http://www.heinemann.co.uk/hotlinks/hotlinks.aspx?isbn=9780435355074) , or the use of innovative thinking style books such as David Leat’s “Thinking Through Geography”, (http://www.geoworld.co.uk/) together with the integrated Bitesize approach of text, web and TV clips offers some practical ways in which textbooks can be used more flexibly.

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