Based on the plans that I was writing out yesterday for the next quarter (yes, I know that this doesn’t make me an “innovative educator,” but I tend to plan the elements of my course in advance), I realized that I can come in to work on Monday and tell my advanced class that they can bring in their textbooks and sign them back in.
Sounds kind of a mundane set of instructions, right? But let’s keep in mind that it’s the end of January. We are barely into the second semester of the school year and the “bring in your textbooks and sign them back in” announcement is what you often hear in May. But as I have been sketching out plans for the third and fourth quarters, I’ve noticed that I’m simply not going to need the English textbook for the remainder of the year. So why have it at home?
English textbooks have always perplexed me. While I know I shouldn’t make the mistake of comparing my current students’ experience with my own, I can’t help but think back and remember what I actually did in my own high school English classes. Now, I’d had “reading books” when I was in elementary school–in fact, I wrote a whole post about them on my other blog back in 2011–and they had vocabulary and grammar worksheets that went along with them, and I remember actually having an “English” text in junior high, but I don’t remember using it for more than grammar exercises. When I got to high school, though, there wasn’t a set of textbooks that I remember filling out forms for every year, unless you counted the Sadlier-Oxford vocabulary books we used from ninth to eleventh grade.
No, English when I was in high school was simply novels and plays, starting with Great Expectations with Mr. Valenti freshman year and ending with Ordinary People senior year (which may or may not be true. I remember that Great Expectations was the very first book I read in high school, but my mind’s cloudy on the last one). My teachers would hand out the book along with the Sayville High School “book loan card” that we filled out and were kept on file, and we’d be told that we had to read part of the book or the entire book by a certain date.
That’s kind of how I work things with my advanced sophomores. I give out a copy of whatever we’re reading as well as a schedule of when we’re discussing what (as much as I can, anyway) and reiterate my expectation that they come to class prepared each day. Most of the material, however, isn’t from our textbook and instead comes via individual copies of novels or plays, or things I have found in various anthologies or from websites that I have photocopied. The textbook does come into play for a random poem or story here and there, and all of my sophomores read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which can be found there, but beyond that I have to ask: why is the book there?
Okay, I know why it’s there or at least how it got there. Years before I started teaching at my current high school, there was a textbook adoption process and whomever was in charge at the time chose the McDougal Littel text, with all of its ancillary exercise books and test prep materials. In another district I once taught in, the winning company was Pearson-Prentice Hall. And while those ancillary exercise books have been great for stuff like sub work, I can’t say that it would make a difference in my work.
So do we even need textbooks in English class? Read the rest of this entry »