Report from Louisiana: Ditch the Textbooks

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Report from Louisiana: Ditch the Textbooks

By: Pat Austin

SHREVE­PORT – Text­book? Or not text­book? With apolo­gies to William Shake­speare, that is the ques­tion in pub­lic education.

Some school dis­tricts are ditch­ing text­books; case in point, con­sider the Life Sci­ences Sec­ondary School in Man­hat­tan who threw away copies of math, sci­ence, and ELA texts as well as copies of Romeo and Juliet and A Street­car Named Desire in favor of new tech­nol­ogy and dig­i­tal learning.

It is a scene right out of Fahren­heit 451:

The rejects include stacks of “Camp­bell Biol­ogy” — a college-​level text which sells for $150 new — for­merly used by kids in Advanced Place­ment biol­ogy. Now the AP class has a cart of lap­tops, and stu­dents watch videos online.

Swan­son and Premo, who took the helm of the 616-​student joint mid­dle and high school in 2015, sent aides from class­room to class­room in Novem­ber to col­lect the books. Work­ers also emp­tied book stor­age clos­ets. Hun­dreds of tomes were tossed over the Thanks­giv­ing break.

They made an announce­ment that they were get­ting rid of the books because they were anti­quated and out­dated, and we should be using new tech­nol­ogy,” a teacher said. “I hid some of my books to pre­vent them being taken.”

Did you catch that last line? “I hid some of my books to pre­vent them from being taken.” I have done the exact same thing.

This is not an extreme sit­u­a­tion or a weird char­ter school going rogue. This is hap­pen­ing all over the coun­try and if it hasn’t hit your dis­trict yet, it will. It hap­pened in mine.

I teach in a pub­lic high school in which we aren’t allowed to use lit­er­a­ture text­books. They are no longer con­sid­ered top tier mate­ri­als. Instead, stu­dents are given hand­outs and work­sheets which are dupli­cated en masse in our dis­tricts resource department.

It’s all part of Com­mon Core.

Some school dis­tricts are rely­ing on iPads, Chrome­books, and com­put­ers to fill the void, but schools with­out that sort of tech­nol­ogy just use copies.

Com­mon Core advo­cates sing the praises of this:

For­tu­nately, teach­ing with­out a tra­di­tional text has had unin­tended ben­e­fits. It has forced teach­ers to unpack stan­dards and think delib­er­ately about what strate­gies can be used to teach both con­tent and prac­tice stan­dards. A sopho­more teacher who once taught ratios and pro­por­tions “by the book” was pushed to think about the pro­gres­sion of the stan­dards and even used the SAP Coher­ence Map to research how they are first intro­duced in sixth grade. Dur­ing a recent meet­ing, a teacher remarked, “Writ­ing my own ques­tions has made me under­stand what the kids really need to know. See­ing struc­ture in expres­sions is so much big­ger than I thought.”

More­over, we may think all of the chap­ters of a text­book are Com­mon Core-​aligned, but there are often top­ics that don’t attend to the Major Work of each grade. By ditch­ing the text­book, we have effec­tively let go of non-​aligned top­ics and opened up more time to focus in-​depth on the standards.

Cur­rent stud­ies show that stu­dents learn bet­ter from the printed, rather than dig­i­tal, word. Granted, the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion in schools have never known a non-​digital life. They’ve had dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy since they were born, but there still is some­thing to be said for quiet study with a text – one you can anno­tate, high­light, think about, refer back to. This just doesn’t hap­pen with a dig­i­tal text which is so tem­po­rary in nature.

And the printed copies, well, they’re just “hand­outs.” That’s how the stu­dent see them: worksheets.

There is so much wrong with all of this that there isn’t enough space here to get into it all, from the psy­chol­ogy of the tem­po­rary text to the manip­u­la­tion of big gov­ern­ment into my class­room. What about the costs? Is it cheaper to keep mak­ing copies every term for every stu­dent? Or is it more expen­sive? How fast does the tech­nol­ogy get out­dated and have to be updated? Upgraded? Main­tained? What about tech­nol­ogy inter­rup­tions? There is an entire field of sci­ence about how tech­nol­ogy has changed the hard-​wiring of our brains.

This line from the afore­men­tioned arti­cle both­ers me:

It has forced teach­ers to unpack stan­dards and think delib­er­ately about what strate­gies can be used to teach both con­tent and prac­tice standards.”

Get past the lingo: “unpack the stan­dards” and what you have is sort of insult­ing. We’re going to take away your text­books which you rely too heav­ily on and force you to think about your job.

Am I being too defen­sive? Per­haps. But as twenty-​three year teach­ing vet­eran I can tell you that these fads come and go every five years or so. This is the cur­rent new thing. Soon we will see the value in text­books again. We will dis­cover that read­ing only two chap­ters of The Great Gatsby rather than the entire novel has been a tragic mis­take. We will under­stand that kids need the printed word in their hand, in a book to take home, to prop­erly learn and syn­the­size material.

Wish­ful thinking.

All I know for sure right now is that pub­lic edu­ca­tion is in a dire, dan­ger­ous place. How we got to this point is no longer as impor­tant as fig­ur­ing out how to get back to solid ground.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreve­port. Fol­low her on Insta­gram at @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Textbook? Or not textbook?  With apologies to William Shakespeare, that is the question in public education.

Some school districts are ditching textbooks; case in point, consider the Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan who threw away copies of math, science, and ELA texts as well as copies of Romeo and Juliet and A Streetcar Named Desire in favor of new technology and digital learning.

It is a scene right out of Fahrenheit 451:

The rejects include stacks of “Campbell Biology” — a college-level text which sells for $150 new — formerly used by kids in Advanced Placement biology. Now the AP class has a cart of laptops, and students watch videos online.

Swanson and Premo, who took the helm of the 616-student joint middle and high school in 2015, sent aides from classroom to classroom in November to collect the books. Workers also emptied book storage closets. Hundreds of tomes were tossed over the Thanksgiving break.

“They made an announcement that they were getting rid of the books because they were antiquated and outdated, and we should be using new technology,” a teacher said. “I hid some of my books to prevent them being taken.”

Did you catch that last line?  “I hid some of my books to prevent them from being taken.”  I have done the exact same thing.

This is not an extreme situation or a weird charter school going rogue.  This is happening all over the country and if it hasn’t hit your district yet, it will.  It happened in mine.

I teach in a public high school in which we aren’t allowed to use literature textbooks.  They are no longer considered top tier materials.  Instead, students are given handouts and worksheets which are duplicated en masse in our districts resource department.

It’s all part of Common Core.

Some school districts are relying on iPads, Chromebooks, and computers to fill the void, but schools without that sort of technology just use copies.

Common Core advocates sing the praises of this:

Fortunately, teaching without a traditional text has had unintended benefits. It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards. A sophomore teacher who once taught ratios and proportions “by the book” was pushed to think about the progression of the standards and even used the SAP Coherence Map to research how they are first introduced in sixth grade. During a recent meeting, a teacher remarked, “Writing my own questions has made me understand what the kids really need to know. Seeing structure in expressions is so much bigger than I thought.”

Moreover, we may think all of the chapters of a textbook are Common Core-aligned, but there are often topics that don’t attend to the Major Work of each grade. By ditching the textbook, we have effectively let go of non-aligned topics and opened up more time to focus in-depth on the standards.

Current studies show that students learn better from the printed, rather than digital, word.  Granted, the current generation in schools have never known a non-digital life.  They’ve had digital technology since they were born, but there still is something to be said for quiet study with a text – one you can annotate, highlight, think about, refer back to.  This just doesn’t happen with a digital text which is so temporary in nature.

And the printed copies, well, they’re just “handouts.”  That’s how the student see them: worksheets.

There is so much wrong with all of this that there isn’t enough space here to get into it all, from the psychology of the temporary text to the manipulation of big government into my classroom.  What about the costs?  Is it cheaper to keep making copies every term for every student?  Or is it more expensive? How fast does the technology get outdated and have to be updated? Upgraded?  Maintained?  What about technology interruptions? There is an entire field of science about how technology has changed the hard-wiring of our brains.

This line from the aforementioned article bothers me:

“It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards.”

Get past the lingo: “unpack the standards” and what you have is sort of insulting.  We’re going to take away your textbooks which you rely too heavily on and force you to think about your job.

Am I being too defensive?  Perhaps.  But as twenty-three year teaching veteran I can tell you that these fads come and go every five years or so.  This is the current new thing.  Soon we will see the value in textbooks again.  We will discover that reading only two chapters of The Great Gatsby rather than the entire novel has been a tragic mistake.  We will understand that kids need the printed word in their hand, in a book to take home, to properly learn and synthesize material.

Wishful thinking.

All I know for sure right now is that public education is in a dire, dangerous place.  How we got to this point is no longer as important as figuring out how to get back to solid ground.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow her on Instagram at @patbecker25.