Textbook VS Texts: Pros & Cons Of Using Them in Social Studies
Are you Team Textbook or Team Passages? Often, teachers are solidly in one camp or the other. There are solid reasons for using either one and also reasons to not use them. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.
At one point I was solidly anti-textbook and never even cracked them open. Since then, I have changed my mind on how I would use them with students. Even though there are some solid negatives to textbooks, they do have some benefits.
Pros Of Textbooks
Textbooks provide structure for students. This is especially helpful when students really don’t have much background information on the topic, which seems to be the case for 99% of students right now as far as history goes.
In many cases, textbooks are written to cover the state standards. Teachers can be sure they are meeting the content standards by using the textbook.
Let’s face it, a lot of students do not have strong executive functions. Organization is a weakness for many kids. If you have a textbook, it is much more difficult to lose than random copies of individual texts. Therefore, it can be easier for students (and Parents) to use as a reference.
Built-In Resources & Text Features
Unlike most texts, textbooks have resources, such as a glossary, maps, and index. They also include text features, like bold words and subtitles. These features can be very helpful for students, especially weaker readers.
Textbooks often include supplemental materials that teachers can use, including primary and secondary sources and assessments. Teachers can save time by having a one-stop-shop.
Many textbooks now include an online edition. Having an online edition that can be read to students is helpful for students with dyslexia, vision processing issues, and other learning issues.
Cons Of Textbooks
Honestly, no one is going to say how much they loved reading the textbook. They are often very dense and dull.
Breadth Not Depth
Part of the reason the textbooks are boring is that they have to cram everything into a reasonably-sized book. History gets skimmed over quickly, which means the attention-grabbing stories and facts are either skipped or put as a sidebar.
The readability of textbooks often doesn’t match the students’ reading skills. Nonfiction texts tend to be above students’ ability levels, and they struggle to comprehend and select the important information
Lack of Skills
Some textbooks overemphasize a few skills but leave out others. Teachers have to make sure they are teaching students the skills they need to succeed with higher-level social studies materials.
A big drawback to textbooks is bias. Any textbook will have some bias. After all, they are written by people, and people have biases. Some textbooks do try hard to eliminate bias, but some are clearly written from a particular point of view.
Now that we have examined the pros and cons of textbooks, let’s analyze texts. At one point, I only taught with text passages, and I still believe they are beneficial in a social studies classroom.
Pros of Text Passages
One of the biggest positives for passages is that teachers have more flexibility in what they do. Not reading from the giant textbook means you have more time to do centers, analyze art, hold debates, or read primary sources. Class becomes a lot more interesting.
Again, by removing the textbook from the center of instruction, teachers can develop lessons based on the needs and interests of the students in their class. Lessons can be more meaningful for students and meet them at their current ability level.
Depth Not Breadth
While teachers still need to cover the state standards, they have more time to explore specific topics in-depth when they curate passages for their class.
Although most textbooks try to include diverse viewpoints, they often feel like an add-on and are placed in sidenotes. Teachers who select texts can develop units where diversity is central to the lessons.
By exploring a variety of voices and resources, students can take a more active role in their history class. They become active historians, interpreting resources, instead of passive learners being told what happened. Students develop their own point-of-view of the time periods from the primary and secondary sources they analyze.
Cons Of Text Passages
The biggest drawback of using a passage-centered approach is that it takes a ton of time to create the units. When most teachers already hardly have time to do their duties, curating or creating student passages can be a time burden.
Teachers also have to make sure they are covering all the state standards and skills. If teachers are searching for passages, it can be difficult for them to ensure that they are covering history in an organized, cohesive manner.
Difficult to Find Texts
As much as teachers want to include diverse voices, it can be challenging to find texts that are both diverse and on a level that students can comprehend. Connecting back to time constraints, teachers often have to abridge the texts by selecting parts.
Primary sources are not reader-friendly. Many students today (and adults) struggle to read the fancy cursive writing that was used. Sometimes primary sources are also faded and hard to copy. Teachers may have to type them so that they are more legible. That can be a burden if a teacher has multiple preps and needs to create every lesson for every class.
In addition, depending on the resource, the passage may not have text features. Weaker readers may have more difficulty comprehending the passage without cues to help them unlock the meaning.
Easy to Lose
If teachers are solely using copies of passages, some students will always lose the work. Lots of copies always becomes a disaster for those students who struggle with organization.
If teachers are restricted on the number of copies they can print, using text passages can quickly add up.
As I previously stated, at one point I was convinced that textbooks weren’t worth using. They were too big and boring, and students were more engaged during other activities.
However, after helping my child with vision processing issues, I have definitely changed my mind. Now, I think a mix of textbooks and passages is better than an all-or-nothing approach.
Using the textbook provides a structure for students, and it gives them something to reference if they don’t understand something. That being said, I don’t believe they need to read the textbook cover-to-cover
Using textbooks as part of a flipped classroom can be very effective. Students can read the relevant pages in the textbook at home, and then the teacher can use activities that explore the content deeper during class.
I also believe new teachers (even if they are just new to the subject) should feel no shame in relying heavily on the textbook while they learn their content and develop lessons. Teachers do not have nearly enough planning time, and it is better to use the textbook than burn out trying to do it all.
Which do you prefer: textbooks, passages, or a mix?
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