Monday, 4 December 2017

The Great Textbook Battle

Last week I attended I attended the Policy Exchange event hosted by John Blake and featuring Nick Gibb, Emma Lennard, Robert Orme and Robert Peal. The event has been widely reported already (TES - Nick Gibb: 'Teachers will lead the move back to textbooks'). I am a textbook writer myself (GCSE and KS3 RE) and I realise the value of a good textbook, and want all my students to have access to one.

18 arguments for the use of textbooks in schools:

  • Knowledge has already been fact checked - rather than relying on Wikipedia on a Sunday evening
  • Knowledge is carefully sequenced - enabling students to successfully develop schema
  • Environmental impact is lessened - photocopying is often wasteful in schools, costs can be similar, if not less for textbooks over a number of years
  • Workload - Using a textbook rather than producing a resource from scratch is hugely time saving
  • Literacy - Students should be reading books; reading is good 
  • Differentiation - A well planned and constructed textbook can aid with differentiation not hinder it 
  • "DBPP" - Death by PowerPoint - Why do teachers spend hours typing up a textbook into a PowerPoint?
  • Tech Issues - Wifi not working, iPads not charged, Student X has downloaded Angry Birds...
  • A launchpad - To further reading, to carefully constructed activities... they do not kill creativity.
  • Social leveller - Geographical areas that struggle to get specialist teachers do not disadvantage students. 
  • Non-specialist areas - Even a history specialist may not be a specialist in all areas of History in new National Curriculum, or an RE teacher in all religions. 
  • Primary education - Is it possible to be an expert in all areas of curriculum?
  • Standards / Quality - How many lessons does a teacher deliver that are okay, but not brilliant?
  • Student preference - Many students prefer actual books rather eBooks
  • Student learning - Students appear to comprehend more, and remain more focused with actual book rather than digital resources
  • Academic study - A good textbook will cultivate a student and introduce them to more academic and rigorous content - rather than Horrible History approach. 
  • Copyright - Has already been sorted rather than resources 'nicked' from all over.
  • Resource sharing - If teachers are using the same textbooks, resources can be shared with ease. Some textbook writers have shared their accompanying lessons resources for free.

Some issues to overcome:
  • Some current GCSE / A Level books have been rushed due to speed of reforms - corrections can be made, but not helpful for schools who already have class sets.
  • Some are prohibitively expensive - schools need to carefully work out how to deploy funds, and budget accordingly. 
  • A culture (high stakes / accountability?) where there is a huge demand for board specific / exam focused / 'endorsed' textbooks - which naturally go out of date. 
  • Why...
    • Are teachers who use textbooks considered lazy? ("Just one page ahead")
    • Are (newer) teachers often actively discouraged from using them by colleagues?
    • Do many claim they "kill creativity"?
    • Do some refuse to even consider there could be good textbooks and dismiss them all?
    • Should we refuse to even look at international systems that successfully deploy textbooks?
If the problem is quality, let's write them. I have been fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to do just this. If this could reduce workload, and help ease recruitment and retention problems, surely it must be considered? 

Of course, no one knows your class like you do, but for how long can you make everything from scratch? Will the profession consider the evidence presented to us, or will we simply reject the idea because Nick Gibb said it?

Related blog: The Life of a Textbook Writer

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