Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, April 5, 2010

Make your own Textbook

How many teachers would like to make their own textbook for their class? I think I’d see every hand go up in a room of teachers were I to ask this question. There have been publishers in the past who would print textbooks for teachers, but they have disappeared. Textbooks have always provided some controversy, but the topic has reawakened with a renewed vengeance as the national curriculum noise is getting louder and the din of textbook selections that always begin in Texas move to other states and more prevalence.

I have always found collecting different texts from publishers or even second hand texts from the street vendors have served me well. In the days when I went to conferences, the last day was spent going from publisher to publisher picking up those textbooks I had noticed and asked for a copy, which they gave me gladly instead of having to cart them back with them. It also suggested a possible sale. I would use my Fair Use credentials as I’d copy selected pages for use in class. I used many texts, newspapers, and magazine selections in my class to provide the texts for the lessons. No textbook company of any size could provide me this service.

Now as the technology entered my classroom, I used the digits to provide me my texts, not the atoms. I’d have the scholars spend a day typing in the digits from the atoms and then I’d reassemble those packets of digits into presentable lessons of text, questions, responses, and comments. That was in the mid 80’s with my CAI software. Slowly over those years, before the WWW, I’d convert my atoms to digits and begin to assemble my own digital textbook, I still use today. That software delivered the readings I wanted, it would provide the interaction of question and answer, administer a quiz and then lead to an essay done in a word processing program. As the technology advanced, I was able to scan in text that I couldn’t find on the Internet in a public domain library. Then the WWW became and the days of the textbook were not only numbered but gone. They didn’t know it then, but I think they do now.

Teachers don’t need textbooks made of atoms anymore. They just cling to them out of habit and deferment to others. Teachers have been taught to doubt themselves. We have been told that we are not worthy, capable, or smart enough to devise our own lessons. We must acquiesce to the higher authority of the textbook company. As we watch the Internet grow and as we become more accustomed to it, and as the older atom reliant teachers retire and the digital teachers emerge, we will see a new age of textbook creation. We are already seeing hints of it from web quests to online syllawebs.

Textbook companies can’t possibly provide me the textbook I need for my class. My textbook is multimedia. I assemble much of it. I cobble it together from bits and pieces I collect from the Internet. My lessons are based on a theme like a literary term, metaphor, satire, irony, and so on. I may latch on to a theme of civil rights, choice, or friendship. My lessons are projects that use many genres like short stories, poems, essays, articles, or a video. These lessons are differentiated as I present them as text with an audio or video clip to accompany them. All of this is digitized and collected in my online textbook and presented in my syllaweb. The beauty of this digitized textbook is that I can constantly tweak it, add to it, and adjust it as needed from class to class, year to year. If I see a mistake, I can fix it and merely have the scholars refresh their page. During the lesson, I may discover another resource from current events and add it to the lesson to provide even more relevance to the lesson. I particularly like it when a speech is made or a timely article appears in print so I can add a link to those digits from my syllaweb. I’m using the current events to help me link back to the past as represented by the classic literature available online in digital form rather than in the atoms of a bulky and costly textbook. Over the years I have found it is useful to use a current text to segue back to a past text. The past has little connection to my scholars. They need a way back, a connection; otherwise it is an untethered piece of information. I want them to make the text to self connection on their own, then it sticks; rather than one made by me, which won’t stick.

I know many online teachers who have made wonderful lessons or resources. I am constantly borrowing their lessons or resource to augment my own just as mine are borrowed. Education is a community oriented and driven enterprise, not a textbook driven environment. I’m sorry to see that educational reform is still missing the mark as it relies on textbook companies and their lobbying money to drive educational policy and as the politicians continue to rely on them for advice. I’m also not sure about the heavy reliance on college professors who bamboozle us with their voodoo research. They after all must publish or perish. Are they really concerned with us or more with their own careers? In one book they advocate the current political educational policy and then in the next another one to reflect current trends. They are mouthpieces. I find roaming the Internet in search of lessons and material for my own class, I find more reliable and honest resources form other teachers who are in the classroom and testing the material they create and use. When I can find the work of the scholars to accompany those lessons, I know I have found a treasure trove because now I have the product of the lesson to test its veracity. This is how education should work.

In some countries teachers’ heads are cut off, tongues are ripped out, or simply killed for teaching the youth things the government does not want taught. Socrates is always a good example. Tyrannical leaders in our time are other good examples. In America we are simply ignored until it is time to blame someone for our educational woes. Personally I ignore them and forge on in my own digital way as the master of my own classroom. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Make your own textbook online.

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