Tip 8: How to Use a Text You Didn’t Pick

Look for the text’s strengths.

No text is perfect, but (hopefully) every text has something good about it. Don’t be like the history teachers we used to have in middle school who would insist on going through the book page by page. I don’t think I ever learned anything in school about American history past the Civil War until I became a college history major.

Find what is good about the text and use it.

I had a text I did not like this last year. It had three redeeming features (in my opinion). One was an incredible set of graphics and the others were two good sections, one on art and one on advertising. As a class we began with the art section, used the graphics and their questions after that, and then went on to the advertising section. That was it. I didn’t use anything but the best from that text, even when it was fairly limited.

Look for the text’s weaknesses.

No text is perfect. Every text is going to have some flaw. You need to examine the text and see what flaws you find.

Be honest about what those flaws are. Tell the students. Model critical reading for them. It will encourage them to read critically as well. It will also encourage them to look at flaws even in their textbooks, the medium of received knowledge which until your class has been sacrosanct.

Avoid the weaknesses of the text as much as possible or, if it is not possible, point out the weakness and ask for the students to recommend some other way of doing the thing or some other article on the topic or … It gets them involved.

Don’t solely focus on the weaknesses though. Your department (or whoever) picked this book for a reason. Focus on the redeeming feature(s).

Teach to your strengths, whether the text goes there or not.

Sometimes we have to work with what we are given, but we can still find what we do well in that area and teach with it in mind.

Remember that the text is a tool.

The text is not supposed to be a bear trap that springs closed on your classroom and holds it still till it bleeds out. It is supposed to be a starting point, a jumping off point, a useful tool for your teaching. Use it; don’t let it abuse you.

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