Text books: taking advantage of them, what not to do with them, and going beyond them.

[Some of this is a compilation of previous disparate posts.]
Sometimes we as teachers do not get to pick the textbooks. We don’t always like the ones that are chosen. So, when it is not our choice of text, what do we need to do?

What should we do with the text?

Use it. The students paid money for the book. Make sure it is integrated somehow into your classroom. Even if you didn’t choose the book and don’t like it particularly, there ought to be at least one section or one feature that you can take advantage of.

The book was chosen by someone in your department for a reason. Even if it wouldn’t have been your choice, there has to be redeeming features. Find them. Use them.

Then, when the work in the text is finished, let the students know they can go sell it back. That way, if the text is being used again, their texts will be purchased.

Do take advantage of the text you have.

There’s an old song “do what you do, do well.” I would modify this to “what you do well, do.” And you can use the text to help you with that.

What if my strengths aren’t supported in the text?

The texts I’ve usually taught from do not have case studies. That’s okay. I find them and supplement the text that way.

These stories make my teaching stronger because I am using my strengths to help my teaching.

I don’t know what your strengths are, but I am sure you have them. Use them in your classroom.

You can’t always ignore something because it isn’t your strength though.

I have found that the best thing for me to do is use the text when I can to shore up my weaknesses.

There may be things that are done well in the text that you don’t do as well in on your own. Use the text to help.

When I am talking about controversial issues, I don’t always remember what the best arguments are for both sides. But one of the texts I was required to use had readings that were in pairs: one for, one against. We would read those essays and, using them, begin a classroom discussion of the pros and cons of the issue.

It was a good use of the text (Tip 8 ) and it helped me do well at something that is one of my weaknesses.

Tip 3 also has a discussion on doing what you love.

What not to do with it

Don’t use the textbook as your lecture notes.

Your lectures should be more complete or, at least, different from the textbook. Do not use the textbook without supplementation. This doesn’t mean that you have to lecture, just use an activity or a project or an assignment that isn’t covered in the book.

I usually use the book, in a composition class, to introduce the basics. I hit the highlights in the book and make sure the students know that if they did not understand a portion of it, they can go back and read later. Then I introduce my assignments with handouts I have created or been given by others.

If you simply read the text, as I had teachers do, the students are wasting their money.

Don’t assign it as extraneous material. Make it an integral part of your course.

I have also had professors who assigned the book as a reading assignment and never discussed the information covered in the text. I figured that meant they hadn’t had a choice and were giving it to me to read so they wouldn’t be in trouble for not using it. I hated it.

If you have a textbook that you don’t love, find the best parts of it and integrate those into your syllabus. Use the text. Someone, at one time, went to a lot of trouble to put it together. And someone in your department thought it was worthwhile to use. And, most importantly for your students, they had to pay for that book, often more than $100 for a sometimes fairly simple text that has been out for twenty years. We don’t want our students to feel that our class is a waste. Let’s not give them an indication that the textbook is.

Don’t use only the text.

Find an angle that you can add.

It is all too easy to find the text, offer the info in the text, do the writing assignments in the text, and nothing else. The text is supposed to offer the students something amazing. (They’re paying $100+ for it after all.) But it shouldn’t be all there is. If they could just read the text, then you aren’t adding anything to the course.

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