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Frustrations #2 - My textbook is filled with static!

Teaching doesn't have to be full of frustrations! Amanda Robustelli-Price is back with advice on making sure your textbook is right for you.

Amanda Robustelli-Price is back with more advice on dealing with the frustrations of being a teacher.

Through my fifteen years in education, my thoughts on textbooks have evolved.  I now have a clear vision of what I am looking for in a textbook.  Here is my journey:

Student teaching:  The curriculum informs instruction, not the text

The forward-thinking district where I first taught had a unit-based curriculum and no textbook.  It was empowering to focus on student outcomes.  Simultaneously invigorating and overwhelming, my inexperience made me want something concrete when crafting my first lessons. 

First years in the classroom (the hopeful newbie):  Thank you, textbook

Even with the knowledge that the textbook is not the curriculum, I was ecstatic when presented with a series (which was selected before my arrival) that had many planning resources I could use to meet district goals.  There was:

- A dense teacher’s edition with teaching tips
- At least ten additional resources, for topics such as differentiation and communication
- More activities within the text than could be completed

Year five:  My textbook is filled with static

After I gained more experience and pedagogical skill, I realized that my textbook was filled with static.  “Static” is the word I use to explain that the textbook had too much useless information, a cluttered layout, and a lack of clear vision. It was like listening for the message in a radio program, but being unable to hear it because of background noise.  It took me a few years to make this discovery because, as a newbie, I thought feeling lost when planning was a result of inexperience.  I kept using the textbook for pacing and functions, and a few readings and activities, but began creating my own materials.  At this time, I saw my textbook as an outline and as an occasional source for student learning.

Year nine:  What can other textbooks offer?

Then in the role of department coordinator, I was thrilled to guide the department in selecting a new text for both Spanish and French.  Despite my own negative experiences with a text, I was still a believer in the importance of a shared resource to provide structure to classroom practice and a common language for teaching and learning.   My colleagues and I had the opportunity to analyze a number of offerings and to find what worked best for our district curriculum, teaching preferences, and students.    It was eye-opening to see the variety of features and exciting to cherry-pick the perfect one, especially with years of classroom practice as a focusing lens.  My vision for the what I was looking for in a textbook became clearer.

Education consultant:  Some textbooks are better than others

Now working as a consultant for world languages, I have analyzed a number of classroom resources in ways that I did not have time for when I was in the classroom, and have learned that some textbooks are significantly better than others.  Here is my vision for the best textbook:

The series should have:

- A focus on communication from the first page of every unit, meaningful use of the language, and activities tied to national standards,

- A research-based methodology with comprehensible input before production, with level-appropriate materials from authentic resources and speakers of the language

- Quality ancillaries that allow for personalization, and a focus on quality over quantity

- An online platform that provides streamlined opportunities for blended learning

Most importantly:  The series should not have static.  It should have a clear vision of student performance (authentic communication), with carefully crafted assignments and assessments, that make both the teacher and student excited about language learning and teaching.

The journey continues

After more than a decade in education, I still believe in the power and importance of the textbook, and look forward to continuing to my search for quality resources.   When picking textbooks in the future, I will ask more complex questions and be very particular in  my search for a text to enhance learning.  What is important to you when selecting a textbook as a classroom and department resource? 

In her ten years as a high school French teacher, Amanda worked as the department coordinator and presented numerous workshops.  Passionate about pedagogy and the effective use of technology, Amanda is now home with her son, stays connected through Twitter and professional organizations, and continues to work as a world language consultant.

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© Cambridge University Press 2014