Math Textbook or no Math Textbook?
I am nearing my 17th year of teaching and I’ve noticed more and more people jumping on the anti-textbook bandwagon. It’s a trend that I just don’t quite understand nor do I agree with. Why are we putting so much focus on getting rid of the use of textbooks when our focus should be on the learning? There are great teachers who teach from textbooks and great teachers who don’t. There are also ineffective teachers who teach from textbooks and ineffective teachers that don’t. The textbook isn’t what makes a great teacher great or a bad teacher bad. A textbook, like anything else we use, is just a tool.
I love teaching math and I absolutely love giving students rigorous and thoughtful problems. Problems that sometimes take 20-30 minutes each. The ones that get kids to talk to each other, to collaborate and to persevere. These problems are ones I rarely make up on my own. I have a multitude of resources I pull problems from and some of these resources are textbooks, however, a textbook will never drive my instruction. The needs of my students’ learning will always drive what happens in my class. The ability of what I do as a teacher is by far the most important aspect in what makes my students successful. A textbook doesn’t make my students successful nor does it make them unsuccessful. I know my standards, I align everything I do to those standards and most importantly I know my students. I know that what I give them for work is purposeful and when they practice these concepts, they are learning. The problems I have my students work through quite often come from a textbook. Everything I do comes from my choices as an educator who tries to do the absolute best job I can based on all of the knowledge I have learned in my career to help students love math and succeed.
I’m unsure where this anti-textbook push has come from and uncertain how the textbook itself has taken all of the blame. Quite possibly a textbook is looked at as being too traditional. We often remember our own math classes as being ones in which you would take notes from a teacher at the front of the board talking through examples as you feverishly wrote everything down in your notebook. Then you would go home and mimic those same examples done in class for homework. But why do we blame the textbook for this? Wouldn’t this be the choice of the pedagogy as a teacher? The textbook has very little to do with the success or failure of a class or student. The teacher does.
A textbook should only be a tool that is used to support a child’s learning. Using a textbook, however, should never be looked at as being a negative. It is only a tool. Just as math teachers use protractors, calculators, compasses, graph paper, a textbook is just another tool that students can use to learn. Learning should always the most important aspect of every decision made in the classroom. If using a textbook is a part of that learning, then that is wonderful! If using a textbook is not part of that learning, then that’s equally as wonderful. There are many amazing textbooks that have been published with rigorous examples for students to learn from. I have spent hours knowing my standards. I have worked tirelessly finding examples for students to practice and work through. I would be a fool to create all of my own examples when there are many great examples out there. I select every problem I give kids to further their learning based on the standards I teach. These problems are sometimes made by me, sometimes come from a textbook and sometimes come from a resource online.
Learning should always be at the forefront of everything I do. If my students are learning and achieving their goals, then it shouldn’t matter whether or not I am using a textbook. A textbook is not the most important thing in my class just as my videos are not the most important element in my flipped classroom but I do use multiple textbooks as a resource and I am not ashamed to say I do. I have found so many great problems to use that I pull from them. I have found activities, open-ended problems and numerous other resources than enhance my students learning. In the end, a great teacher will be a great teacher regardless if they use a textbook or not and an ineffective teacher will still be ineffective regardless if they use a textbook.