Beyond the Textbook

The teachers I follow online aren’t the people that make Grand Statements on twitter or pithy comments meant to denigrate other educators while upping their own Brand. The teachers I follow are the ones who talk about what they’re doing, and why, and share the honest struggle to improve that is the heart of this profession.

I really like some of things I find through being a “connected educator”: the people I’ve met through various subject chats on twitter consistently sharing great resources and lesson ideas and really pushing to improve their craft, the people I’ve befriended on tumblr because their stories of overcoming the hard days as a teacher remind me that I can overcome, the bloggers I follow because they push me to think in new ways about myself, my students and our place in society. 

Some days, though, I need to disconnect and get away from the chest-puffers. Today, I was catching up on twitter and someone posted into a conversation on race and how WWII is taught about how textbooks are terrible and they prefer real books. Really? I mean, twitter’s not made for nuance, I get that. 140 characters is for quick thoughts. I tried to rant in reply but I doubt it made a difference. My main objection to this drive-by statement is that I, as a teacher, am working with limited resources. I’m not going to be able to get my district to buy a bunch of historical monographs for all my world history students. What I can do is use the textbook as a starting point while bringing in primary sources, articles and anything else I can find to complicate and expand on its version of history.

If you are critical of textbooks but stuck working with them, like me, here’s a suggestion of something actually useful you can do: look into the “opening up the textbook” lessons in the Reading Like a Historian curriculum. They do a really good job of showing how you can use the textbook you have as a starting place while still pushing students to think critically about its account of history. Plus, their lessons are available free online. I used to use them when I taught US history, and I’m really excited about the world history lessons they’ve been adding.

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