Monday, September 14, 2009

To Book or Not To Book

A recent post at Joe Paprocki's catechist blog prompted me to think about my use of the textbook & workbook in my 6th grade class. As I mentioned in an earlier post, 30-Step Program, our texbook is designed for a 180-day schoolyear, not a 30-night schedule. So there's way more stuff in the book than we can deal with.

The first year I had the kids take the book home to read the next chapter and also bring it to class. That didn't work: not enough kids brought the book to class. Plus, those that did used the book as a toy when I wanted them listening and participating in discussion. And there were times I'd ask a question, and the kids would go to the book instead of their brains: no looking in the book! Shut those books! I already know what the book thinks, I read the chapter. I want to know what you think! And of course, anyone seeing the chapter for the first time in class is confronted by a week's worth of information, not an evening's worth. 11-year-olds weren't managing that well, regardless.

Likewise with the workbook: doodling, looking at pictures, flipping pages, whatever. And the time spent distributing and recovering pencils and workbooks cut into classtime. The workbook questions were good though, but the friction costs of using the actual workbook itself were high.

So in the second year, I kept the same deal on the textbook (home & class), but the kids never saw the workbooks. Instead, I blended some workbook questions into the lesson plan. That worked, but the textbook problems remained. More learning was lost through the book's misuse as a distraction and a crutch than was gained through its use as a resource. Plus, the kids that had read the chapter were peeved that other kids would just scan the book quickly for a correct answer without really trying to learn anything.

In year three then, this was the deal:

1. The textbook & workbook stay home.

2. Read the chapter before you come to class, it won't take 5 minutes, and then you'll like class better.

3. If I find out you didn't read the chapter, you don't get to ask any questions (which can be a big part of the discussion), and only get to answer my questions after kids who did read it have a chance to answer. Generally the kids who have the most to say are least likely to read the chapter. They chafe in class if their participation is truncated, and will typically announce the next week that they indeed read the chapter this time.

This will be my sixth year of teaching 6th graders; I don't expect to change the book policy. I imagine that for older kids, using the books in class might work out fine; or even for younger kids, I just have no experience with either group.
PS See that? That's my class!