Warning: Think Alouds to Follow over the Next Few Months

This being my first full year in this position, there were some things that I have not yet experienced.  For one, the yearly construction of the high school course of studies.  Every year there is a race to beat the deadline for any changes we are making to what we offer to our high schoolers.  This year my departments are undergoing some significant change, and our course choices are expanding.  It was a rush, to be blunt.

We are adding AP Art History, History of Genocide/Holocaust Studies, Contemporary Issues, and Philosophy to the History Department.  We have completely overhauled our Visual Art classes to include more full year classes instead of semester courses, and we have added AP Art Studio as an option for our Juniors and Seniors.  We also made some changes to the prerequisites for our Music Theory students.

What does this all mean for me?  It means that I have no less than 11 new classes to coordinate the creation and curriculum writing for.  Truly, this is what I call an opportunity to create something dynamic, lasting, and important for the students in our district.  Hence the title of this post.  There will be heavy reliance on this network over the course of the next few months.  I know you are up for it.

Also, this means that there are fundamental questions that must be answered in December about classes that are (or are not depending on student choice) going to run in September.  The biggest of all of those questions is undoubtedly my budget.  Traditionally, when a course is created and curriculum is written textbook selection and review is a huge part of that process.  This article by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post on 12/15/08 spoke to an idea that has been bandied about the educational intertubes before: do we spend money on textbooks?

From the article:

In the classrooms I visit, it is often a good sign that the textbooks
are stacked on a corner bookshelf or window sill, gathering dust. The
best teachers have an ongoing conversation with their class, calling on
every student, challenging sloth, praising fresh ideas, moving the
group beyond the text, which covers only the state’s or the school’s
curricular requirements.


If teachers can write their own textbooks, why not students? It would
make a fine group project, with each kid doing a chapter. Debate the
fine points, put them on the Web and pass them around, irresistible
preparation for the final exam.

I look at the classes above, and aside from the AP classes, is there a need for a textual resource for every student?  Financially speaking, for the price of textbooks for one departments’ classes, I can purchase the “Internet accessing device of the moment” as well as subscriptions to any database on earth.  What I am going to struggle with is creating classes in that light with stakeholders that will not see the logic in leaving textbooks out of the equation.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be lurking on your posts looking for ways to gain access to teachers you know that are creating classes in this manner, that are, as Matthews described his history teacher, Mr. Ladendorff, using “our U.S. history text like a bull’s-eye on a firing range.”  This should be good.


3 thoughts on “Warning: Think Alouds to Follow over the Next Few Months

  1. Patrick-

    I too have wrestled with similar projects over the past several years. It is an exciting, but often conflcited project. While I too would love to see textbooks go the way of the slide rule and abacus, the issue we wrestle with is what I call the “political capital” of textbooks. Simply, does your community expect texts because that is what they used? The community elects your board, pays your school taxes, and influences your policies. With this being said, how would your community react if you suddenly got rid of texts? I think of some public reactions to the “new math” where parents have a hard time helping kids with homework. Would there be similar confusion/frustration if parents heard that there is no “formal” text to work from?

    Again, that is not the best reason NOT to go text-less, but in our positions, political capital is a reality to consider.

  2. Barry,

    As I wrote this post, I became acutely aware of my good fortune and that of my district. That we can have the conversation about whether or not we need textbooks in our classroom, rather than having the conversation over whether or not we even have textbooks, is a blessing. We need to count ourselves as fortunate there.

    That being said, the “political capital” of textbooks is a huge factor, and one that I will rail against for a while. One of the things we have done is to create online repositories of resources, interactives, and screencasts in areas where we can’t find textbooks that stay relevant long enough (our new technology courses, current events, etc.). Parents and students can gain access to that from home anytime they need refreshing on concepts or to see a problem stepped out in math.

    The reason for the post came as I was putting the ideas in their infant forms onto my “big paper.” Sites like HippoCampus make me wonder about the need for texts as we move forward; however, even as we speak, I still have classrooms with one machine in them and that machine is the teacher’s. Is not having a textbook feasible in that situation? Can we rely on photocopying?

    Or does this point to a new design of courses entirely? Perhaps one that is not based on the model that we know now?

  3. “Or does this point to a new design of courses entirely? Perhaps one that is not based on the model that we know now?”

    THAT is a conversation I would love to have over lunch or longer with you one of these days…..


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