Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Textbooks in My Classroom

Over at From Behind the Teacher's Desk, Miss Fielding wonders how teachers use textbooks in their classrooms. I left her a comment saying I'd post a bit on that here.

First of all, science textbooks are a difficult read. Each paragraph is packed with new information, lengthy, hard-to-pronounce words, and subtleties of sentence-structure than can drastically change the meaning of the paragraph if misunderstood. For children reading on-grade-level, the textbook is tough; for kids reading below grade-level, it's dang near impossible. Personally, I don't want a kid to fail science because of a reading problem! At the same time, I want to do everything I can to help my students improve their reading skills and get used to comprehending textbook-style prose.

Here's what I do. Since I was in charge of spending our science budget, I decided that it was more important to me to have materials for labs and experiments than to have one textbook per kid. So, I ordered a "class set" of 30 books plus teacher's editions. The books are used as a reference. When I started using them, I did a couple of lessons with the kids where we read through a section together, taking notes one paragraph at a time. I explicitly taught the children how to use their textbook: what the different kinds of headings are for, how to refer to a diagram and read the caption, what the sidebars are for, where the glossary is located.

After two days on that section, I sent home photocopies of the same section plus a little more, plus questions. Since then, I have photocopied 1-2 page sections of the book that related to our classwork, and sent them home with questions attached. I always make up my own questions, which focus on the main points that I want them to learn, and also reinforce the "how to use the textbook" lessons from the beginning of the year. The questions included in the book tend to be too vague and cover too much material in too few questions. The next day, we go over the questions and I collect the homework and grade it.

The NYC curriculum is big on "accountable talk" this year (under the Klein/Bloomberg reforms) and I find these lessons a good opportunity to practice accountable talk: I often ask the students to justify their answers by pointing out the evidence in the text. This also helps students who did not get the right answer figure out what they missed.

I also use children's trade books for special projects: I go to the NY Public Library and take out all the kids books on a certain science topic, for example, reptiles and amphibians. Many of the books which look "babyish" for middle school actually contain a great deal of information, in language that the kids can understand, and written in an engaging style. They also love the pictures. My favorite author is Seymour Simon, who has dozens of books for kids on animals, the solar system, and other topics. I provide these for the children to use for research purposes. This year will be even easier, since I spent school money to purchase many of my favorite science children's books for our school library.

Hope these suggestions are useful for other teachers out there!


Blogger james said...

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Blogger Josh said...

I love this kind of article that you've done, especially if you're talking about experiments skills, because that one is my area, by the way you need more sources to talk about that with propriety as a sexual professional need Viagra Online to bring knowledge in any classroom. Well it's a silly example, I don't care what you think.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I absolutely agree with you! Texts especially for children must be as clear as possible.

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