Why bother with textbooks?

shutterstock_223458154I suppose that asking publishers whether they’re in favour of textbooks is a bit like asking turkeys what they think of Christmas.  Well – the opposite, really.  They’re going to be in favour.  No, really.  The clue’s in the trade – they get out of bed in the morning to publish books.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons for buying books though.  It’s worthwhile thinking through what these are (it is, after all, probably one of the most significant items of expenditure a subject team makes).

One of the reasons is to do with providing a complementary narrative.  As teachers we connect ideas in various ways but especially verbally.  We make links by describing and explaining.  We provide a thread that runs through a topic.  What if a student loses that thread though? Having a text book supports the teacher by ensuring the right text, the right question and the right illustrations are there to hand.  TV news readers read the news but there’s text and pictures there as well.  Books help to maintain the focus.

Secondly, good text books have a range of extra features in addition to the main text which enhance learning.  These are debated amongst the writing team and, once agreed, are systematically applied.  We walk a line here – too many added features and it’s hard to discern the core message (we end up with a Christmas tree – lots of eye catching items but a lack of substance).  On the other hand, we know from trialling features that well thought out ones are appreciated and used effectively.  Good use is made of questions, examples of applications and ways of checking progress.

Thirdly the text book is a definitive interpretation of the Awarding Organisation’s specification.  The little exam board logo on the front cover is not lightly awarded – it’s hard won and that’s as it should be.  Authors, editors and production staff have to convince examiners that the text covers everything that it needs to and doesn’t start wondering off into aspects or levels of details that aren’t required.

Publishers are well aware that you have a choice – it’s not only which publisher but whether you invest in sets of books at all.  The books produced are designed to be used by different teachers in different ways, but in the fervent belief that the outcome is a clearer picture, stronger features and an effective support structure in the hands of students.

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