Monday, September 16, 2013

Textbooks Alternatives and Despair


In my search fo better ways to teach I have challenged myself to teach this semester without textbooks. In my four classes I use no textbooks (although I do use two content books). Instead I use a series of freely available resources from professional organizations, libraries, YouTube etc. The idea was to tailor learning to students of the 21st century adapting to their media consumption behaviors. At the same time since all of my students aim to become elementary teachers this serve as a demonstration of a possible future in which education can choose a digital option that is not tied to one of the large curriculum companies.

As such I also imagined my role in the classroom changing from the authority on content to being the person who connects all the pieces to a meaningful schema.

A month in I have some neat mixed media in folders on LMS, I am happy enough with the resources. This is where despair kicks in. I spent a lot of time planning resources and approaches- putting items I think are really exceptional BUT when I try to get discussion going in my class I am met with blank stares. A quick check of student activity online shows that they are not consistently accessing the materials. Heck even materials students create for themselves and others as part of the learning are not really accessed...

This is where despair creeps in. The empty stares and quiz results tell me they are not consuming the media, that they do not know core ideas beyond what was discussed in class.

When I try and analyze why I have a few ideas. The first is that this is a new practice and students have been conditioned to consider online resources as somehow "lesser" or supplementary. Without a textbook class becomes the main event and without students being well versed it serves more like a lecture since they have no clue what I am talking about.
The second is that this is actually like textbooks that students often skip reading. While less dramatic this option is exactly one of the things I am trying to fight against.
The last options is that the materials lack a coherent structure and thus students are lost as they try to engage and they give up.

As I try these new ideas I am modeling to my students how one grapples with innovation and less than stellar outcomes so despair is not really a constructive option. Instead I will start an open discussion in class addressing my students as learners and teachers and hear what they think and suggest. I usually have an open conversation at the end of class when we know each other well, and I get some pretty honest feedback I use to redirect my class. This time it may worth trying to do so earlier, although I am facing the danger of collective negativity, that is the ability of one or two negative (but strong) personalities to influence events.

So, this thursday I will set chairs in a circle and be honest with my students hoping that they can learn from my mistakes... Deep breath.

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