As a teacher coach, I often get comments like this:

"I don't know how you can teach students without using a textbook or giving a lecture."   

This always gets me thinking, because not using a text or using lecture of any kind weren't conscious decisions on my part.  I didn't wake up one day and, in a grand epiphany of educational enlightenment, smack myself on the forehead and say, "My God!  I've got to stop hurting the children with that awful textbook and my boring PowerPoint lectures!" These are classroom practices that...well...just "happened" as my teaching evolved, influenced by professional development both personal and public.  

In fact, it's hard to imagine that I used to turn into a pile of gibbering teaching goo when I wandered away from my lecture notes for too long during my early years of teaching.  Lectures and worksheets were my safety net, what I turned to when I couldn't think of anything else to do.   Well, I no longer have that safety net-yet I feel perfectly safe.  (I will admit that being in a 1:1 computing environment helps, since my students all have the power of the resources on the internet in a small black rectangle on their desks.)

I don't know if I can tell anyone exactly how to teach sans textbook or lecturing, but I do know that I do it because it's what helps my students  make their own meaning, not conform to the meaning some textbook or myself puts into their heads.  I do it not because it's the latest educational fad or trend--I do it because it just makes sense.  It's what's good for my kids.  

What I can tell you is that it's not easy.  I really think it involves a fundamental shift in thinking about instructional planning, moving from planning for instruction to planning for learning.  It involves a shift from planning what the teacher will do (teacher-focused instruction) to planning for what students will do (student-focused instruction).  And some very careful thought and reflection needs to go into what students will do.  Some questions I usually ask while planning for learning are:
  • Do the learning activities foster learning for all students, challenging them at their current ability?  
  • Do the learning activities involve making connections between concepts and opportunities to make meaning?
  • Do the learning activities involve student creation of evidence of understanding?
  • Do the learning activities involve metacognitive/self-assessment strategies so students can learn when they have actually learned something, and to what level?
  • Do the learning activities involve students doing the work of learning?
  • Do the learning activities give students the opportunity to learn from failure?
  • Do the learning activities activate, develop, and build upon prior knowledge?
The results of those questions end up looking like any of the units you will find listed along the top of my class websites (this year I'm teaching Physical Science and Biology).  I'm not perfect (can we ever be?) at this, but I believe what I'm doing now is much better at involving students' brains in their own learning.  This type of planning doesn't allow for students to just mark time in your classroom.

One word of caution, however, if you do decide to ditch your textbook and lecturing ways--don't expect some parents or students to be overjoyed with this decision, especially those students who are really good at playing the game of school we have created.  My suggestion would be to gradually use your text/lecture less and less so that students have time to adjust to this new way of learning.  This is especially important if your students haven't had a lot of experience with nontraditional teaching methods or taking responsibility for their own learning.

Is this a lot of work?  Absolutely.  Is it worth it?  Definitely.  It allows me to get out of the way of my students' learning by setting up conditions for them to learn, not ways for me to teach.  Doing this, I get accused a lot of not teaching my students.  I always reply in this way: "Of course I'm not teaching them.  If I'm busy teaching, they're not busy doing any learning." 

Any other thoughts on the use of textbooks and/or lecture in the classroom?  Can they really be used to foster student learning?  Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

Also, for more information, you can check out the links below:


11/19/2011 18:57

Set up conditions for them to learn, not for me to teach - like that !

11/20/2011 15:46

Thanks! It's the best way I've found to describe what it is that I do (in contrast to what I did when I first started teaching).

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