Giving Textbook Activities a Purpose

Not every activity in a textbook is awful.  And sometimes, with just a small tweak, they can be pretty darn good.

The Tweak

So my friend Lewie (You know Lewie, right? Everyone knows Lewie!) Lewie has been talking a lot about giving a real purpose to student communication.  I took this idea and tweaked the “interview your partner” activities from the textbook.  First, at the beginning of a unit, students choose partners using stickies.  When I say “interview your partner” activity, I mean the ones where there are questions like Take turns answering and asking these questions –“What time do you get up?  Who does the cooking in your family? Are you nice or mean?  Do you prefer peas or carrots?” These are generally decent questions.  When I get to this type of activity (provided the questions are actually decent), I have students switch from their normal partners to one of the partners on their stickies.  Usually when I do this, I make them say, “Goodbye” and something goofy like “I’ll be back- don’t cry partner.”  It’s funny that’s why I do that.  I like funny.

Once they get to their temporary partner, I give them the purpose, “You are going to interview your partner, BUT you have to be prepared to tell your normal partner at least X number of things that you learned about your temporary partner.”  Then after 5-10 minutes of talking, they go back to their normal partner and tell him/her X number of things they learned about their temporary partner.

Tweaking It More

You could take this further by having students interview multiple partners and reporting back.  You could also have the normal partners compare answers about their partners and report back about that.  (Both our partners prefer peas.  Neither of our partners like carrots.  Our partners said, blah blah blah.)  I haven’t done that.  I’ve just asked them to share out about their temporary partners.  What I’ve found is that students listen more intently to their temporary partners when they know they are going to be held accountable for what they hear.

So simple and a students have a purpose for the conversation.

 

Why I’m not ready to ditch my textbook, yet.

This summer at ISTE I won a free copy of “Ditch that Textbook” by Matt Miller.  I’d heard about this movement of course, so I was interested in reading the book.  After much reflection I’ve decided that I’m not ready to ditch my textbook and here’s why:

I want the extra resources.  I teach at the community college and I’ve got essentially 15 weeks to get students from nothing to novice mid or high?  I can’t do everything in class.  I’ve been focusing on oral proficiency in class and letting the writing be done at home.  The textbook we have has an online component that corrects their homework with immediate feedback. The textbook also has videos, flashcards, and other practice activities that students can do on their own.  I don’t have the time or the motivation to create that amount of resources for students who might want them.  That portion is 1000 times better than anything I could create on my own.

I like my textbook.  I had a textbook before that the department had agreed upon and I spent a significant part of my time writing angry notes in the margin about how awful the textbook was.  I couldn’t figure out how to make that textbook flow or useful.  I felt sorry students were expected to spend money on that crap.  I would get disgruntled and agitated every time I went to plan because it was so awful.  Even thinking about it right now is making my blood pressure go up.  At the end of the last semester we used it, I literally tore out the pages and threw them in a fire.  I hated that textbook and I ditched it as much as I could while keeping with department policy.

I don’t teach from the textbook.  I’ve tried to always use the textbook as a resource instead of The Only Resource.  And this textbook uses a flow that I find easy to adapt.  In any one lesson I’ve got #authres, videos, and a multitude of activities that don’t involve the textbook.  Most of the activities in the textbook I will tweak so that they are more communicative.  And I think I do a pretty good job of doing it.

I don’t know that everyone agrees with me.  I’m also reluctant to give up my textbook entirely because I don’t know where these students are going after me.  It’s all fine to use proficiency based grading and no textbook if everyone has agreed on that, but if my students leave me and go on to an instructor who does not hold that same philosophy they could be at a disadvantage.  I want to provide the maximum amount of proficiency within a generally accepted structure.

I don’t use one method exclusively to teach.  I’ve always tried to have a variety of methods and activities to deliver content.  I do TPRS.  I do partner activities.  I do group activities.  I incorporate technology.  I talk about grammar.  I don’t talk about grammar.  I write out verb charts.  I correct errors by recasting.  I correct errors explicitly.  I do all of this because one method won’t work for every student.  The textbook is one way to deliver content.

I don’t have one tool in my toolbox.  To me a textbook is just one tool in my professional toolbox and I’m not ready to put it in the discard pile yet. At least for right now, I’ve decided to continue to exploit the resources the textbook offers while adding in the authentic resources and CI that I know I can do as a teacher.

And that’s ok.