students stand in long lines to buy their expensive textbooks, bring them
home, then spend the rest of the semester avoiding reading them. If we
asked most students, they would probably rather choose to use their textbook
to prop up a wobbly table or balance on their head to practice their posture
or whomp a passing spider -- anything but open and read!
A common complaint
made by teachers is the number of students who obviously do not do their
reading or, if they do read, clearly are not understanding or remembering
the material. This topic will discuss some of the issues regarding textbooks
-- selecting them, using difficult ones and some examples of assignments
based on them.
If you have the option of choosing the
textbook to use for your course, I recommend the following strategy:
- Gather as many books from which to
choose as possible. Some sources might be from textbook companies, who
are more than happy to send you desk copies for examination; fellow
teachers, who have books they have chosen for various reasons; or local
bookstores, who might have books that are applicable as well.
- Make a list of content criteria that
you have for your course text. What are the areas of content that are
absolutely necessary for your course? What are areas that you could
easily supplement if necessary?
- Next, go through the books only looking
at the content. Immediately eliminate all of the books that do not cover
your minimum content needs. The remaining books should cover the material
necessary for your course.
- With the remaining books, select the
one that is the most reader-friendly for your students. You might consider
- What is the readability level of the text?
- How difficult or easy is it for your students
to read? In general, how complex are the sentences and how difficult
are the vocabulary words?
- See the next section for how to do a general
readability assessment of the text
- How "reader friendly" is the text?
- What is the overall organization of the
text (chronological, categorical, etc.)?
- Are the sections and chapters organized
- What is the overall organization of the
- Does the author use headings and subheadings
that clearly reflect the information presented?
- What are the learning features in the text?
- Are there chapter previews, summaries,
review questions, etc?
- Does the book have a glossary, index, appendix,
- How does the text look visually ?
- Are there engaging photographs, charts,
- Is there space in the margins in which
students can annotate or is it too dense for notetaking?
- How is vocabulary handled in the text?
- Are new words written in bold or color or
noted in the margins?
- Is there a glossary? Are new words listed
at the end of each chapter?
- How does the book represent diverse cultures,
races, ethnicities, languages, abilities, genders, etc.? This might
be reflected in the content or visuals.
- Extra Features
- Does the book come packaged with a dictionary
or Internet website for the students?
- If you are still debating between texts
that seem equal, consider choosing the one that is the lower-priced.
Using Difficult Texts
If you must use a text that you know
is difficult reading for your students, this section will discuss ways
to assist your students with their assignments.
- How difficult is my text?
While there is some controversy regarding "readability" scales,
you might find it helpful to do a simple estimated readability analysis
in order get a general idea of the reading level of your textbook. (Please
be aware, though, that there are many other components that make a text
more or less difficult than sentence length and syllables.)
Here are two methods you can use
to get a quick estimate of a readability level of your textbook:
- Microsoft Word
- Believe it or not, if you go to "tools",
then "preferences", select "spelling and grammar"
and check off "show readability statistics" Word will
calculate the estimated readability of a text.
After setting up the step
I just listed, type in 100 words of your text. Then, under
"tools" select "spelling and grammar."
Word will take you through a spelling and grammar check. When
the check is complete, Word will display an estimated readability
score of the text.
I recommend doing this three
times for your text, taking a 100 word passage from the beginning,
middle and end of the book, then averaging the estimated reading
level Word displays.
- The Fry Readability Formula
- Select three 100 word passages
from the beginning, middle and end of the book.
- Count the total number of
sentences from each and average them.
- Count the total number of
syllables from each and average them.
- Plot the results on the following
graph for your text's estimated readability.
- Teach your students specific reading strategies
for approaching your course's textbook.
Please see the ReQuest, SQ3R and REAP strategies
discussed in detail in the Reading Strategies section of DREAM.
Assignments for your Textbook Readings
I like to use the following types of
assignments because they help make students accountable for their reading
and follow the three stages of the reading process (before reading,
during reading, and after reading).
Note: Each of these assignments requires
- Outline of the chapter
- I teach students to create a formal outline
of the chapter using the headings, subheadings and sub-subheadings
of the textbook. Students write a brief summary of each section
after they read it.
- To build on the preview, read, review concept,
you can have your students create the skeleton of the outline
in a preview, then go back to fill in the summaries in each section
as part of the read, then review and re-read all their notes of
- As further motivation, I give a quiz on the
chapter at the beginning of class. Students may use their notes
while taking the quiz but not their textbooks. The quality of
their notetaking usually improves dramatically after students
understand their usefulness.
- Regarding the grading of these assignments,
I quickly scan over the outlines and check them off with a score
of 4, 3, 2 or 1. As an assessment tool, it is terrific because
it is very difficult for a student to make an outline of something
she doesn't understand. When reading over the outlines, you will
easily see the students who are having great difficulty understanding
- Concept Map, Timeline, or Summary of the Chapter
These can be used as options to
the outline assignment or to introduce variety to the assignment.
Depending on the individual student, one method of notetaking will
be more preferred over the others.
- Chapter Responses
Less formal than an actual outline
or notes on an entire chapter, this allows students to make a personal
response to their reading.
You can ask students to make questions,
appreciations, confusions, relate the information to another text,
write about a memory it triggers, make a collage based on the information,
list their favorite or least favorite quotation from the reading,
list the sentence that gives the most important idea from the reading,
These responses also provide you
with immediate class discussion materials (Since students have their
prepared comments sitting in front of them, it is easier for them
to speak up than having to remember the text in class and formulate
a comment on the spot.). You can collect the responses and read
from them randomly, ask students to discuss their responses with
a partner or small group or open it up to a class discussion. (This
need not even take more than a few minutes of class time).
Margaret Prothero uses
three different types of chapter response sheets to gain feedback
from students about their reading of the text.