Monday, August 13, 2012

Just Say No to Textbooks: Alternatives to Feeding the Textbook Monopoly

I loathe textbooks. I detest and despise them. Textbooks are bland and boring, and they read like a set of stereo instructions. They suck the joy out of learning and teaching. When I look at a textbook, I can almost hear the monotone droning of a lecture that will without a doubt put me to sleep. Literature textbooks are the worst! Full of excerpts (blech!) and poetry/short stories that are either unknown or uninspiring or both. They are edited to within an inch of their existence. Quite frankly, they suck.

When I entered my first classroom and took inventory of the text choices I had inherited, I was less than enthusiastic. I found very few trade books (which I actually love), two sets of literature text books, and a set of grammar texts from the 1980’s. What could be worse, you might ask. Well, there were also not enough of any of these books for each student to have one. So even if I had wanted to use them, my students wouldn’t be able to reference them outside of the classroom because there was only one set to be shared between four classes.

The fact is, it is extremely difficult to build excitement in your students, if you are bored with and disengaged from your own class materials. So, I immediately made the decision to chuck the texts and create my own. Working in Word, I compiled materials, complete with illustrations, and put together my own texts. I also made enough copies that all my students had their own to use wherever and whenever they chose. 

Over the course of a few weeks, I worked at night and over weekends to put together a poetry anthology and a short story anthology for my sophomores and a series of mythology anthologies for my seniors, including Norse, Egyptian, Arthurian, and Modern Myth and Legend.

While the process is a little time-consuming, I assure you it is well worth the effort involved. The materials you create will be more interesting to both you and your students.

Although you can put these materials together with no more than MS Word and Internet access, there are lots of great options available that both teachers and students can use to create digital texts, if you know where to look. This is definitely a case of "I wish I knew then what I know now." So, please learn from my ignorance and check out some of these fantastic resources.


Resources for Creating, Curating, and Sharing Digital Textbooks

1. ePub in Classroom - The ePub format has become an industry standard for ebooks. You can easily create ePub books with your students or you can create units and entire textbooks for use with your courses. These resources will help you formulate your ePub format resources.

2. ck-12 - Books available through this site are customizable. You can rearrange the chapters or even add, remove and edit content. Add bite-sized lessons to FlexBooks or assign to students for independent learning. Videos and multimedia simulations bring learning to life. Enable students to track their progress with instant feedback. Get assessments, answer keys and ideas for differentiated instruction.

3. Project Gutenberg - Offers over 40,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online. Perfect resource for creating anthologies.

4. Apple iBook Author - Available free on the Mac App Store. Allows for the use of galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more.

5. LiveBinders - Free service for collecting, organizing, and presenting all manner of resources, including web pages, pdf files, graphics, and videos. I wish I had known about this site when I built my units last year! If you are wondering just how you could use this tool, check out this example for an Edgar Allan Poe unit or this one for Web 2.0 for Secondary Teachers. You can discover a wealth of information looking through other's binders and then synthesize them into your own.

6.  Open Culture - 500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities, including some of the best free cultural and educational media available on the web.

7. Cybrary Man's Educational Websites - Created and curated by Jerry Blumengarten and including links for all grade levels and subject areas.

8. National Repository of Online Courses - Includes coursework for high school foundations, AP content, and college foundations.

9. moodle - Free web application that allows educators to create online learning sites, AKA Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).

10. Pinterest - An excellent content sharing site in which members "pin" images and videos to boards they create themselves. This site is quickly becoming a very valuable collecting tool for educators. It also offers a quickly growing community of "pinners." Here are 16 Ways Educators Use Pinterest from Stephanie Buck, just to give you some ideas.

With all these great ideas, the wheels are definitely turning! I am currently working on two non-fiction anthologies, an American Folklore compilation, and two thematic short story collections. I believe these resources may be just the thing to update my previous collections and move my current projects to the next level.

So, if you are disenfranchised with the materials you have available, do yourself and your students a favor and check out some of these alternatives. I promise no one will be disappointed.


  1. Hello!! We are a group of students which are in Bilingual Primary Education Degree in the University of Murcia and we think that your ideas about textbooks are really interesting.We agree with you in all you have said, and we have to admit that the alternatives that you propose here, in our opinion are very interesting and very useful, and if textbooks were forbidden the education of the children would be better.

    In other hand, we really hope that teachers take into account the amount of alternatives that they can use to teach at schools.

    Best regards; BUSY BEES!!

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