I Relied On The Textbook, And This Is What Happened!

Sometimes you shouldn’t write when you’re angry. I know that. I’m going to write this post anyway though. Sometimes passionate writing is a good thing.

When I taught Kindergarten to Grade 2, I hardly ever used a math textbook. I even blogged about my frustrations with textbooks. But this year I moved to a junior grade, and I have more math textbooks than I have students. I even have copies of multiple different textbooks — from Math Makes Sense to Math Quest to Quest 2000. Students know textbooks, and it’s taken some of them a while to get used to doing math without always opening a textbook or doing a workbook page.

Please don’t get me wrong. I consult the math textbooks all the time, but I try to move beyond what’s shared in them. After analysing previous EQAO results, my teaching partner and I know that the Grade 6 students need to work on communication in math. To do so, they need to explain more about their thinking, and these types of communication questions seem harder to find in a textbook. We use many of the questions as a starting point though, and add more open-ended problem solving options and greater options for communication.

Despite not being a fan of the math textbook, I often find myself looking through it. When my teaching partner and I plan each week, we often use the chapter in the textbook to guide the topics in our lessons. On Thursday night, the two of us met for dinner to plan, and we noticed that according to the textbook, we have integers still left to teach in our Patterning Unit. The integer component has very little in it, and both of us questioned the value in doing many of these activities. We didn’t have Internet access at the restaurant though to consult the curriculum expectations tied to integers, so I said that I would do so on the weekend, and then revamp this part of the unit for us for next week.

A few minutes ago, I pulled up the curriculum document on my computer, and I was shocked to learn that integers are not mentioned in Grade 6 math at all. I read through everything twice just to be sure, and I even messaged Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), a wonderful Grade 5/6 teacher in our Board, and asked her about this as well. I was right though: integers are no longer taught in Grade 6 math. They may have been taught before, but the curriculum has changed since the textbook was written. Hence, the problem.

I’m glad that I checked, and I’m glad that I know now. I’ve already emailed my teaching partner, and we’ve changed our plans for next week based on the curriculum expectations and not the textbook. I’ve also downloaded the curriculum documents to iBooks. Now I can easily view them whenever we’re planning. Lesson learned.

Does this mean that I’ll never use the textbook again? No. But does this mean that the math instruction should go beyond the textbook? Yes! The textbook is not perfect. Student needs and curriculum expectations guide our instruction — not the textbook. I was reminded of this again today, and now I’m sharing my thoughts with you.

What do you think? How do you use the textbook in your classroom, and how do you ensure that it aligns with curriculum expectations? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Aviva — Determined To Make Math More Than Just About Questions On A Page

8 thoughts on “I Relied On The Textbook, And This Is What Happened!

  1. Hi there Aviva,

    I have found the exact same thing in many secondary science textbooks. I use one when I am planning a unit of study to get ideas and see some examples of progression. I also consult the Ministry e-Learning materials on D2L in addition to any other worthy resources on the topic. After looking through it all briefly, I grab the curriculum documents and write them out in my own words, grouping them. Once I can see an overview I can group into big ideas and start planning. I start with an overarching inquiry and what I want them to do by the end of the unit of study. After getting that sorted out, I create a handful of checkpoints. I use these to organize the learning. This way I can communicate with students what I expect them to be able to do as we go along. This allows me to avoid getting hung up on “getting it all done”. Meaning, if a kid misses a few days, or doesn’t hand in an assignment, this format allows me to focus on whether the student can demonstrate the expectations, not that they “did all the work”. This way of doing things has allowed us to fly through topics the students had either been exposed to before or grasped quickly and then take more time with topics needed more time. If I had “followed the textbook” blindly, each topic would have ended up with the same amount of time and focus.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Jaclyn, thank you for sharing what you do! I really like the format of how you put it all together. It’s true: with the textbook everything does get a similar amount of time. Your approach allows for more time where it’s needed.


  3. Aviva,
    In moving to middle school for world history I too had to have a textbook. If I relied on the textbook only I’d be able to cover everything from Mesoamerica to at least WWII simply because each chapter is no more than four pages long. So what I’ve done is used it as a way to introduce the topic. I use YouTube and websites and basically build my own curriculum. Time consuming but worth it. We have even found mistakes about both the Maya and the Aztecs in the textbooks. So instead of speeding through it will take use a semester to cover the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations. Personally, I don’t think my students would even be interested if we used only the book and it would be so boring for all of us.

  4. Aviva, I got burnt just like you so now I just go to the curriculum documents and our Board’s math delivery plan. My students haven’t opened their textbook all year and we are still covering the curriculum, using manipulatives (in Grade 8) and all. The students have also taken their learning further by creating a number of math videos, math narratives and writing math problem solving stories using Bitstrips. Like you Aviva, I still refer to them (I have copies of a number of different grade 8 textbooks), the internet and my trusty Burns and Van deWalle to teach.

    • A great strategy, Jo-Ann, and one I’ll definitely be using. I love hearing that you haven’t opened up the math textbook yet, and you teach Grade 8. You’re providing your students with such meaningful math learning without the textbook. I love learning from you, and I appreciate all that you share! My math teaching (and teaching in general) has changed for the better because of you!


    • Math is much more fun when noses are not burried in a textbook (actually everything is). It is hard to sell students on the concept that math is everywhere when they only read about it from a book.

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