Schoolzone blog: Leave our textbooks alone, Messrs Gibb and Oates

Leave our textbooks alone, Messrs Gibb and Oates
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20 Nov 2014

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If there's one thing all secondary teachers have a view on, it's textbooks. Not all have the same view of course, but all teachers know what they like: they are sophisticated consumers of textbooks - much more so than for any other teaching and learning resource.

You should never ask a teacher if they like textbooks because they tend to say that they don't, but if you ask them what features they like about textbooks, they'll give you lots of detail.

Tim Oates, in his recent paper Why Textbooks Count suggests that "in England only 10% of students' teachers use maths textbooks as the basis for their teaching, compared to 70% in Singapore and 95% in Finland is a contributory factor in England's poor performance in maths compared to those countries". Yet another reason attributing to this poor performance.

He goes on to blame teachers for abandoning textbooks in favour of the use of worksheets and exam-based books and says that "we've failed to notice the emergence, in other nations, of extremely well-theorised, well-designed, and carefully implemented textbooks".

Nick Gibb has jumped on this bandwagon (if that's what it is) to join in the criticism - based entirely on the Oates paper, by the look of it - and has also said that we should overcome the anti-textbook ethos.

We have some observations to make on this, based on our research:

  • Teachers like textbooks and publishers have spent many years designing them to meet teachers' needs.
  • Teachers value the use of textbooks as a source of inspiration for themselves and as a source of reliable, accessible content and tasks for themselves and teachers.
  • The use of textbooks is not wider because teachers and students like to use a mixture of learning resources.
  • Ofsted inspections have contributed to the anti-textbook ethos that has grown up in recent years: whether it's fair or not, teachers say that Ofsted expect not to see extensive use of textbooks in outstanding lessons.
  • While teachers have criticisms of any particular textbook you'd care to name (as sophisticated consumers) we have never, in many, many related research projects with teachers, found any that say that they would use textbooks more if they were of a higher quality.
  • We have asked teachers about specific maths textbooks published in Singapore (though not Finland, admittedly) and they thought they thought they were incredibly awful!

So, Messrs Gibb and Oates, while, like anything, there's always room for improvement, teachers still want textbooks, use them enough and like them they way they are, thankyou.




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