Materials Adaptation, Research and Reflections

Textbooks: Who Needs Them?

I don’t.

At least not the traditional McGraw-Hill type of textbook.

Rather than working my way, week-by-week, through a textbook, my curriculum resource strategy focuses on primary sources, secondary sources, credible articles I’ve read or searched for online, cognitive engagement activities I learned about in professional development sessions, and curriculum resources that are given to me by teacher friends and colleagues. No textbooks. I write my own materials, which includes the creation of worksheets, quizzes, tests, projects, enduring understandings, essential questions, selection of supplementary texts, etc. I design the curriculum in a way that works for me and my students.

Every teacher has their own lesson development style and, for some, textbooks are not only a great resource to use when teaching but also sometimes the only resources school districts allow for instruction. But it is critically important that we acknowledge that some textbooks omit certain people, eras, themes, etc. that make using them less than ideal for the demographic of students they teach. This isn’t to say that teachers who have the autonomy to choose what they teach would never do this, but it gives us the opportunity to do more for our students.

I am in my sixth year of teaching: five years teaching English Language Arts and a half year teaching African-American Literature and History. During my five years teaching English Language Arts, my school and network adopted standards and mandates that instructional coaches and teachers use as a guide to ensure lessons are responsive and sensitive to the needs of students. I didn’t plan for the courses in a silo but had support from experienced instructional staff at my school and network who became resources to assist in my course creation. Due to the autonomy that was given to me to design courses, I was able to redesign the English Language Arts course I taught titled Literacy in the Community and the current course I teach now. Both are nuanced classes mixed with traditional and, just as important, non-traditional text.

I chose books to teach in my English Language Arts class such as The Other Wes Moore, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria, Of Mice & Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop. In doing so, I was able to align the course with not only my own personal interests but also with books that would teach students powerful themes, main ideas, and reading skills. Textbooks would have not allowed me to be nuanced in my content creation and curriculum designing based upon the needs of students I taught. This student-focused approach is known as Culturally Responsive Teaching.

With Culturally Responsive Teaching at the center of my work, I make a curriculum starting with scope and sequence documents. My main curriculum guides the over-the-year plan as well as my unit plans. Besides text selection, two other main areas guide the daily lessons: powerful enduring understandings and essential questions. Both are rooted in resonating community themes, main ideas, and universal themes that transcend particular cultures and experiences and reflect the global human experiences—themes focused on topics such as pain, joy, oppression, triumph, and power. I’ve found many textbooks lack these elements, which means we’re shortchanging our students.

Based on end-of-year data and student surveys, my students have enjoyed taking my classes and benefited greatly from the “windows and mirrors-”style curriculum the class embodies. Many students are invested and empowered in my class, which has produced a level of agency that is one of the hallmarks of a distinguished teaching and learning experience.   

I am blessed to have a broad range of autonomy in my new grade level and content this academic year and a principal, colleagues, and network that support the work I’m doing with my students. If you are a teacher restricted by mandates to teach from a textbook, I encourage you to always find ways to add cultural and global relevancy to everything you teach. It works.

Textbooks: Who Needs Them?

One thought on “Textbooks: Who Needs Them?

  1. Checking in as a suburban white teacher that taught Black children in Chicago for 13 years. (Now in district leadership) Agree 100% on abandoning text books, but I think something that changed the game for me was really really really taking the time to listen to students (and read their writing) and proving it to them 24 hours later (think student exit ticket content embedded in tomorrow’s do now/bell ringer.) My wish is that more teachers prioritize listening and see that students can and should have a solid hand on the wheel in curriculum. My bigger wish is that systems in districts and schools allow teachers the time needed to do this well.

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About the Author: Devin is a teacher-leader, community and youth advocate, inspirational speaker, and historian. He has served in various capacities at his current school, Butler College Prep, including 10th English Language Arts instructor for five years and 12th grade African-American Literature & History teacher (currently), 10th-grade team lead, master humanities teacher, and English Language Arts Content Lead. In addition to his service at Butler, Devin is frequently involved in professional development programs designed to enhance his teaching pedagogy and leadership practice. The different programs include Member of Noble Network of Charter School's Diverse Leaders Fellowship, Alumnus at the University of Pennsylvania's Project-Based Learning Certificate program, and a participant in Chicago Public Schools Inaugural Transformative Teaching Cohort. Devin is an active member of the nationally and locally based teacher policy organization Educators 4 Excellence, where he has written blogs and served on panels advocating for equitable education policy. He is also a frequent contributor for Education Post and The Hechinger Report, both national education advocacy organizations, where he has written blogs on multifarious educational topics. Lastly, Devin is a charter member of the Black Male Educator Alliance of Illinois, which is an organization that seeks to recruit, retain, and develop black male teachers.