Thoughts On Textbook Selection

Textbook selection is not among the least of our responsibilities as a member of the faculty. Years of hearing from students that their “money is funny”, their financial aid didn’t arrive in time to purchase the required text by week three of an eight-week semester, or the edition they bought secondhand didn’t have the assigned sections, I decided to go with electronic texts available in the public domain. As an avid reader of books one can hold in one’s hands and hopefully soon to be gainfully published author, I was deeply troubled with this compromise. It too proved unworkable however. There were problems with access codes, confusion between free versus paid options of the same text, and deceptive instructions for accessing the completely free resources. Still, I kept reviewing titles in hopes of finding ones worth all the hassles I knew would come with adoption. In the meantime, I decided to try something preposterous. I decided to teach an entirely online class without a required textbook. I lost one student who found the format described below “boring” and withdrew before Week 1 ended. Those who remained wrote things like the following in their Legacies:

Utilize everything because it will only make you a better student not only in this class but in future classes as well… I really did not find any part of this class useless.  It was all useful and I will take away a lot from this course, more than any other course I have taken that is for sure. (J.I. SP12)

There are many course objectives, but the ones that helped me the most were; setting realistic and attainable goals, reading texts with improved focus, comprehension, and retention, presenting clear oral and written reports, and managing priorities effectively. While you are doing your Resource Research you will have to read a lot of different articles.  Some of them, I had to read a few times to comprehend.  This class definitely helped me to read and be more focused on the subject.  For a lot of the assignments you will be responsible for writing paragraphs with fresh insight you gained.  You will also be responsible for writing feedback to your fellow classmates.  For the Midterm and Final you will have to write a Paper.  This has helped me to think about the structure of my writing.  Of course because things are due at a certain time and some assignments require more time than others; this has helped me with setting realistic goals and managing priorities effectively. (T.F. SP12)

The following is excerpted from an email sent to a publisher’s representative regarding a book I considered but declined to adopt. It is offered in hopes of shedding light on one thought process during book selection.

At long last I am able to send a few words of feedback on the text, Z. Deep apologies for the delay.
I was considering the requested title for my College Success course but find the text too dense and layout unappealing. This spells disaster for new and novice-readers breaking it into the academy.

Last semester, I did not use a textbook. Instead, I posted a weekly topic and had students post links to different resources (conduct & contributeResource Research)on the same theme with a proposed assignment. It worked well. This Fall I will require students to complete one assignment from a different classmate each week in addition to reading and responding to classmates’ posts with comments about the assignment’s usefulness and suggestions for transferability beyond our class.

Moving in this way from theory to practice of ‘college success’ and several course objectives seems to build critical reading and thinking skills and expose students to a broader cross-section of resources than using a textbook does traditionally. At this juncture, where the rubber hits the road, learners must polish their decision-making, time management (to avoid duplication of links) and process-writing skills (in order to communicate the assignment) while at the same time get into the minds of multiple ‘teachers’ (fellow learner-leaders) at once.

This approach worked well enough in one subject-area that I am going to try it in Composition come Fall. I’d love to hear how others approach this issue.

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If I’m So Happy…

A funny thing happened while preparing for this evening’s Women’s Ministry class at 4:15 this morning. Among other things, I took the Joy Bubble Quiz in chapter three of Choosing Simplicity and found I’ve got enough joy to place me in the top third of respondents. Then, I reflected on how different today looked and felt compared with yesterday, in which I was sure had I lived anywhere but in the desert, I would have found a bridge to jump off of though all appearances indicated a successful, meaningful life. Alternating bouts of curiosity, faith and exhaustion keep me hanging around. But that’s the subject of another post. This one is about a question that so piqued my interest that I text it to myself for later (now) consideration. Not only did I decide to revise the key question so it was about my teaching life, but I decided to share the exercise publicly.

Key Question: As an educator, how do I want to spend my time, talent and outcomes?
 Who will serve as my accountability partner?

Funnier still, when I read the question this morning, it seemed there was no end of answers, ideas, and energy for classroom-related responses. Now that I look at it again with you, an unnamed, unknown public looking over my shoulder, I can’t seem to think of a single response. Maybe it’s time of day. Maybe the afternoon slump is having it’s way with me. Maybe since I turned off the classical piano in iTunes radio I’ve lost steam. Maybe grading those process papers was more than I could bear. Bingo! Maybe that’s the beginning of my answer – what I don’t want to spend my time doing.

I don’t want to spend my time grading papers. Something about it doesn’t seem quite right at least as far as I’ve reached in 20 years of its practice. I’ve tried ‘strengths-finding’, positive regard, writing two appreciations for every ‘correction’ offered, and it still feels like ick. I no longer even want to think about it. I used to find it at least mildly interesting to search for new approaches but now, time is more precious than ever and I’d rather do other things with it. Or, at least, that’s what my fingers are saying at this moment. What my feet, eyes and mind do when no one else is looking however is another story entirely.

I don’t do things that I tell myself I’d rather be doing when I’m not grading papers. I thought I’d rather be putting the final edits into the collection of letters my Father wrote my Mother when an ocean separated them for most of my third year on planet Earth. That binder has been sitting at the corner of my desk for the better part of this month.

I tell myself I’d rather make a quilt for the upcoming baby shower. I even fantasized about asking the proud soon to be parents for an article of clothing each to include in said quilt. But in fact, I picked fabrics out of my basket, measured the batting, and paired the non-squares I was going to use for the last newborn at the end of the last year, and still haven’t moved the pile from the corner of the room in which it collects dust. Twice a day if not more, I pass by the open closet that keeps my sewing machine safe from use.

So, if I’m not doing what I want, and not doing what I have to, what am I doing? Molting? Wasting time? Growing underground? And, should anything be done about it? Mike Dooley, my much admired, secret and virtual mentor and author of Notes From the Universe, would have a good answer to that question I’m certain. Until I get up the gumption to ask Mike, however, I’ll just keep blogging along.

BTW, I did conduct background research for a thesis I’ll be reading / advising, and decide to use Project Happiness‘ 7 Doors as the outline for the bookless Preparatory Composition course that’s due to start after Spring Break. Attempting neither is small potatoes when one steps back and looks at the range of choices available to someone interested in Critically Reflective Teaching and learning though situated in the compromised context of turbo capitalism with the resulting subtle and aggressive oppressions aimed at our lives. I guess what my eyes, mind and heart do when no one’s looking isn’t so bad. Guess I am happy after all.