11 April 2009

Material Things

It was a long long week, and I do have a few posts percolating in my head. While those continue to brew, I was hoping for some of your ideas on instructional materials---any grade, any subject area.

As an educator, when your district or state is in the process of selecting materials for a grade/course that you teach, what do you expect from this curricular support?

Do you, for example, think that high quality assessments of all kinds (formative, diagnostic, progress-monitoring, summative...) should be pre-packaged for you? What about leveled readers, SPED support, intervention, and enrichment items to promote accessibility in your classroom? Do you want materials with lesson plans that are constructivist-style in their design?

Any curriculum materials out there can be "aligned," depending upon how loose you are with your terms. What I'm wondering, however, is whether or not we educators are on the lookout for "SuperMaterial!": something that can do everything for a classroom. We are purchasing just paper, print, and pixels, after all. They are not replacements for teachers. What is it that we need the materials to do?


Louise Maine said...

Good question as we are about to enter our study year in science. As a teacher who no longer uses a textbook (do not hand them out unless requested by a student - a class set is always available) and instead is a wikicentric classroom, I use materials purely for inspiration. After 20+ years, no one source does everything and materials can be tweaked for inquiry. Textbooks that have an online portion give more flexibility as they offer simulations. The online textbook is also updated every year (our textbooks are 9 years old) and students can be given a code to access the online textbook portion.

I do not expect any material to give me all that I need.

Matt T. said...

"What is it that we need the materials to do?" This is a great question, but I think an equally interesting survey would be to ask the masses how much value they give to their existing materials. Consider the educator who says things like, "It must be a good test, because the textbook publisher put many hours into creating it" or "Who am I to change the order of the concepts - the textbook has already done that for me."

You make an excellent point, "They are not replacements for teachers."

To answer your question, I want my materials to just be "available." Available to modify, use as needed and collect dust if they're not worth their salt at times, too.

Glen Westbroek said...

I appreciate your thoughts and questions regarding the "material things" that come with textbook adoption. I have had the same textbook in my class for the past 11 years. (It, however, saw very little direct classroom use.) I am often disappointed at textbook publishers who correlate their work to a state core. I was told that one book met our science core - I had reviewed the book and found there was ONE sentence that covered AN ENTIRE STANDARD and all its objectives! (Yes, I am cynical about textbook adoption.)

This year, my principal "strongly encouraged me" to use some legislative funding this year to purchase new books. I finally agreed - to buy a Classroom set ONLY. My comment to him was that I wanted them as a reference in the classroom - not to be the doctrine that is taught.

As I looked at the additional materials, I was most interested in what I could modify to provide more scientific inquiry with. Additionally, I wanted to know how I could modify the test questions to allow students to really demonstrate deeper thinking - not just memorization of details.

I agree with all the comments that it is really the teacher that matters. In the long run, a student will remember your name - but I don't think a single student will recall the name of their textbook. I also have 20+ years of experience. If I cannot tweek the material to provide 21st Century learning opportunities for my students, it does not belong in my classroom.

Gregory Louie said...


Not using a textbook has been the most liberating thing that I've done over 13 years of teaching.

All of my materials now make sense both to me and to my students. I am so familiar with what I've collected that I can personalize the experience for each of my classes and at often for each of my students.

Can't do that with a textbook, but it can be done if a teacher starts collecting and publishing their own resources on a website!

jsb16 said...

I teach science (physics), so I need inquiry-centered labs that work with students of all reading and thinking abilities. (I wasn't taught using inquiry in high school, so it doesn't come naturally to me.) I also need material that is available in modifiable formats (not just PDFs or paper). I need online and text-to-speech capabilities, so my students don't have to lug Yet Another Book around and so my low readers can listen to the material.

Mostly though, what I need is not another textbook, but the time and structure to collaborate meaningfully with my colleagues. On a regular basis. With an instructional leader/coach/person in charge so that the apathetic don't skive off. Focused on student achievement and leaving teacher egos at the door. Okay, so that last will never fully happen. I can dream, can't I?

triitagain said...

I want materials that can work for ALL students, i.e. they are easily modified for learning styles, background knowledge, reading level, etc. The perfect materials would be those that offer lots of ideas, web linked resources, etc. but still give the teacher choice and creativity. Each class is different and every student in that class is unique in their needs. Only the teacher knows what their students need RIGHT NOW.

Allison said...

I teach writing, so I come from a somewhat different perspective. My district provides a curriculum framework based on the standards, but that's it - no specific materials with which to teach, nothing that is required beyond writing genres like personal narratives. Though the freedom is liberating in many ways, it's also terrifying.

I'm a second year teacher and am the senior person in my grade level and content area. Almost every material we use is something I found or created. And while I THINK I do a decent job on that, and the feedback I get from others is positive, I've still only been teaching for a year and a half. It'd be nice to at least get a list of possible resources from which I could pick and choose and adapt as needed.

I'd also like writing exemplars of all levels. I teach in a high-poverty school, and many of my kids are below grade level. While I think I have high standards for their writing and assess them accordingly (scaffolding and reteaching to get them to where I think they need to be), I don't really know if what I consider to be a proficient paper at my school is what other teachers would consider to be proficient at their schools. I've asked repeatedly for exemplars, samples, models, whatever you want to call it, and have gotten nowhere. So I muddle through the best I can and hope I'm on the right track. It'd be nice to have some confirmation or redirection.

The Science Goddess said...

I love your stories! Keep 'em coming!

Clix said...

If anybody finds that elusive "SuperMaterial!" let me know. ;D

I'd like more "Strunk and White" exemplars: clear, precise, brief, and insightful. I find that when I have students looking at a text as an example, it needs to be short, because most of mine haven't learned to focus. So even when I provide the focus, it's easy for them to get off-track as they read.

And I'm with Allison on wanting more student examples, too.