I found teaching from textbooks difficult for reasons presented in the blogpost. What has been your experience?

We teach children to read during their first years in school, and by the time they reach middle school, we assume they know how. On the surface, this appears true for most children. But if we also assume they are able to read for meaning and understanding, we may need to think again. Comprehending textbooks, for example, is a challenge for many of our students, including how to answer questions at the end of chapters. Most students attempt to read the text first and then try to answer the assigned questions. Others decide to turn immediately to the questions then look for the answers in the text. Some struggle with other ways, hoping they will get it right. And others simply give up.

If we expect students to dissect and comprehend a textbook (or any book we use for that matter), then we cannot simply assign pages; we need to teach students how to read them. In fact, as English Language Arts teachers know well, all of us need to teach students how to read books in our field. In particular, we know how difficult textbooks are to read, as most are constructed as a series of “mention sentences”; that is, a series of disconnected sentences, each “correct” in themselves but not well connected and coherent. I learned this concept from Jim Grant, founder of Staff Development for Educators, at a workshop in 2004. He based his conclusions on close analysis of textbooks, and he attributes their “cleaned-up” quality to the textbook review committee of Texas.

Read more about strategies as to how you can teach students to comprehend textbooks in Chapter 2 of Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn, which you can purchase from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918

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