Ditch That Textbook, A Failed Hoax

Look, it sounded great back in 2005 and 2010 to ditch that textbook. Folks made good money off of the idea and there are good reasons for it.

Heck, I’m guilty of helping many teachers on my campuses move beyond textbooks and into embracing digital platforms – moves that resulted in increases in student engagement and learning.

But now that we’ve had a full 12 months of essentially mandated virtual environments, it’s safe to safe ditch that textbook as one end of the pedagogical continuum is a failed school improvement hoax.

It’s failed for many reason but here are the top three, and then I’ll propose another route to a similar end result.

But first, two definitions.

1) Ditching textbooks – getting rid of them – is not an aim of education but rather a method to achieving an aim. Plus, a textbook is an informational medium not a pedagogical strategy.

2) Trademark Usage: There are no active trademarks for “Ditch That Textbook” though there is one dead trademark for “Ditch The Textbook” filed on February 2011 by the Schlager Group Inc for the purpose of “providing web sites featuring online non-downloadable publications for use as a textbook alternative.” But that trademark was cancelled on May 2018 at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. This post is not a critique of any business model using such trademarks.

So now, on to the reasons for failure.

Vilification Leads to Pendulums

Pendulums are among education’s worst improvement inhibitors. Instead of pendulums, The Major Reset is a continuous improvement strategy that is sustainable and incremental.

Using an informational medium such as textbooks as a scapegoat leads to pendulums. #education

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Vilification of textbooks often leads to a disregard to strengths that textbooks bring to the education – namely, curation by professionals, curation by experts, and curation by educators.

Using an informational medium such as textbooks as a scapegoat to teaching failures leads to pendulums by:

  • Creating stark, yet untrue contrasts instead of understanding the subtle distinctions between what works and what doesn’t.
  • Shaming an entire group of instructional practices associated with textbooks when textbooks are a medium, not pedagogy.
  • Focusing on the medium and teaching practice rather than the impact on learning.

And pendulums lead to corrosive organization-wide habits – habits that ultimately resist change (more on that here).

Focusing on Textbooks Is Less Effective Than Focusing on Results

If there’s one thing that the PLC work has shown the education world, it’s that a result-orientation is more valuable than a practice-orientation.

We know it’s true.

A highly successful practice in Classroom A could utterly flop in 99% of other classrooms. Likewise, using textbooks in Charter School B might be a cornerstone to their success, but that same medium may not transfer to your school culture.

That’s why school culture eats individual practices for breakfast.

Individual practice should always fall prey to the scrutiny of results. #education

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Individual practice should always fall prey to the scrutiny of results.

This doesn’t merely mean results from standardized tests (and their unintended consequences).

Here are four ways to focus on results instead of using trendy ideas such as ditching textbooks:

  1. Develop actionable targets with OKRs (Objectives & Key Results)
  2. Aim for incremental results with AB testing
  3. Avoid these “results-oriented” practices
  4. Build shared accountability for results with these 4 steps

This is why school culture eats individual practices for breakfast. #schoolculture

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Ditching A Textbook Doesn’t Bring Results

So whether you ditch that textbook or ditch that TPT resource or ditch that LMS platform, you’ll never guarantee a result unless you focus on results.

Anything else is a hoax – an inadequate substitute for systemic school improvement.

Yes, digital learning is here to stay.

Virtual learning is here to stay.

And hopefully, more variety in learning settings will lead to outlier education in ways we currently can only dream about.

However, the practice is not the aim. The results are.

Impact on learning is.

Simple and Easy.

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