Guest Blog: Overcoming Textbook Fatigue through Text Sets

By ReLeah Cossett Lent, Author of the ASCD published title “Overcoming Textbook Fatigue”

Textbook fatigue [tekst-book  fug-teeg], noun.

  • Too many vocabulary words insufficiently defined
  • Too many complex concepts crowded into one chapter
  • Too many one-size-fits-all assignments
  • Too many pages to cover, topics to teach, ideas to unpack

Danger-Textbook-Fatigue (600x388)
Download Gale’s Overcoming Textbook Fatigue Webinar with ReLeah Lent

If this tongue-in-cheek definition makes it seem as if I am engaging in a one-sided diatribe against textbooks, let me be clear.  Textbooks have their place, especially eTextbooks which have the ability to update information, but even they should be used as only one resource among many.  To rely wholly on any single source in this information age is unenlightened.   Learning today is based on finding, evaluating, synthesizing, and applying information from a wide variety of sources.  Even the role of teacher is changing in our fast-paced world from a disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning.

So, what’s the key to helping students prepare for a future that we can’t even describe? Lots of reading from all sorts of texts in all sorts of mediums: fiction, nonfiction, primary documents, websites, blogs, periodicals, and infographs, to name a few.   Such reading doesn’t always need to be complex, either. The secret is to engage students in reading and then use their interest as a scaffold to more challenging texts. Hook students on one of many engaging historical novels related to the Civil Rights Movement, Sharon Draper’s Fire from the Rock, for example, and then recommend the compelling nonfiction book by Chris Crowe, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case.  From there, students will be ready and willing to read about Brown v. Board of Education, but that’s just the beginning. Give kids primary documents from the era, such as song lyrics from the movement, newscasts or photographs from the 1960s, and speeches from Civil Rights leaders of the day. Make a connection to current Civil Rights issues and you’ve tapped into real learning. Of course it’s fairly easy to create a text set about such a well-documented topic but, in fact, multiple texts exist on most topics and can be found with the tap of a few keys.

The advantages of text sets are significant and long-lasting. They deepen comprehension, support differentiation instruction, provide varying perspectives, expose students to new vocabulary, demonstrate a variety of organizational and writing styles, make relevant connections, increase standardized test scores and, most importantly, tap into engagement.

The most challenging aspect of creating text sets is, as always, finding the time to develop them. This doesn’t have to be a show-stopper, however. In schools where active, relevant learning supplants fidelity to a textbooks’ table of contents, groups of teachers work together in teams, departments, grade levels, or PLCs to create lessons using multiple texts, often with the help of a librarian.   Students can also be taught to find and evaluate appropriate texts to support content-area study, learning important skills along the way.

As teachers in schools all over the world are releasing their grip on textbooks and moving into the exciting world of multiple texts, students are reaping the rewards and classrooms are becoming energized through the amazing tools of the 21st Century.

Overcoming Textbook Fatigue by ReLeah Cossett Lent is available as part of Gale’s ASCD Bundle Six.


About the AuthorReLeah Lent

ReLeah Cossett Lent (@RCLent) was a middle and high school teacher before becoming a founding member of a statewide literacy project at the University of Central Florida. She is now an international consultant, writing and speaking about adolescent literacy, Common Core, and school leadership. Her latest book is Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Invigorate Learning( ASCD).
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