The “no textbooks” survival guide: 8 steps to freedom


Teaching | Monday, March 3, 2014

The “no textbooks” survival guide: 8 steps to freedom

The "no textbooks" survival guide: 8 steps to freedom

As schools go increasingly digital, they’re moving away from paper textbooks. If your textbooks are suddenly pulled away, there are steps you can take to survive. (flickr / textbookrebellion)

A teacher colleague from another school district recently e-mailed me with a situation that seems to be growing in K-12 schools and beyond.

The message went something like this:

Our school district is going 1:1 with laptop computers and no new textbooks will be purchased.

We won’t be adopting textbooks and need to create our own digital curricula. 


It’s a situation I’m seeing more and more often, and numerous articles are chronicling the decline of the traditional textbook for more electronic means — in the K-12 sector as well as higher education.

I really feel for this teacher and others like her. When I ditched my textbooks several years ago, I was able to do it on my terms over a period of a couple years. It really is a monumental task when it’s mandated from the top down.

There is a process for it — one that worked for me that I believe in. Remember that I’m no curriculum expert; I’m just a teacher that went through this process once and has ideas to share.

If I had to do it all over again from scratch, here are the steps I would take:

1. Gather information. Demographic information about your school and students. Surveys from students about what they want and need to learn. Academic standards and previous curriculum. Anything that could affect planning or instruction. Have it all on hand and sift through it for the main take-away points.

2. Connect with other educators and experts. There is a wealth of resources online and a world of people willing to lend their expertise and ideas. With as easy as it is today to connect to them, it would be a shame to leave all of those helpful viewpoints out. There are lots of links, resources and ideas on my Social Networks for Teachers conference session page.

3. Evaluate your previous resources and curriculum. The exciting part of ditching textbooks for a new curriculum is adding components that are new and different — improving on what you had before. As I worked through this process, I consulted several textbooks (I know, heresy for the “Ditch That Textbook” guy, right?) for pacing, sequence and ideas.

4. Create a mission statement. Take this step for what it’s worth, but I think it’s important to know what kind of class you want to have and what kind of teacher you want to be before creating the course. If writing a mission statement isn’t your thing, consider choosing a one-word mission statement, something that many people do to guide their work every year.

5. Make the framework of the course. This is where the heaviest prioritizing work is done. Determine the main themes that guide your course. Existing district curriculum, academic standards and other factors will play here, of course. But your own creativity will be important as well. If you didn’t like the way something was presented by your textbook, this is your big opportunity.

6. Determine what tools you’ll need. Figure out what you’ll need to get to where you’re going. This doesn’t just mean digital tools, either. Find the instructional techniques, the activities and assignments, and the procedures that will lead your students to the goal.

7. Fill in the framework with unit plans and lesson plans. I started with unit plans and filled in the day-to-day lesson plans as the school year went on. Other people will want to have some lesson plan specifics figured out way before that.

8. Be flexible! Our best-laid plans often go awry when they meet the reality of the classroom. That’s OK. Be ready to make changes to plans as necessary, add missing components or remove something all together that doesn’t work. That’s why I did the lesson planning a week or two ahead of time: so I could create it based on student pace and change the course as necessary.

Ditching your textbooks is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it in the end. I now feel that my instruction matches the knowledge and skills that my students need much better than it ever did with more emphasis on textbooks.

Maybe a movement away from textbooks isn’t the catastrophe many of us fear it will be. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.

Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

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