A high school senior’s view of textbooks and worksheet packets [guest post]

[This is a guest post from Tucker, a recently-graduated high school student. He wrote this for his senior year Comp class.]

Hearing the phrase “Get out your textbooks” from a high school teacher makes me want to throw up, and it is something I have heard for the last four years in almost every class from almost every teacher. Textbooks are filled with valuable information but are often boring, outdated, and even physically damaged from past use. In this day and age of “21st Century Learning,” it is insane that we are using 19th and 20th Century teaching strategies.

Most students today do not respond to textbook learning, and yet it is one of the most common ways for teachers to dispense information. Teaching out of a textbook is easy. It does not require teachers to step out of their comfort zone and find new ways to connect with students who are so eager to learn something useful that they can actually apply to their lives. The stereotype of students today is that they are uninterested in anything the school system has to offer. However, that is a complete lie. Students simply become uninterested because each school day seems to them like they have woken up in the movie “Groundhog Day” and go through the exact same motions as the day before. There is not a problem with the students, but with the dreaded textbook that has been around for so long it has become the status quo of teaching tools.

I will agree that the information in textbooks can be valuable to students. The information is not the issue. The issue is that many teachers today will hand out a packet they did not even create, tell the students to look up the information in the textbooks and copy down the answers word for word, and then go back to their desks where they will get on their computers and check their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sometimes they may even see one of their students tweeting about how bored in class they are, and yet they will go right on down the page hoping to find something that makes them laugh out loud instead of things that make them consider how well they are doing their job. I am afraid that this routine is something the next generation of teachers will find themselves well accustomed to.

I want my classes to be interactive and exciting! I want to be moving around the room, working with other students to solve a real world problem that can eventually tie back into what we are actually learning in the class. Students should want every class to go on longer and be surprised when the bell rings because the period went by so fast. They should not be checking the clock every five minutes hoping for a random fire drill that will speed up the hour, and then waiting at the door for five minutes at the end of the period staring down the second hand as it travels endlessly around the clock. Textbook teaching allows these things to happen, and it is really a tragedy for both students and teachers.

Every day teachers should be standing in the front of the room challenging their students to a higher level of thinking, and in return the teachers will be challenged themselves. Where is the challenge in handing out novel-sized textbook packets to students who will most likely not remember anything they copied down? To truly challenge the students, teachers must actually spend time outside of school researching new tools that help connect with students on a more personal level. The more teachers push themselves to connect and interact with their students in order to boost their ability to critical think and retain knowledge, the better the teacher will become. Over time, there is no limit to how good a teacher can become if they have that mindset and expect the most out of themselves. On the other hand, the more and more they use textbooks, which is the easy way to do things, the worse they will become at teaching and inspiring their students to actually want to learn. That is why textbooks have become the crutch of high school teachers. They are so incredibly easy to lean on, but if they were taken away many teachers would be absolutely lost because they have not challenged themselves to create more of a 21st Century learning environment in their classrooms.

The new job market requires students to have 21st Century learning skills, so it is not a surprise many students struggle when they get out of high school and college because they have been taught in a 19th and 20th Century learning environment. If schools want to create students that are competitive and indispensable in the job market they must ditch the textbooks and challenge their teachers to challenge themselves, and in return inspire students to achieve a love for learning, which can truly take them anywhere they want to go.

Image credit: The eventual destination of the Thursday folder worksheets: The circular file

23 Responses to “A high school senior’s view of textbooks and worksheet packets [guest post]”

  1. It’s nice to see a recent graduate contribute to the educational discussion. In my experience however, I feel teachers who still pass out worksheet packets and rely on a textbook are in the minority. While it certainly exists, this has turned into a stereotype that all teachers are labeled by, especially the main stream media. The average person often believes most teachers still teach this way, when in fact, this is not the case.

    • Thanks so much for the comment. Speaking from my own 3 kids’ experiences over the years, we’ve still got a LOT of lecture/textbook/worksheet teachers, I’m afraid. I’ve seen the same in most of the schools I visit too, unfortunately. So maybe you’re in a better place than most?

      I’ll also note that, as more schools get more technology into the hands of teachers and students, I’m seeing a fair amount of what I’ve been calling ‘electronic worksheets': http://bit.ly/atCvkK

    • Unfortunately, it’s like this in my school. The majority still use textbooks exclusively!
      I live in Barcelona area and I’m sure many schools around here are the same.

    • Jeff,
      Tucker was reflecting upon his experience as a high school student, where (“almost all”)his teachers relied on textbooks. He was not perpetuating a stereotype, because for him, this was a reality.
      What he describes is educational drudgery. He desires something better which is captured here:
      “I want my classes to be interactive and exciting! I want to be moving around the room, working with other students to solve a real world problem that can eventually tie back into what we are actually learning in the class. Students should want every class to go on longer and be surprised when the bell rings because the period went by so fast.”
      Educators can learn from his words.
      Thank you, Tucker, for sharing your thoughts.

      • Karen,

        I wasn’t implying Tucker was purposefully perpetuating a stereotype. I was simply saying that “textbook/worksheet teachers” have become a stereotype that unfortunately encompasses the average person’s view of all teachers. Too often in mainstream media this type of teacher is the considered the norm. I was just stating that in my opinion, the textbook teacher is actually a dying breed. Blog posts and articles often point to bad teaching as more prevalent than I think it is. I just wanted to give another viewpoint that sheds light on the fact that in many schools and districts, teachers that still teach this way are rare. Like Dr. McCleod stated, I may be in a better area than others. Even so, I think that point deserves to be shared because the average person needs to understand not only do ALL teachers not teach this way, I find most do not.

    • Let’s be careful hear. You make a big leap about how teachers use textbooks. Plus, there is value in textbooks. Students need to TRUELY understand how to use them. Table of contents, index, margins, captions. Step into a classroom in which textbooks aren’t being used. They don’t know how to READ THEM!

  2. As a classroom educator I agree with the sentiments of the student 100%. The problem is that the time that it takes to create these lessons versus the amount of time given to prepare them do not equate in most instances. I have a 45 minute planning period, which includes time spent administering tardy duty. In reality, I have about forty minutes a day. That isn’t enough time to successfully create and implement these plans to the level needed. So what happens? I take the material home and work on it. Then before I know it, my personal time is gone. Very very few professions require the time educators put in for the pay they receive. I think that in order for the teachers to meet the demands of 21st century learners, we need a preparation plan/time that allows us to do that.

  3. I agree with everything that you say, but the problem is that many teachers face the same issues that frustrated students do- you say that”teachers must actually spend time outside of school researching new tools that help connect with students on a more personal level”, and this is true; however, it is up to the schools to decide that this is the educational philosophy that they want to adopt and then support teachers in acquiring these tools, by providing Professional Development and time off to do this research/practice. I think most teachers would do more tech stuff in class, but they don’t really know how and aren’t given any lessons themselves on how to implement technology.

    I am impressed with your enthusiasm and your obvious passion for learning, and hopefully in the future more schools will decide to venture in the direction about which you speak. It takes a big commitment from the schools to provide the time, money and resources to do that, so it can be a bit of a slow process!

  4. Umm….no.

    Learning skills are not tied to a century or a technology. Looking something up on Wikipedia instead of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is not learning although it is the 21st century way of doing things.

    I may agree that one needs to learn the skills to use 21st technology, but the skill to actually learn something has nothing to do with the medium used. It has everything to do with one’s curiosity and self motivation. No computer will teach you to ask: “why was it important that Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army,” or “Can we really prove that he was killed in March of 44 BCE?”

    Learning to be curious, learning to ask questions until you run out of questions, learning to make connections between seemingly unrelated things without someone holding your hand every step of the way is a skill can only grow by being used.

    So instead of whining about why your teacher is not giving you questions on a computer or an iPad, go read a book, then read another one and keep on reading them. Heck, it really doesn’t make a difference if you read a hard copy or a digital one. Just. Keep. Reading.

    • Wow- really? I do not believe there was any indication that this was all a computer based issue. Rather the student talked about a need to be engaged in the material that is being presented, not that it all had to be digital content. I would guess that he would have the same concern of getting a worksheet online as it does with the same piece in a paper format.

      And are students just born with the natural curiosity and desire to ask questions? Are they like that where you are? Is it ok to simply put a text in front of them and say, get back to me when you have learned it all? Demanding that teachers provide lessons and work that is engaging to students is not too much to ask.

      • “And are students just born with the natural curiosity and desire to ask questions?”

        Yes. Have you ever spent time with a young child? They ask questions about absolutely everything. You should check out the research on divergent thinking (the ability to see lots of possible interpretations/answers to questions). According to one study (Break Point & Beyond) 98% of Kindergarteners scored at the ‘genius’ level in this thought process. The numbers drop drastically as they get older. Why? Because instead of encouraging questions we stifle them with “correct” answers.

        “Is it ok to simply put a text in front of them and say, get back to me when you have learned it all?”

        Have you been to University? Or gotten a job in the workplace that requires research on your part? Or just decided you were interested in something and you wanted to learn more about it? This is the way we learn almost everything that we know.

        “Demanding that teachers provide lessons and work that is engaging to students is not too much to ask.”

        Are you a teacher? Have you ever been one? As an educator I can tell you this is WAY easier to say than to do. Why? Well, as one comment above (GC) noted, it’s first and foremost a matter of time. With 150+ students’ worth of work and prep distributed over 5 distinct class levels, I don’t have it. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to plan that many awesome lessons for each different class level. I’d love to do it, but I already don’t sleep and have almost no social life. I literally have no more time to give. Second, have you ever tried to engage 30 people in a single room in the same way? Someone is always going to be ‘bored’ unless you can create a variety of simultaneous activities that engage different people on different levels according to their interests and desires. If I consistently don’t have the time to accomplish that on a class level, how do you expect me to do it for every student?

        Shervyn’s point that “Learning skills are not tied to a century or a technology” is a research-based fact. The current fad in education (21st century skills) is, if you actually start reading about it, convoluted and inconsistent. It argues both that we should train our students for the careers of the future using the technology of the future, but in the same breath admits that it’s nearly impossible for us to know what either of those are at this point. How do we fix that problem? I’m all ears. The reality is that students need to learn to find some internal motivation for their education. I can do a lot, but if they don’t have the drive to accomplish *something* on their own (sadly, few of my students seem to have this internal sense) even if they don’t like its format, I can’t make them successful. How many times at work have you had to do something you don’t like to do? It’s the reality of life, and we all need to learn to accept it as part of getting to where we’d like to wind up.

        As a general comment to almost everyone responding here: I’m curious how many of you have actually spent time teaching in front of a classroom. There are lots of knee-jerk statements about what is/isn’t easy teaching, or what teachers should/shouldn’t be doing. How many of you have the experience to back those statements up? You obviously all feel quite passionately about the subject. If that’s the case, why not put your money where your mouth is and help fix the system by becoming the sort of teacher you’d like your children to have? It’s a much more productive approach than lambasting individuals whose career field you likely know little to nothing about on an internet forum.

        • “According to one study (Break Point & Beyond) 98% of Kindergarteners scored at the ‘genius’ level in this thought process. The numbers drop drastically as they get older. Why? Because instead of encouraging questions we stifle them with “correct” answers.”
          ——————————————–

          To be fair, the research actually can’t pinpoint exactly what causes children to become less inquisitive and creative as they get older. One theory is it is a result of instructional practices students receive as they get older, but it could also be due to biological reasons that, as of yet, have not been discovered. I never present this is a scientific fact.

  5. Most students today do not respond to textbook learning,Teaching out of a textbook is easy.I feel teachers who still pass out worksheet packets and rely on a textbook are in the minority. While it certainly exists, this has turned into a stereotype that all teachers are labeled by, especially the main stream media

  6. Unfortunately ALL you students need to step up and contact your Legislators and tell them to stop forcing teachers to teach to the word for word so you can pas their State mandated testing. Only then will you see changes as drastic as you wanting. Teachers do want to don this but most States ( especially Michigan) force teachers o do otherwise.

  7. This article provides some food for thought-the kind of consideration teachers around the USA put into lesson preparation on a daily basis. The appeal to fictitious authority in the third paragraph (I will agree…well accustomed to) detracts from the valid message the article attempts to make. I do not know any teachers who are behaving this way. I have never had a teacher who did so, either. My son, however, has a teacher who leaves such assignments with a class when there’s a substitute teacher. If such activity should occur in any classroom as a frequent procedure, the administrators of that school would not be doing their job to allow it to continue. Saying that “many teachers” operate in this way, without providing evidence of any kind, is far too general. On the other hand, the practice of guided note-taking (either used in conversation or as an aid to understanding what is read) is a valid technique. In the twenty-first century, people have to be able to understand what they read and hear. This is not a skill humans have at birth: it has to be taught. There is a place for guided note-taking. I suspect that this is the actual purpose of the “packets” referred to in the article. If this is what the article refers to, perhaps those teachers need to explain the purpose of the “packets” that students are using. Any activity can be done thoughtlessly and without full effort. If students are filling in the blanks in “packets” without interacting with the material, then those students certainly would not get as much out of the activity as a student who is doing his best to learn. And that, certainly, is a twenty-first century skill: being able to do your best at a job when you could conceivably get away with going through the motions.
    By replacing that entire paragraph with concrete examples of the types of learning experiences students find useful, the author could have an article with the potential to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

  8. I completely agree with you. It is why, in my class, we haven’t used the book in a year. that being said, I get to work at 6:00 am… teach 6 out of 7 periods, make copies while I scarf down lunch, stay at work until 3:30-4:00 and go home and work some more. Good teachers, who recognise that these skills need to be taught and are valuable tools, often get much less than the recommended hours of sleep, eat on the run, sacrifice valuable time with family, etc. to do their job well.

    I agree with you, but there is a second piece. Teachers aren’t getting the support, especially from our legislators. We get minimal pay for all that we do and our work load is increasing every year. Our pay is decreasing. Most of us still work on furlough days, but our pay is cut because of it.

    Everyone wants teachers and education to improve but no one wants to put the time and money into it, it seems. If students are serious about wanting these things, they need to join the teachers and speak to their parents and legislators. We need to be putting more money and resources in education and, in particular, teachers, not taking it away.

  9. There are a lot of comments here about the tremendous work and time that teachers are putting in on a daily basis. We know that is true.

    But we also know that by the time they graduate high school, we need our students to be self-directed autonomous learners who can address their learning needs without someone always directing them and telling them what to learn and how to learn it. So I think we need to create more opportunities for students to direct and own their learning before they graduate rather than just assuming that they’ll be able to magically be self-directed, lifelong self-learners the day after graduation. Right now we do that infrequently or not at all in most schools. To the extent that students are doing more of the heavy lifting regarding the learning and teaching process, maybe that will free up teachers’ workloads and time burdens?

    • “we need our students to be self-directed autonomous learners who can address their learning needs without someone always directing them and telling them what to learn and how to learn it.”

      Absolutely! And as a teacher, I spend what little free time I have directed at trying to solve this problem. I’ve spent countless hours doing research in books, academic journals, on the internet, and speaking with colleagues. So far, we’re all stumped. How do you create an internal motivation in an individual when, at times, that motivation relies upon a maturity level and situational awareness that life experience just hasn’t provided students yet? It’s easy as an adult to recognize that often we have to accomplish things – even if we don’t particularly like/enjoy them – with a high level of mastery to wind up getting something in the long term that we very much want. It’s much harder to get students to recognize that perspective. I talk with my students about it all the time, and they still don’t get it. It certainly doesn’t help when, for example, a student wants to move on to the next level of my subject but fails to score the required pre-requisite grade (despite my extra help and coaching), so the parent just complains until the supervisor puts him/her in my classroom. What lesson does that teach about internal motivation and intrinsic reward for hard work? If you ask me, one of the huge problems is the current attitude that students shouldn’t fail. I’ve learned the most important lessons of my life from failing at things, and we’re robbing them of that (character building) opportunity.

      “So I think we need to create more opportunities for students to direct and own their learning before they graduate rather than just assuming that they’ll be able to magically be self-directed, lifelong self-learners the day after graduation.”

      Yes, but wouldn’t this entail more independent work (like reading assignments) and less “activities”? I agree with you completely on this point, which is why a heavy component of my classes is individual reading outside of class time and research projects/reports – skills that students NEED to learn to do on their own to succeed either at University or in the working world. The students, however, often complain that reading is boring and they’d rather be playing their video games. What is a teacher to do? Throughout all of western history, education has been tied to reading. How do we fix it if the students don’t want or aren’t willing to read? Big questions looking for big answers.

    • Scott,

      Maybe in the long run that will be the case. Right now, however, in order to build the bridge to carry us over to the type of learning we (and the student who wrote the article) desire, we need time and resources to get it done. You don’t ask a carpenter to build a house in a day or without adequate supplies. In many cases that is what districts are facing. Until we get the time and the support from those who legislate what we do, the process will be very slow.

      • I agree with you, GC. We’re so busy doing what we’re currently doing that we don’t make time or space to design new systems that, ultimately, will enhance student learning, make schools better, and make teachers’ lives easier. We need our leaders to find ways to make this happen. Otherwise, as you note, it’s going to take a L-O-N-G time for us to get to where we need to be.

  10. Christine Rose Murray Reply August 16, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Hey!

    I was reading through your blog and thought it was very insightful. I’d love to contribute, so let me know if you could fit a guest post in!

    Thanks,
    Christine

  11. Wow! Really nice writing and subject, I actually came here by accident and found this so this was quite intresting as im a high school student myself. Keep up the good work! :D (sorry for bad grammer or anything)

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