A King County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of parent plaintiffs, ordering the Seattle School Board to take another look at their math textbook choice.

This is another episode in the infamous “math wars,” which have pitted the traditional approach, which views math as a body of facts and emphasizes specific skills, rules, memorization and practice against a reform approach, which takes a more inquiry-based approach, viewing math as a series of connected ideas that should be understood conceptually first, with fluency following. Those who have been through phonics vs. whole language or a host of other similar debates in education will be familiar with the vehemence with which sides are chosen in these battles. While a balanced approach is in vogue in many districts, apparently many are still picking and defending sides.

I’ll leave aside for now my pent-up tirade about whether it is really the role of the courts to choose textbooks and focus instead on another issue. Textbooks are not the curriculum (or if they are, as one astute reader points out, you have a poor curriculum).

The view that any single textbook is the “curriculum” sadly ignores the role of teachers (as well as students) in the learning process.

There are many dynamics that affect learning in a classroom. Textbooks are not the most important of these. Teachers and the learning process they create and nurture have everything to do with how students learn.

Every student learns differently, has different skills, varies in language proficiency, has different interests, etc. That’s why differentiation of instruction is so important. No textbook, whether it be the “Discovering series,” Holt, or any one of many others is the answer for all students. Any teacher worth putting in a classroom knows this and uses a variety of resources, processes, products, activities, and projects to stimulate learning in a variety way.

Let’s give our schools and our teachers more credit than this court ruling does.

Textbooks ≠ Curriculum
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4 thoughts on “Textbooks ≠ Curriculum

  • Pingback:Textbooks are Not the Curriculum «

  • February 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Arguably, textbooks may not be “the most important” dynamic that affects learning, but they are important–some teachers would say /too/ important–and in many ways textbooks define or direct the pursuit of learning and the behavior of teachers who use them, assign from them, assess from them, etc.

    Sure, the textbook is not the whole picture, and the textbook is not exactly equal to curriculum, but that doesn’t mean textbooks (their design and content) are irrelevant, or that their role in teaching and learning is negligible.

  • February 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Karen. Thanks for your post. I would even go one step further and suggest (as have many others) that content in any of it’s forms is not the curriculum. Too often we place content at the centre of our teaching, which reinforces the idea that to memorise that content is sufficient to pass the course. Sadly, poor assessment strategies do the same thing, with students and teachers alike believing that to regurgitate content proves competence in a field. We need to move beyond the notion that it’s the content that’s important, and rather focus on using content as part of a complete teaching and learning strategy that facilitates critical thinking.

  • March 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Another interesting article on this: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011069269_math14m.html

    In this article, it is reported that Bellevue did a study of student results using each of the two textbook series. Not surprisingly, some students did better with one and some with the other.

    That’s the whole point of the teacher’s role, differentiating instruction, and ultimately flexible, open resources.

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