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Celebrating the textbook
Michael McGarvey, Director of Cambridge Learning for Schools, gives his insight into why we should embrace the textbook, and support the Publishers Association’s Textbook Challenge.
High quality textbooks are instrumental for supporting teachers and learning – but in UK schools, we’ve slowly moved away from textbook use as the basis for teaching. Scarce levels of school funding make it harder for schools to justify the cost, but of greater concern is the view that a textbook orthodoxy has fallen out of favour with teachers and policy makers .
But international evidence increasingly shows that textbooks are crucial to improving learner outcomes and making lesson planning easier for teachers.
In an era of curriculum reform they provide organised units of work, the best examples will encompass a complete curricular programme, will drive deep subject knowledge and provide preparation for assessment.
Yet a 2010 National Curriculum Review showed only 4% of science teachers in the UK used textbooks as the foundation of their course, while in Singapore and Finland - two countries that vastly outperform the UK in international science rankings - they are used by 68% and 94% of science teachers respectively.
That’s why we at Cambridge are supporting the Publishers Association’s Textbook Challenge – which calls for the whole education sector to “strive to ensure that every child has access to a textbook in the main subject areas.”
A quality textbook provides the syllabus for teachers, encouraging clarity in core concepts, offer clearly signposted routes for students’ progression and enable clear reflection away from the classroom too.
Teaching from a textbook can still mean deeply imaginative lessons, and should drive scope for creativity in lesson planning. The right textbook will have been developed with the highest pedagogical standards, will likely have undergone stringent endorsement through awarding organisations and will save teachers valuable time in developing these materials themselves.
Teachers can (and should!) use them in different ways, to support the different needs of their classes. They can be can be supplemented with outside reading and high quality digital resources, set the tasks within them as homework or as interactive whole class activities.
In an era of curriculum reform it’s important to emphasise the role of the textbook. Unlike frameworks, objectives, assessments that seek to guide curriculum, textbooks are concrete and daily. They are the stuff of lessons and units, of what teachers and students do. That centrality affords them a unique connection to teaching and learning.
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