As a relatively new teacher, I will admit to clinging to the textbook for dear life at times. They just make it seem so easy!
I look at the planning pages at the beginning of each chapter, and it seems like magic. If I just spend this many minutes on this topic on this day, and then follow it up with this suggested video and this quiz/worksheet, then the students will learn what I want them to learn!
Then test time comes, and I use the textbook question bank to make up a test. If it's all from the textbook, and we've been using textbook materials, it should all be in there right? They should know this stuff by now -- I've done exactly what the planning pages told me to do!
Except the students didn't magically absorb what I wanted them to learn. What they did learn is exactly what I also learned in school: how to poke around a textbook until you find the phrase that will get you the maximum number of points on the test.
So I started to think more critically about the textbook and how it presents information. Despite the fact that it starts each chapter with an inquiry activity, or offers quick labs for discovery and investigation, it pretty well packages up everything with no need for the reader to puzzle things out. In short, it's no fun. Even the "connect to your world" sections are vague, obscure, grasping at straws: how the hell does an ancient Greek coin relate to my life AND the periodic table?
Even worse, there was just SO MUCH detail presented. This chart, that illustration, this key concept, this special page on science, technology, and society. How were my students supposed to know which pieces were IMPORTANT, beyond simply memorizing those key concept statements? My students were really in a course on how to be mind readers: what will Teacher think is important in the textbook?
Sometimes they guessed wrong, or read my mind incorrectly, or just weren't telepathic enough. Then come the complaints: You didn't TELL US this was going to be on the test! Now pause and think, what's your reaction to that statement? I know a LOT of things go through my mind when I hear it.
a. You knew which chapter in the textbook we were covering, you should have studied all of it.
b. You could have asked me during the review period.
c. If you felt like you didn't know it well enough, then you should have come to see me earlier.
I don't think any of these are the right answer. Unfortunately, these are the ones I've given (implicitly or explicitly) in the past. By May of this past academic year (2010-2011), I starting fiddling with the idea of laying out the objectives I think they should master, and telling them early on in the chapter what I'd like them to know or do by the end. But this has gone on long enough, so I'll write more about that when I address the inner voice that says "isn't that CHEATING?"