Teaching is a dynamic occupation. So when it comes time to change textbooks, make sure you cover all your priorities with this helpful guide.
Has it ever happened to you, that you had a good course plan worked out – and then the department changed the textbook? Maybe it’s just an updated version, or maybe it’s a completely different text! Does this mean that you have to re-do your entire semester of lesson plans?
If you will be receiving the new, updated version of an old textbook, this can be a good thing. Updated texts should have the latest formatting instructions for MLA and APA citation. This is good, because any time you can give students concrete examples, they are better prepared to use them as tools for success.
Another bonus to having the updated book is that usually, not too much changes from one edition to the next. There may be new example essays, and the page numbering system will be different. Some new exercises will probably be added, and a few taken out. That’s par for the course – the writers and editors are responding to feedback on what works and what doesn’t. But the general direction of the book, especially if it’s still with the same author and publishing house, will in most cases, be the same.
The solution to adding this new book to your course is fairly simple. Just read the book (okay, skim it if you’re very familiar with it), take note of the new page numbers, and record any new exercises that you want to incorporate into your class. Put the new page numbers in the syllabus, and you’re good.
Note: if there was an exercise that you just loved in the old book, but it has been taken out of the new one, keep the exercise. Maybe you don’t have the walk-through process on a specific page, but if you’ve used a class exercise or assignment before, you can imitate the best parts. It’s like having a good recipe: roux is a fairly simple thing to make. Once you know how much flour and butter to mix together, you can use that blend in anything, from gravy to soup.
The updated version of a textbook is, therefore, not that hard to add to your syllabus. It will take some careful preparation- but then again, lesson planning does demand that, in any case.
If your department’s textbook committee has decided to choose a completely different book, the preparation for that will be somewhat harder on your end. But it, too, is workable.
First of all, think of it in this way: the textbook helps the teacher, not vice-versa. [Disclaimer: there are some classes where the textbook is of better service than the instructor: however, those teachers wouldn’t be reading this column, so this isn’t you.]
Good teaching means that you already have a game plan for the course. You know what the department’s regulation assignments are, and you know how many drafts you usually give, so that students can submit their best work. You also know what examples garner the best responses from your pupils. When students say, “That made sense!” then you know you have a keeper.
So with this in mind, know that you don’t have to totally overhaul your course. You’re just going to be adding to it, using the new textbook where it fits and sticking with your old examples, where they better serve your purposes.
Exploring the New Text
The first thing to do is to read your new textbook. Take notes as you read. Key features you should locate are:
Guide to MLA and APA styles (or any other formatting style that you use)
This is the core of any good composition textbook. Updated guidelines to formatting styles help students find a definite answer for questions like, “How do I cite a YouTube video?” or “Is a web page the same thing as a web site?”
Why look for articles? You need material for class. If rhetorical reading, or close analysis are required for your classes, then the easiest way to find examples is to get them out of the textbook. Can you survive by finding your own examples? Yes. Especially when you’re given a textbook that fits multiple course levels, you will have to supplement materials in order to meet your specific course standards. But the textbook is made to try to help shorten that class prep process. Use what you can – it saves you time and makes it simpler for students to find the material.
Why look for sample papers? Because students will. The argumentative essay is a fairly standard part of freshman English, or at least, it has been. You want to check to see if the example in the textbook follows your department’s guidelines, whether it be using formal language, or including only popular sources.
If the examples are in sync with your department guidelines, you can take it further – do the sample papers meet with your own teaching style? Everyone will teach a concept differently. If the sample essay doesn’t quite mesh with what you teach, then find the good in the dross. Maybe it has a perfectly set up works cited page, or you really love how they included illustrations and referenced them clearly.
Know what doesn’t fit with your teaching method. That way, when students say, “But I was looking at the sample paper and it said…” you can knowledgeably say, “Ah. Yes, but the instructions for this paper say that it has to be formal – and this example doesn’t quite follow that rule.”
Every textbook will follow someone’s teaching method. Whether it’s a way to get a paper done in three weeks, or the friendly guide to scholarly research, each writer has to approach the topic of writing instruction from some angle. That angle is their teaching method.
The question will arise: does the new textbook’s method match your teaching method? Figure it out. For example, if you do outlining as a last assignment, after a paper is done, and the book absolutely requires outlining before any writing is done, students are going to want to know why you don’t agree. They will be confused.
Before you decide to totally adapt to a new teaching method, look for similarities in your practices. Sometimes, the same ideas come through, just in different order. Nice as it would be to be able to start at the beginning of a textbook and proceed through it chronologically, it doesn’t always work out that way. So, use those page numbers and assign readings where they fit into your lesson plans. Is there a how-to on drafting a proposal? Do you need to have students write a proposal? Then put that reading into your syllabus where you do the proposal assignment. Is there an assignment on doing a public survey? Are your students already doing all sorts of other research? Then leave that reading out of the syllabus. The students can read it on their own time if they so desire – but you don’t have to assign it.
Maximize Your Time
Especially in this day and age, when some college classes are completed within weeks, instead of over the course of months, the instructor has to go for the best materials in a textbook to maximize his or her teaching moments. Find the information that is most helpful. Give the examples, find the things that you want students to copy. Put those specific page assignments into your syllabus. Make the textbook work for your students so that they can read the information, understand the assignment, and get the work done well.
Creativity: A Result of Change
Teaching is a dynamic occupation. As a college instructor, you will be modifying, tweaking, changing and re-arranging your lectures and assignments every semester. After all, you don’t want to be bored by handing out the same old quotes every semester. Yawn. When the teacher is bored, the class is bored, too. A new textbook can help alleviate that case of same ol’ same ol’.
But at the same time, a classic is a classic. When you have a reading that always works, or a teaching method that clicks, you want to keep it. Maybe you’ll address a concept a bit differently, or you’ll change the order of information that you present. But essentially, some things will remain the same.
Change happens in a course. It’s endemic to the process of learning. There can be major changes. But when the change comes from switching to a different textbook, this change is pretty manageable. You just have to know what your ultimate goal is. Then, you can make the book fit your needs, and those of your students. After all, that’s what you are paid to do.
Louisa Danielson, B. A., M. A., teaches English composition at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. Articles by Louisa have appeared in a variety of publications, including Dialogue: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, South Texas English Studies, The Musical Times and several popular publications. When she isn’t writing, teaching, or grading English, Louisa likes to explore classical music.