Textbooks and the 21st Century Student

Over the last 20 to 30 years, textbook publishers have become averse to bold historical narratives for fear of being labeled as too liberal, too conservative, too patriotic, or too sexist….Instead they have become encyclopedias of historical names, places, and timelines….and they are doing away with is what most interesting about history: perspective, interpretations, historiography, bias, debate and controversy.

From History Lessons: How History Books around the World Portray US History by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward.

There is a movement today to read and re-evaluate the school textbooks of the Asian countries which Japan held as colonies or occupied during the war….School textbooks in those countries described the pain in detail, along with perceptions of Japan. Internationalization must begun with speaking the truth about the role each country played in the war.

Display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

As my grade 10 student study imperialism, their final assessment was to write a textbook from the point of view of an imperialist nation and the nation they colonized. It’s a fun assignment and students have the opportunities to explore the idea of “perspective, interpretations, historiography, bias, debate and controversy”. The irony of students creating a textbook is not lost on me. In the three years I have taught at YIS, I haven’t had used a textbook. We practice Google search techniques, I put links on my blog, and check books out from the library. So as my kids create textbook pages, we have discussed the pros and cons of textbooks. And we pulled out textbooks so they could see how they were formatted and they type of language they used to describe the days of hope and glory or the days of conquest, depending on your perspective.

A funny thing happened on the way to the final due date. My students started to ask if they could create e-books. Or apps. Or books that were interactive, where vocab word would link to the dictionary or there could be videos. This was not my intention, but it’s what they started to do. I shared David Wees’s post Forget the future: Here’s the textbook I want now and they ran with it. They want searchable books and ones that are customizable and include multimedia. Honestly this is how they expect books to act.

There are days when a textbook would be easier and at times they may be the best teaching tool. The advantage of books versus the vastness of the internet is information that is easy to find and appropriate. And textbooks can tell us what countries, schools, or teachers think is important for our students to learn*.But our students don’t expect information to be static. And neither should we.


*I know this is incredibly loaded statement. Maybe something to dive into at a later date.

The pictures are drafts of the layout for the textbooks/apps/ebooks.  About half the students are doing traditional books and the ones doing Apps/ebooks receive no extra credit. You should have seen how psyched the boys working on an App were when they found a program that was perfect.

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
This entry was posted in COETAIL @YIS, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Textbooks and the 21st Century Student

  1. Fantastic! I want to hear more about the apps their using and how it goes. I know Adam Seldis really wanted to create iBooks, but the challenge there is that you must have an iPad to view the finished work – if we can do something similar that can be read/accessed on multiple devices, that would be awesome!

  2. Reiko A (^_^) says:

    I agree with you that near future, no more text books!!! But I am not sure when…… maybe in five years? or in ten? I know some people like to flip pages and put highlight on the sentences, so…., I assume both type of the text books will exist for a while.

    Last week, I had to carry two text books from ASIJ to my house…., oh, it was so heavy…. But many of the HS/MS students are carrying their texts every single day. I teach online — we use a paper-traditional-text book and a workbook, but rest of the things are all online.

    Thanks for sharing the “Forget the future: Here’s the textbook I want now” article. Great article to share with the kids! It is fun to hear that your students are saying — they want to create e-books or apps. Please let us know when/if they finish. I would love to see their masterpieces.

    Reiko (^_^)

  3. David Wees says:

    I’m excited to hear that students are trying to create an interactive textbook. Please let me know how their project goes.

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