Teacher: “Please open your textbook to page 131. Let’s read the introduction paragraph together, then you will read the rest of the chapter to yourself, answering the questions on page 135 on your own sheet of paper.”
Student A: “Do we have to? It is so boring!”
Teacher: “Yes. This chapter has important vocabulary you will need to know for your test at the end of the week. Plus, this is exciting information on photosynthesis!”
Student B: (to himself sarcastically) “Yeah, right. This is just how we learn outside of school too.”
This is a brief scene from any classroom that we once either sat in or taught. Textbooks WERE the curriculum. Teachers used the textbook as a primary source of information, using the supplemental resources for worksheets or projects. In fact, we may even find this kind of scene somewhere around the world today. But is it the best way to teach today’s students? Is what we grew up with good enough for the next generation despite the plethora of other resources the world has to offer?
In Matt Miller’s book, Ditch That Textbook, he shares that our textbooks of year’s past should be just that – the way we used to teach and learn. Today, we have so many more resources and experiences we can give our students to learn, all of which are more engaging and more applicable to their future. Ditch That Textbook is not a textbook-bashing book, but rather an exploration of the new mindset that educators must have in order to teach this generation of students.
I believe one of our most important roles might not be answering questions, but helping students discover the right questions and showing them where and how to find the answers themselves – (pg 21).
Ditch That Textbook
Throughout the book, he demonstrates how he used this acronym in his own classroom, ditching the textbooks and opening the opportunities for his students. Miller is honest about how his classroom USED to be, sharing how his classroom transformation began when he knew his students needed today’s classroom to look and feel differently.
Miller divides his book into four major sections: “Why Go Digital”, “Ditch That Mindset”, “Ditch That Textbook”, and “Ditch That Curriculum”. In each part, he explores the mindset behind the section, then giving practical examples from his classroom, while also sharing other resources, often with QR codes linking readers directly to articles, blogs, and websites to be used immediately. Most importantly, I found his down-to-earth attitude and conversational writing style an easy way to connect to this book. He transported me into his classroom – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and shared why and how he changed the experiences he created for his students.
“Why Go Digital”
Miller shares the philosophy behind the importance of “ditching” our textbooks. Our students are growing up with technology, and we need to not only use it in our classrooms for learning experiences, but also teach our students how to use it appropriately, finding answers to their questions. One of the most important aspects he explores in this section is the change that is happening in education. Teachers are no longer “gate-keepers” of knowledge, but rather need to guide their students on how to find reliable information using the technology already in their hands. Miller builds the “why” of ditching our textbooks, beyond just adding technology to a classroom.
“Ditch That Mindset”
Throughout this section, Miller sets the stage of changing our mindsets by sharing stories from his own classroom, describing the classroom of the past and comparing it to the classroom of the future. He gives practical examples of how teachers can transform their mindset and their classroom NOW, with simple shifts, such as making learning personal, giving students control, sharing, and becoming a connected educator. Throughout these short chapters, he highlights easy-to-use resources and concepts that any educator can use today. More than that, the best notion from this section is that educators do not have to do everything at once, and in fact, should not, as this is overwhelming for anyone.
He describes two very important concepts, which I still reflect on today, “Choose to Cheat” and “Minimum Effective Dose”. Both bring light to the demands of our jobs, relinquishing the guilt we may feel for not always doing everything all of the time. “Teachers often say they’re overworked and underpaid, and we are. But maybe the overworked part is partially our own fault. By keeping a laser focus on what we want to accomplish, we can reduce or eliminate wasteful and ineffective methods” (pg 94). Once again, throughout these chapters, Miller ends with a QR code to another great resource or blog, putting all he says into action.
“Ditch That Textbook”
The entire premise of the book comes full circle in this section, where Miller gives the practical and relevant ideas to digitize the classroom, with ideas such as going paperless, using digital tools to engage students, creating content, and making visuals. He spends time delving into the concept of blogging, an important practice not only for educators, but also for our students. “Sharing student ideas and work online exposes them to perspectives from people they would otherwise never meet…And as they learn, discuss, and grow, they become better global citizens” (pg 150).
Most importantly, Miller highlights the importance of bringing the world into our classrooms, and taking our classrooms out into the world. We live in a global economy, and we must open the walls of our classrooms for students to experience this world, with our guidance. “Going global is one of the most transformative effects the Internet can have on a classroom” (pg 151). This section is jam-packed with ideas and resources. But once again, he shares that it is critical we take it one step at a time, doing it right, pushing ourselves in small steps.
“Ditch That Curriculum”
Miller’s final section of the book pulls together the bigger picture of the Ditch That Textbook mindset, assisting any educator through the steps it takes to fully transform your personal philosophy so that it carries through all you do in your classroom and your school. In order for this philosophy to take hold, there is reflection and planning to occur. Ditching your textbooks does not happen overnight, and in order for this mindset to take hold and be effective, there is considerable thought that needs to take place. He walks the reader through the process, step-by-step.
I highly recommend this book for every educator, no matter what grade level or subject he/she teaches, or what building or district role he/she may have. It is a practical guide, with relevant examples that will assist every educator to not only to adjust his/her philosophy for the future of education, but also how to take a few simple steps to make that philosophy a reality. Matt Miller inspires through his real-life stories, giving every educator know-how to ditch those textbooks in their schools right now.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, christoph.G.