Textbooks Enrich Learning

Our Evaluations Director, Anita Sherwin-Hamer, submitted a Letter to the Editor of Professionally Speaking, and it was featured in the December edition! Take a look at her letter below and learn why she believes textbooks today are as important as ever in enriching student learning.

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Cquote1_black.svgI read with interest in the June issue about the history teacher profiled in Great Teaching who uses primary sources to engage her students in real-life historical research. While I applaud the exemplary work of this teacher, I found some of the messages in this profile somewhat misleading. The article seems to suggest that using textbooks in the classroom does not provide authentic learning experiences for students and that inquiry-based learning, conducting fieldwork and engaging in rich summative tasks are not part of the textbook experience. Nothing could be further from the reality of today’s textbooks. As the agency that evaluates textbooks for the province of Ontario, we examine all the textbooks that are available for use in Ontario schools. These resources have kept pace with changes in pedagogy and offer students many opportunities to engage in inquiry and to do meaningful work that has relevance beyond simply completing classroom assignments. History and social studies textbooks, for example, include a variety of primary sources that provide opportunities for students to ask questions, analyze data and apply historical thinking concepts. They also suggest summative tasks that provide choice for students in how they demonstrate their learning and that take students into their communities to gather data, problem solve, or engage in active citizenship. The article also seems to suggest that exemplary teachers do not “lean” on textbooks. This is a disheartening message for teachers who are not specialists in the courses or subjects they teach and who can offer a richer program for students supported by a well-researched, well-designed textbook. I applaud Ms. Whitfield’s success, however, I hope we can identify these types of exemplary practitioners without undermining the evolution of textbooks or the many teachers who use them.

– by Anita Sherwin-Hamer, OCT, originally printed in Professionally Speaking, December 2016

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