At the outset, let me say that teaching from a textbook is a ‘no-no’. It would almost always give the impression to students that you don’t know your ‘stuff’ or you are not confident. Here, you need to remember that you will always know or understand more than the vast majority of your students with the topic you are teaching. There will occasionally be gifted students in your class who will understand it all. Use them as tutors/mentors for fellow students. They will often express difficult ideas in ways better understood by their classmates.

However, since textbooks can be expensive, it is important that they be used often and effectively. A good textbook can be a real asset to you as well as for the student. The author was, most likely, a teacher who has written the book on the basis of their own experience.

A good textbook is an essential tool in learning, helping with consolidation and practice of skills. Therefore, take a great deal of time researching various choices to find the one that best suits your needs. A bad choice becomes an expensive mistake.

The writer spent most of his career teaching Mathematics where a textbook is essential. During his years as Head of Mathematics, he introduced several new syllabuses into his school. Consequently, he and his staff needed to research carefully to find the best available textbooks. Sometimes it took up to two years to test out the available text books. His experience in using textbooks and selecting new ones provided the information for this article.

A good textbook is a:

• Reference guide;

• Source of the basics to learn and/or practice;

• Source of rules or procedures to be learnt;

• Source of exercises used to consolidate new learning and ideas on how to practice new skills; (These need to be carefully graded to allow students enough practice to consolidate the basics and then allow them easy movement forward to the more challenging tasks.)

• Source of revision exercises;

• Source of worked examples; and

• As a backup when you teach new and challenging topics.

It should contain the following:

• Chapter summary of ideas to be remembered;

• Chapter review/test;

• Answers;

• Easy to understand diagrams, graphs, pictures and other illustrations; and

• It may also contain a suggested work program as a guide to the time you need to spend on each topic.

Teach your students how to use the textbook effectively as it can be an efficient learning tool at home. Spend a lesson looking at the following list of sections in the textbook, explaining how to use each part.

(a) Contents page

(b) Index

(c) Explanations of new work

(d) Worked examples

(e) Learning work

(f) Exercises to do

(g) Skill practice

(h) Chapter review

(I) Chapter test/diagnosis

(j) Problem solving

(k) Extension work

(l) BOB, back of book – answers

Work Program and Your Textbook

Give students a work outline to go with the textbook. In it, detail the basic exercises the students need to do to gain an understanding of the subject. This is the minimum requirement only. However, specify what needs to be done to extend this understanding to gain the best marks possible.

Some final advice:

Insist that students have their textbook with them every day in class. If you know that you will definitely not be using it next lesson, tell the class not to bring it. (Students appreciate not having to carry heavy books unnecessarily.) However, don’t forget to remind the class to bring it to the next lesson. You need to be careful with this process in lower level classes especially in junior high school classes.

When you know that you will use a textbook in a lesson, insist it remains closed until you have finished the teaching part of the lesson unless you plan to refer to it as part of your teaching strategy. It is important to write the number/s of the page/s you intend to use on the board. Then, don’t start referring to what the students must do until you are sure everyone is on the same page. This is also true when you set work from a textbook for the students to do.

Some teachers, particularly, in lower high school classes with less able students, have extra textbooks with them or photocopies of the relevant pages to ensure all students will be able to do the planned work.

In the end, your text must be:

• Teaching tool;

• Teaching aid; and a

• Learning tool