Marie’s Musings – July 2018

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Thoughts on education, publishing, and other intellectual titillations – by Marie Brown, Consulting Editorial Project Director

***The following comments, views, and opinions are solely those of Marie Brown, and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Publishing Services, its management, and staff.***


“The Textbook Is Extinct! Now What?” — title of a session at the 2018 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference


Is it?  Ever since the entrance of technology-based programs/materials into the classroom, the death-knell of textbooks has been rung loudly and frequently.  And now, with the surging emergence of the not-so-new kid on the block, OER (Open Educational Resources—free educational materials for teaching or learning that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, changed, or shared with others), we hear the obituary-writers sharpening their pencils (OK, not a great metaphor for this piece). At the ISTE session, the audience voted on the following questions:  Should we be using the term textbook anymore? (Strong majority voted “no”.) Is it realistic to think that OER can completely replace textbooks? (Vast majority said “yes”.) It is understood that OER programs are essentially tech-based.

MY TAKE—Given the focus of ISTE, it’s not surprising to me that conference attendees would be in favor of anything digital over print materials.  However, it must be noted that many K-12 districts and individual teachers have turned to OER in recent years.  And a number of districts have announced that they are willing to give large-scale adoption of open content a try.  I understand why educators are migrating this way.  The hue and cry for personalized learning seems to be better suited for digital resources than textbooks. (I discuss personalized learning below.)

BIAS ALERT—I still prefer textbooks to digital programs (as I also still prefer printed books to online-readers).  The wild west of thousands of accessible online programs makes for an unstructured free-for-all (sorry!) curriculum.  A new teacher or even an experienced one would have to vet a plethora of digital programs for quality and relevance and then create a cohesive instructional approach that will work in the classroom—day by day, week-by-week, month-by-month—covering all the prescribed skills for all students by the end of the school year.  I cringe to think of what would happen if those goals were not met—or if, horror of horrors, test scores go down.  Textbook programs have been used successfully for years. Teacher’s guides, accompanying the student texts, have generally included alternative and enrichment resources for individual instructional needs.  So I personally don’t believe that the textbook is dead – perhaps, that is until the millennials become the predominant age-group of the teaching profession.


The United States National Education Technology Plan of 2017 defines “personalized learning” this way:  “Personalized Learning refers to instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner…In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests and often self-initiated.  Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.”  If there’s a “buzz word” in education circles these days, it’s personalized learning.  Publishers are touting it in their marketing materials—both print and digital.  As an example, the ads for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new Intro programs, claim the materials meet the needs of each student. School districts are insisting that curricula and pedagogical approaches be developed toward the individual needs of each student, perhaps even designed by the students themselves.

MY TAKE (laden with heavy bias):  Good teachers have always considered the needs of each student, taking the time to work individually where needed.  When I was teaching in the 60’s, the rage was IPI –individually prescribed instruction.  We tried, but the ability to access untold activities, tests, and lessons online was only a glimmer in some programmer’s eye at the time. So, we struggled to create materials for each of the 25+ students we had in class—after creating assessment tools which would diagnose which skills needed to be worked on and in what preferred learning style.  It was a dismal failure.  So we relied on the basals which gave us comprehensive teacher’s guides to meet the different needs of the students we were to educate. Also not perfect.  Today, we have the resources –a whole universe of materials – that are available online to pick and choose from.  But who is going to make those decisions? The teacher?  The student? What teacher would have the time to create/select a boutique curriculum, including materials, for each student? Can we expect the student to select all the things he/she needs to learn—and the programs to learn them?  Then, let’s add the special needs of the learning/physically disabled, and English as a Second Language students and the job is virtually impossible.  So what to do?  I think that someone, some educational entity, some educational publisher, etc.,  needs to rein in the “runaway horse” of individualization.  We need to have a structure, as counterintuitive as that may sound, to make this personalized learning doable. It is a good and lofty goal.  But I’m not sure it’s achievable.


  •   A recent national poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappan found that one in three parents fear for their children’s safety at school. A significant majority—63 percent—do not support the idea of arming teachers as a way to make schools safer, but overwhelmingly (76%) prefer spending money on mental health services in schools over armed officers (23%).
  •  LearnZillion, a provider of free lessons and videos for educators has begun selling a new commercial full-course K-12 curriculum to school districts in a move to compete with publishers and at least one provider of OER. Stay tuned.

Halfway through summer already!

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