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    by Mike McHugh

Using Textbooks Effectively
Date Posted: May 25, 2006

Once upon a time, the two primary textbooks that were available to teachers in the United States were The Blue-Backed Speller authored by Noah Webster and the Bible. A few teachers also had copies of the first textbook that was printed in North America, entitled The New England Primer. Needless to say, a great deal has changed over the years! Now there are textbooks for teaching everything from arithmetic to geography; from art to zoology. The question for most teachers is no longer so much what to teach but rather how to teach a particular course of study effectively. The following information will provide teachers with a few suggestions on how to derive the greatest benefit from the textbooks they use each day with their students.

  1. Take the time to become well acquainted with the material at the beginning of the school term. A textbook is a learning tool, and we cannot expect to use any tool effectively if we are not familiar with it. Imagine an auto mechanic who purchases a new tool but then neglects to learn about its functions and uses. He will be seriously limited in his ability to use that tool in repairing automobiles. In the same way, the effectiveness of a teacher is seriously limited if he is not acquainted with his material.

    Become familiar with the basic philosophy underlying the textbooks that you use. Seek to grasp the author’s primary objectives and the means by which he intends that they be achieved. As much as possible, make his goals your goals unless you are convinced that they are ill conceived or unbiblical. Obviously, using a textbook that is written from a Christian perspective will lessen the number of times that you will need to deviate from the author’s goals. Nevertheless, it is wise for teachers to know if and when they do not agree with a particular section of a text so that they can develop a plan to counter this material with something better.

    Get to know the overall content and layout of the textbook. Obtain a clear idea of the progression of the concepts from cover to cover. If the text has any special inserts, supplements, or visual aids then be sure to familiarize yourself with these features. It is also important to know how and when the author planned to have students evaluated in terms of questions, quizzes, or tests.

  2. In addition to the text itself, teachers should develop a plan for their particular students. Determine how much material should be covered each day, each week, and each month, and devise a schedule with check points along the way to measure your progress. Be sure to factor in enough time for needed reviews or tests. Although there will undoubtedly be times when you will modify your schedule, it will still help you to keep on track by having a basic plan or schedule. As the school year develops, you may want to make further adjustments with your schedule but it is at this point when you must have a clear idea of which sections of the book are critical and which are expendable. Familiarity with the textbook plan will permit you to sort out and prioritize your schedule if you find that it is simply not possible to achieve all of your original goals.

  3. No teacher should be a slave to a textbook. A great deal of learning can and should take place outside of the confines of your student’s textbooks. Always remember: you are the teacher, and at the end of the day you know the specific needs of your students better than the author of the book you are utilizing. Make it your constant purpose, therefore, to teach your students what you are confident they need to know. If certain course material has a teacher’s guide, do not feel obligated to carry out every suggestion it provides. Rather, use the teacher’s guide as a means to help you chart a path toward your goals in the most effective manner for your particular students.

    Textbooks are an important aid in teaching the various subjects; but in the end it is you, the teacher, who will be the one who will determine how best to meet the particular needs of each child with the text material at hand.

Copyright 2006 Marvin Eicher Edited by Michael McHugh

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at
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