These last few weeks, my frustration with our schools has worsened. As always, I’m deeply concerned about our broken educational system. But I recently heard from several parents that a prominent, well-respected high school in Oakland County is ditching textbooks. I thought that there was a misunderstanding. I thought that maybe they misconstrued the message and the district was opting for on-line textbooks. Nope. Their message to incoming high-school freshman parents was that the high school decided to discard textbooks in lieu of “exciting” teacher presentations that will allow for more creativity. OUCH!
This learning method has been common within other districts for the last few years—and it is harming our students. I, as well as other professionals should not be the ones who need to help dig these high school kids out of the black hole because they can’t read. And what about the parents who can’t afford us?
This school district as well as others are providing a disconcerting message: “You don’t have to read for successful life-long learning. But as taxpayers, we are allegedly using our tax dollars to prepare students for higher-level learning. And I’m seeing that increasing numbers of high schools are eliminating textbooks across the country.
What does eliminating textbooks mean for your child?
Textbooks are the only tools to build foundational knowledge and long-term retention. I’m standing by this statement and I will challenge any person who wants to dispute this.
We know that high school students spend only five hours per week (give or take) in each subject area. Within that time, teachers are providing information/skills so that students can understand, acquire, and retain information for foundational and higher-level learning. With classroom movement, interruptions, discussion, projects, lectures, group discussions, PowerPoints, and some movies, it is not possible for students to learn and conceptually understand as much rich information that textbooks can provide. Additionally, books supplement the information that teachers present to students within the restricted time.
Textbooks help students to understand the intricacies of concepts. They help with comprehending important details so that the information unfolds. Teachers know that there is not enough time during class to read the textbook information out-loud. So, the outcome is that the students don’t retain or understand a lot of important information, including details. They only learn to recite back. One of my college students stated, “When I was in high school, I felt like I was part of the Clicker Dog Method—Spit back the right words without understanding and get the treat, which is the A grade.” This statement was from a gifted student who was an A student in high school, but a struggling college student.
I understand the teachers’ issue: They have been eliminating textbooks because not only do struggling students have problems reading them, but many smart and gifted students can’t read grade-appropriate textbooks either. But instead of providing students with secondary reading instruction, they are not preparing them for higher-level education.
Parents are furious
These past few years, I’ve been inundated with disgruntled parents who need help for their child. The complaints stem from their child not having the needed reading skills for standardized tests, or for college. At the college level, professors expect students to read textbooks.
For years, I’ve been hearing from 8th grade parents who whose children have been rejected from their preferred private high school because of low reading scores—and these students are straight-A students. Also, 4.0 students taking AP classes are receiving Reading ACT scores in the high teens or low 20s. Does this make sense?
I’m also hearing from parents that their kids aren’t reading in school. This ranges from reading ½ of a book during the entire school year; some say that their child read “zero” books.
Parents say that some high school English classes focus on Socratic class sessions (a method of cooperative argumentative dialogue between students based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions). The teacher presents one point-of-view and the students take a side. One parent states, “Nobody needs to read and everyone gets A’s.”
Several parents claim that their child fails every test in one subject, they pass because they got A’s on their homework. One parent states, “If the teacher sees that a student completes the homework, it is an automatic A; so that A means effort.”
Parents also feel that their children are not thriving from the Cooperative Learning Method, where students teach each other by using a project-based exploratory method. But because kids are plucking out words from text, and since they don’t know how to read at grade-level, they don’t thoroughly understand. Therefore, students, who are learning themselves can’t teach other students. The foundational knowledge needs to be present for expanding knowledge.
I’m also hearing that some history teachers present history out of order; also, they do not require any textbook reading. As most of us know, each element of history adds and unfolds into subsequent historical events. That is why books have timelines. And any person who has some expertise in learning knows that the brain processes information linearly (in a line).
What do these parent comments represent?
These are just a few extracted common comments from everyday disgruntled parents. But the message is the same: without reading skills, students cannot learn well. Absence of the most crucial tool, the textbook, means that students lose foundational knowledge, understanding, and the ability to learn information on higher levels. This type of knowledge is attained by critical reading skills.
A recent incident
Last week, I was working with a student on note-taking skills. Her history class does not use a textbook. She is 4.0 student, extremely bright, living in an affluent area, and attending a highly proclaimed public high school.
She said that she doesn’t read or use her textbook because she isn’t tested on it. Even so, I used her history book for learning note-taking skills.
This student normally studies her class lecture notes, which is a printout that reflects the teacher’s lecture. While she is lecturing, the students complete the fill-in-the blank document, and then use them as their notes for studying. Afterwards, before the end of each history unit, the teacher provides another study sheet that condenses the previous printout materials so that the students can memorize easier.
While working with this student:
Knowing that this student was not tested on the book, I decided to show her how to rewrite lecture notes for better understanding, studying, and testing. But there was a problem.
We started with the first sentences on the fill-in-the-blank page:
In 1954, the Civil Rights [sic] movement began with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, but the rest of the American society remained segregated.
The NAACP showed that the 14th Amendment could be used to challenge segregation.
Civil rights leaders continued the fight for equality until segregation came to an end [sic] in 1965.
From the first statement, I asked her, “Do you understand the Board vs. Brown case?”
“Did your teacher explain it?”
“What did she say about this case, Brown vs. Board of Education?”
“Not much. I can’t remember and I won’t be tested on this. I only need to know what’s on the page. The teacher was more into talking about how the Rosa Parks incident was planned. Rosa Parks knew that she was going to be in a crowded bus and planned on not giving up her seat.” My student was shocked that I already knew that information.
Then, we went on to talk about the NAACP and the14th Amendment (second statement):
“Did the teacher explain to you the 14th amendment?”
“Do you know anything about it?”
“Did you know that this is part of the constitution? “
“Oh, yea, now I’m remembering that this is part of it, but I don’t remember the amendment. But what does that have to do with the civil rights movement?”
“Did the teacher talk about this amendment that was passed almost 100 years prior to the incident?”
And then, I had to explain that according to the amendment, that black people were citizens and had every right that the whites had; the constitution stipulated that if you were naturalized or a free slave, you had every right as other Americans. And the NAACP was fighting for black rights as citizens. And the unread book clearly stated this.
What does ditching books mean to your student?
If the listed complaints and the one example from a session (these conversations occur frequently) don’t anger you, I’m at a loss. If you are a parent who wants to make a difference, get books for your children to read and make sure that they understand textbooks at their current grade level.
Many students whom I service have earned 4.0 GPAs and higher (I’m continually baffled because a 4.0 is the top grade and AP grades are on transcripts). But educators continue to reward students who can’t read at grade-level with the common A. Our grading system presently reflects memorization and extra credit. Teachers claim that students can earn this because they are “learning,” regardless of their reading ability. How about testing students on vocabulary? Most 11th graders don’t have an 8th grade vocabulary level. Read my past blogs. Many students don’t read at their current grade-level.
What can parents do?
When students memorize for exams, they forget (rote memorization is linked to short-term memory). Students who can comprehend textbooks will retain material for the long-term. Turn on one of the late evening TV shows and watch Jimmy Kimmel mock ignorant people on the streets. Jay Leno did this too. When students aren’t reading, they aren’t retaining. The public is entertained by ignorance (I’m not mentioning Trump—oops). We laugh, then we cry. But we don’t want “those” TV people to be our children.
Parents, get involved. Urge the schools to bring back textbooks. Have them reinstate secondary reading programs. It’s never too late. The schools owe all students the opportunity to learn how to become strong readers. My motto remains: Strong readers are strong test-takers.
Do you have a comment or question? Reach out to Cindy@RTSsuccess.com.