Sarita Mathur is a free-lance education consultant offering services to schools, both rural and urban, in India and abroad. An alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, Sarita has a degree in Mathematics, Education and a post-graduate degree in Operations Research. The Mathematics background and her wellhoned sense of systems and processes had her institutionalise several long lasting and important changes as Principal of The Shri Ram School placing it firmly on the map as a progressive and leading school of India. Sarita has served as a consultant on the International curriculum of the CBSE and also serves as advisor/consultant to several curriculum companies, schools and start-up ventures.
I am the Head of Department and every year around October/November we review our current text-books and see if we want to continue with them the next academic year. We really do not know how to decide. Can you give us some tips?
Yes, it’s that time of year again – loads of samples coming onto the Principals’ desk only to be passed on the HOD for intradepartment discussion and decision-making. Each one vying for attention with increased use of colour, better paper, improved layouts and the inevitable higher price. The aspects that help you decide which textbook to use will vary from subject to subject. In general irrespective of class some of these tips may help:
For Social Sciences the content style should be contemporary and connected to ground realities and challenges of today’s society. Content should be broken into bite-sized sub topics. Sub topics that are worded so as to raise a question e.g. why do states want power? Help students anticipate knowledge and keep them more closely engaged with what they are about to read. Illustrations always help. We all know what Akbar looks like, don’t we.
For Sciences, clear diagrams, simply presented concepts, charts, use of varied graphic organisers like herring bone cause and effect, wedding-cake hierarchy, venn diagrams classification, t-tables help organise large volumes of information in a manner that make it easier to store and recall.
Mathematics is rarely taught from a text book. Its main purpose is to provide a graded progression of questions for assigning as class-work and /or homework. Some Math teachers prefer books with lots of questions at the end of the chapter. I personally feel there should be fewer questions so that the teacher can focus more on concept building as against ‘finishing’ the exercise. At least one solved example on each ‘type’ is beneficial for the students as well, while they self-study. As for the languages- that’s a tough one! I would go for a suite of books here that builds on skills e.g. comprehension, vocabulary, etc and of course the Reader. Some schools make their own selection of stories and poems and print them so that they can chose genres and authors they find suitable for their students.
That way they are not saddled with one book with lots of ‘chapters’ that they find difficult to finish and can spend more time progressively building skills.
Why do publishers print a whole series of books in some subjects like Mathematics: text books, supplementary books, lab book, workbooks, teachers’ guides, FA books. The whole package of material becomes too much to go through. Can you help us wade through this?
As a school you need to understand what you want your teachers and students to use books for. More does not necessarily mean better. Just as a smart board in every classroom does not necessarily mean that teaching improves (or learning for that matter). Supplementary books in most schools are rarely fully utilised; workbooks are required in some subjects e.g. primary and middle school math. Teachers’ Guides are very important in those course books that follow a different, nontraditional approach. FA books are simply making the teachers’ jobs easier. However, do remember that most of the FA books available in the market do not truly carry material that can help in conducting ongoing formative assessment that is meant to be frequent, informal and effective. They are simply pen and paper tests! Your school should develop a policy on textbooks that aligns with its vision, in case it does not already have one.
My school is a progressive one. As teachers we are encouraged to not teach from the text book. Then how do we teach? Why even have text books then on our book list?
It is said, the less you use the text-book the more students learn. This is because text books tend to fragment the topic under study in a manner that does not stimulate curiosity, discovery and exploration. The wholesomeness of the topic is undermined and the teacher’s ability to put some of her/himself in the teaching is diminished if not lost all together. An inspired teacher integrates other resources and ideas not found in the textbook into the lesson and develops his own curriculum. To this new ideas are added on every year to make it richer and more meaningful. Teaching from the textbook is instructional teaching while using one’s own knowledge and planning for a variety of experiences is learning-oriented teaching.
In our country even though the stress of written examinations is diminishing- let’s face it- marks still matter. As a result students (and parents!) need something to lean on and learn from even when the class room experiences are over. So keep the textbook on the book list – just don’t teach from it!
What is your opinion on moral science books? Do they really help in teaching student morals?
Morals need neither a time tabled period nor a text-book to be taught. Morals and ethics can be taught through almost any experience and are best imbibed when a lesson or moral is embedded in a story as against directly evident. How the teacher steers the discussion is of immense value; how she creates –hypothetical everyday situations that present an ethical dilemma is vital. Debate, role-play, reflection exercises, cartoon-strip making are wonderful ways to take the discussion forward. The idea behind the moral science class should not be to build morals but to build awareness, sensitivity to various core values e.g. caring, positivity and tenacity. So, just as ‘sex education’ classes have morphed into ‘gender sensitisation’ classes perhaps ‘do not steal’ stories need to be set in more natural and real landscapes so as to be more in sync with the world we live in and the lives we lead.