Textbooks: What I like, and what I wish could be

I have been thinking a lot about how to improve the Foreign Language classroom.  I don’t, as of yet, have any practical experience teaching in a high school, but I have observed quite a few different classrooms and have put some thoughts together, combining other interests of mine: namely Web 2.o and the possibilities that technology and the internet provide.  One thing I have been thinking a lot about is textbooks.

As I start realizing that all too soon I will be in charge of a classroom full of students all on my own, responsible for coming up with curriculum and lesson plans and assessments and projects, I start to panic.  I see textbooks as being very beneficial for teachers, since they have a structured, organized approach to learning, with suggestions and helps to make the lessons interesting.  I know German, I know it very well.  I can carry on a conversation, I can read technical documents, I can write research papers in German.  I know it well, and I know how to teach.  What I don’t know is how much is too much for a beginner.  I tend to get overexcited about German and want to share all that I know, all at once.  I am hoping that, in my first few years teaching, I can find a textbook that will help me plan out lessons and units in a progressive way that builds upon what students already know and encourages fluency.  I want the textbook to tell me how much vocabulary and which grammar principles to teach when so that it makes sense to students.

I guess you could say I’m a fan of the idea of textbooks.  It makes sense.  Students have a resource that they can use when they are outside of the classroom, if they want to review grammar or vocabulary, or, dare I say it, peek ahead and prepare for what’s coming next.  I definitely see the benefits of teacher-created curriculum, and I have talked to several teachers who have developed their own lesson plans and units entirely on their own, but in such cases the students are almost entirely reliant upon the teacher for their language learning materials.  I believe some middle ground, best of both worlds, should be found between using textbooks, and developing a customized curriculum based on several factors, including teacher aptitude, attitude, and students’ needs.

That being said, I am a big fan of textbooks that provide online content.  If I were to design a textbook, ideal for my classroom, it would be entirely available online, as a downloadable .pdf document, with other online resources and links.  As a teacher, I would only need one set of textbooks for use in class, and students would have the electronic version available at home.  This would mean that students wouldn’t have to haul a textbook back and forth between school and home, and it would also eliminate the excuse that they couldn’t do their homework because the had forgotten their book.  Students spend so much time online, on their computers nowadays, let’s make their schoolwork available when/where they want them.

Along with this, I want to try and have as many homework assignments online as possible.  Maybe create a class website, probably through GoogleSites, like a few college classes I’ve had have done. On the website there can be a semester plan (a list of assignments and due dates), attached documents (readings, assignments, handouts, etc.), maybe even some quizzes (Google forms are pretty useful, you can ask questions and all of the answers are gathered in one Googledoc spreadsheet).  If homework assignments are online, students no longer have the excuse that they left their homework at home.  As soon as they submit their answers, they show up in my GoogleDocs.

Of course, this does open itself to other problems.  While most students have computers and internet access, there may still be some students who do not.  They could be given an extra textbook to keep at home, and assignments that would have been online could be printed out and handed to them.  Students might also claim (whether falsely or not, I’ll not speculate) that they had internet connection problems, or error messages when trying to submit their assignments.  I would like to take students’ words for it, and give them an extra day to do the assignment.  If it becomes a regular thing, I might discuss with parents what we could do to fix the seeming recurring problem.  I am also working on a homework policy (look for another blog post on my thoughts about homework).  I understand the necessity of homework, especially in a foreign language classroom, where daily practice is so important, but I also understand that students’ lives are busy and it is sometimes not possible to do homework every night for my class, when they have other assignments for other classes.  Maybe I’ll allow a certain number of homework assignments to be missed, or maybe I’l allow a certain number of assignments to be turned in late.  I’m still working on that.

All of the problems aside, I really want to be able to incorporate technology in my classroom as a means of helping students learn the curriculum.  Computers and online tools have so much to offer for learners, especially when it comes to learners of foreign languages.  I am excited to discover the new possibilities that ever-changing technologies can provide.  I love the idea of finding ways to help students learn a foreign language who never thought they could be fluent.  Textbooks with online content are one thing I am looking forward to as I become a teacher.  What are your thoughts?

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