When it comes to text books for many subjects, hire-book schemes can be really helpful. Many of these books are expensive to buy and as they are used year after year it makes sense to ensure that all students have access. However I think they are deadly for English classes. Here are some of the reasons.
We Teach from Texts, not text-books.
Good English teachers do not teach from ‘text-books’ as such. They teach from texts. Novels, plays, poetry, film and other media are our main tools and students need to have their own copies where possible. Ok, so films not so much, but the rest definitely.
Students need to be able to write on their texts. They need to underline, asterisk, circle and make notes in margins. They need to be able to own and lose themselves in the pages of a book in a way that is not possible when they are worried about having to return it. Learning to annotate a text is one of the best ways to learn how to interrogate written material and if students are not able to do this they miss out on learning a valuable skill.
The argument in favour of book-hire leans heavily on the side of making texts more accessible to more students but this doesn’t really wash anymore. There was no e-bay, or other Internet sites available when we were at school but there are now. Lots of them. I did a quick search before and found several sites including World of Books and eBay where copies of Shakespeare plays cost less than $10 including postage. There were even good quality second hand copies of more recent works like The Book Thief for not much more. Discount book sites like http://www.bookdepository.com and http://www.betterworldbooks.com have a vast array of both new and used books at affordable prices.
Furthermore, many of the texts that we use belong now in the public domain. Students can download them free from the Internet on any number of devices, even their smart phones. It may not feel as good as an actual book but it will give them something useful to do with their phones. There are also many on-line tools for annotating.
Students need to be able to write on their texts. They need to underline, asterisk, circle and make notes in margins.We Teach Well
We are locked in.
I once taught briefly at a school that had been using the same classic novel in Year 11 for over 12 years. It was a great novel, but really… 12 years.
I don’t know about you but no matter how much I love a text, 2 years in a row is about as much as I can handle before I get a bit stale and need to mix it up. 12 years is waaaaay too many. If there is a teacher out there who can honestly say that they can maintain their highest level of enthusiasm each and every one of those 12 years I would like to meet them.
And if we are not enthusiastic about the text how can we expect our students to be. Enthusiasm is contagious and our students get it directly from us. We are kidding ourselves if we think they will not see through a less than full-throated engagement with the material.
By not changing our texts regularly we are subconsciously telling our students that there are not that many good books out there and that they don’t need to bother looking. If English teachers can’t find more than one or two good books who can? We can hardly blame our students for not getting excited by reading if they do not witness us engaging with new and different works.
What about Relevance
My biggest objection by far though is that being locked in means we have picked the text before we know the students in our class. Before knowing their interests, their backgrounds, their stories and their abilities we have chosen a text that may be totally unsuitable and hinder their ability to learn.
I will grant that there are some texts, Of Mice and Men being one example, which can resonate with almost any young adult group when well taught. But there are so many books, so many plays, so many films, so many stories that we can draw upon, that it seems absurd to me not to find ones that suit the particular group of students sitting in front of us.
We teach our students about ‘audience.’ We teach the importance of keeping the audience in mind when crafting their writing and speaking. And then we do the exact opposite when assigning texts.
I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on the topic of book-hire schemes in English. Both for and against. Please pop over to our Facebook page and take a minute to enter them. And if you have good ideas for working around them I am sure others would be interested.
Till next time.