Where to Look for Textbook Alternatives
November 29, 2012 | 2:46 pm
By Joanna Cabot
I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about the high cost of textbooks. This one was about site licenses and how they penalize smaller schools. This one is about the use of e-readers in developing countries. This one is an infographic that looks at the issue from a variety of angles.
It strikes me as a somewhat American obsession, this textbook habit. When I did my teacher training in New Zealand back in 2005, nobody used textbooks there. There were some resource packets produced by the government for certain curriculum areas, but other than that, you were on your own—it was your job, as the teacher, to know your students and to gather together (or create) appropriate materials for them.
When I came back to Canada, I found the curriculum much the same, but a tiny bit more prescriptive—everyone has to learn about the pioneers, for instance—but that meant there were a lot of resources available. The idea that there would be a single prescribed book that everyone must use would be somewhat strange for teachers here, at least at the primary-junior (K-8) level, which I teach.
Most of my own resources are, if not modified somewhat, self-created. Most French as a Second Language resources put out by the big educational publishers assume that the children are in Grade 4 when they start, since that is the provincial average. Our school starts teaching French in pre-K. I need to focus more on oral activities (they can’t even write in their first language yet!) and the ‘written’ work, of course, needs significant adaptations. For me, it’s natural to create my own materials and I would never not teach something which interested me just because I didn’t have a book.
With that said, you do need good materials, at least for the older grades. So, if you’re looking for good teaching resources and you don’t want to pay for huge, expensive textbooks, where can you go? Here are some ideas for those in search of textbook alternatives.
Most public schools fall under the auspices of a ministry of education, and often they will have a decent resource section on their website. The ministry in New Zealand, where I was trained, has curriculum documents and curriculum exemplars which are free to all, as well as a resource bank that includes stories, support materials and other documents.
The ministry in Ontario, where I now teach, has curriculum documents and support materials on literacy, assessment and other topics. If you are teaching a thematic unit and you add ‘ministry of education’ to your Google search on it, you are sure to find some government somewhere that has put out a resource guide.
2. Teacher Websites
Teachers are great sharers, and if you can find out where they are, you are sure to find a treasure trove of goodies for the asking. The program I use as my core teaching curriculum is called the AIM Method and has a decently active message board on its website. People share all sorts of supplementary materials they’ve created themselves, ranging from Powerpoint presentations to extra worksheets to whole teaching kits.
I’ve shared the four units I created for my kindergarten classes there and gotten great feedback. Each unit is ready to go with an editable, printable storybook and a workbook of activities. We just finished our main unit for the term and there are two weeks to go before Christmas break, so I will be posting the two winter-themed activity books I’ve made for the kids to keep them occupied.
Whatever subject you’re interested in teaching, there’s a message board full of teachers who have already invented the wheel and are happy to spare you the work of reinventing it. Find them and download away!
3. Homeschool Websites
Homeschoolers are also champs at making their own stuff, and it’s all just a Google search away. I also know of two projects that aim to offer a free, complete curriculum, ready to go with weekly plans, based entirely on public domain and web-based materials. Ambleside Online has suggestions for print resources in math, history and other subjects to complement the free-online suggestions. It also has active email groups for each grade level that offer pre-formatted downloadable texts.
An Old-Fashioned Education is similar, but with an emphasis on Project Gutenberg texts. It has thematic indices too, which organize all resources on a particular topic.
Many homeschool resources, including the two above, may require some vetting and some modifications for the non-Christian (or the non-American). And much as I love Project Gutenberg for fiction, I do think that for science and history, you’d need to find some more modern texts. But there is so much information on those sites, organized and ready to go, that even if you do need to tweak it, you’ll still be starting with a treasure trove.
4. Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts to humanity that the Internet has brought us. It offers more than 40,000 public domain e-books in plain, convertible formats, for free, and added to regularly. Most of the new additions are from from its Distributed Proofreaders group, which carefully proofreads all books multiple times.
Project Gutenberg is often lauded for its goldmine of free pleasure reading, but it’s also a great source for historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, or the speeches of great presidents and leaders. It also has a growing periodicals section featuring early issues of magazines such as Atlantic Monthly and Scientific American. If you’re a history buff and are studying those eras, these periodicals can enrich your experience.
There are also works on education by pioneers such as Maria Montessori, language textbooks and readers, cookbooks, travels journals, short story collections and more. Want a more organized way in? Check out the two above-mentioned homeschooling curricula and start your browsing there.
Wikipedia is a great resource for general information. I wouldn’t want to rely on it as my sole source on a subject, but it can give a generally good overview on many subjects, and point to other resources worth considering. Calibre even has a plug-in that lets you input a few Wikipedia URLs, which it can then compile into an EPUB file for you. You can load this file on the reader or device of your choosing. (Click here to read “How to turn Wikipedia articles into e-books”.)
Wikipedia also has interfaces in several other languages, including French, Spanish and Italian. Why not make a little e-book of articles on fun topics for your language learner? Pop it onto an e-reader with dictionary functions, and you’ll have a ready source of easily digestible content to help your language learner improve their vocabulary and reading fluency.
And then there are Wikibooks and Wikiversity, which offer open-source textbooks and learning modules. They are a bit fiddly to download for offline use, but have good content on a huge variety of topics.
There are a ton of other great educational resources featuring video, multimedia, interactive quizzes and so on. But if what you’re looking for is a book-type thing, these are great starting points. Happy hunting!
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