Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Faculty Projects: Working with the Textbook

Professor: Andrew Sturtevant

Department: History

Name of Group: First Year Only Sections Community of Practice

I have never gathered the statistics, but I’m fairly certain the number of Americans who keep a history textbook on their night stand is fairly low. Textbooks don’t exactly make for “light reading,” and often act as the factual and financial falchion stuck in college students’ sides. But their importance for learning cannot be overlooked: in the history of pedagogy, the textbook has stood the test of time (in addition to recording it).  Dr. Andrew Sturtevant, Department of History, looked to re-emphasize the importance of the textbook in his FYO classroom, by providing strategies and techniques for students to implement as they dive into the dense waters of history:

“I hoped to help students read their textbooks more effectively. I’ve noticed that students are often overwhelmed by the reading and unable to pull out the importance and significance of the reading. I hoped that if I shared a little bit about how textbook chapters are arranged and what to look for then students would be less intimidated by the readings."

His project was to create a step-by-step instructional worksheet that provided students with advice on how to read the textbook. Sturtevant outlines it as follows:
  • "[The worksheet] started by asking the students to 'pre-read’ the text, looking at the images and captions, titles and subtitles, and other signposts and then to determine from these what the subject of the chapter might be."
  • "Next it encouraged students to identify the major points and arguments of the chapter by identifying annunciatory language and to think about how the details and evidence fit into this larger schema. I encouraged them to express this graphically with a thought-mapping diagram that had them identify the main idea, subordinate/supporting ideas, and then supporting evidence.  I hoped thereby to help students who find it difficult to tell 'what’s important' in the reading." 
  • "Finally, the worksheet encouraged students to do a few minutes of reflection after reading to think about what the most important takeaways of the chapter was and compare it to larger course themes and other readings.  We then walked through the worksheet in class."
As is the case with most projects, Sturtevant found it difficult to fully assess the effect the worksheet had on his students. Interestingly enough, he noted that that there was actually less understanding of the course materials in his “worksheet” section compared to a "non-worksheet" section of the same course, though—as he points out—this could be due to any number of external issues. Despite the ambiguous results, Sturtevant deemed the project a worthwhile endeavor:

“I thought the experience was a useful one for me and the students alike. Although textbooks have a clear pattern and formula, this isn’t always apparent to students. Decoding and demystifying that pattern, I hope, makes the textbook less intimidating. For me, it’s useful to remind myself that things that are obvious to me now, and were obvious when I was a student, aren’t always so obvious to my students. I’m using the worksheet again in my regular section of the course this semester. If nothing else, it points to the importance I place on the readings and to the students’ learning.”

Write up by Jon Pumper

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