Behind the Textbook: Seven Layer Dip

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My experience as a teacher has taught me that figuring out what will and will not work in the classroom can sometimes be a crapshoot. I’ve had assignments that I thought were going to be brilliant homeruns only to see them crash and burn. And I’ve also had readings I wasn’t sure students would get, only to see them do amazing things with them. The issue of what works is more complicated when building a textbook. If something’s a flop, it can’t just be swapped out next semester. No, what makes it in the book stays there for at least three years. Yikes! That’s why I use the “seven-layer dip” method. Every reading for Emerging goes through seven different reviews:
  1. Me: First, I take a look at the selection. Does it have potential? Is it interesting? At this point I’m usually just skimming it to get a quick feel for it.
  2. A teacher in our program: Second, I hand the reading off to someone teaching in our writing program. That second set of eyes offers a useful perspective, especially since that teacher’s classroom isn’t mine.
  3. Me: Then it comes back to me. On the second pass, I take a careful look at it, imagining the kinds of ideas students generate and the kinds of assignments we might write.
  4. John: My editor is next in line. He brings an important perspective—one much broader than my own or those of the teachers in our program. He has a sense of other programs and other ways of teaching that I just don’t have access to.
  5. A teacher in our program: Then the selection goes back to one of the teachers in our program, only this time it goes into the classroom. By this point, we have a pretty good sense of how it will work, but there’s only one way to know for sure.
  6. Students: Testing a reading in the classroom is vital. If students can’t work with a reading—if it’s too difficult, too flimsy, too boring—then there’s no sense in keeping it.
  7. Me and John: As a final step, John and I work together to figure out which of the selections that have made it this far should end up in the textbook. That’s another process, which I will discuss in the next post.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.