Buying the Textbook

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This blog was originally posted on February 5th, 2014.

During the last weeks of the fall semester, I heard students talking about trips to the bookstore and the cost of texts. It was the wrong time for the term for those conversations, so I wondered the topics were coming up. When I asked, the majority of students confessed that they hadn’t bought the book until they began work on the final course project and determined they needed it.

I assigned readings from the textbook all term. I pointed to examples and model texts from the book. When I marked grammar, punctuation, and style errors in their work, I included the page number in the book where students could find more information. None of that practice benefited students however. They just relied on what I shared in class.

I realized that I probably enabled their behavior. I used the PowerPoint slides that were available on the Bedford site, and I posted those slideshows on the closed class site (a custom version of Sakai) for students who missed the class or had trouble taking notes in class. My guess is that students decided to use the slideshows in lieu of buying the book.

Their decision came to light during the last weeks of class because I provided less explicit support (and no slideshows) for their last project, a group oral presentation and written recommendation report. I wanted to give them the majority of class time to collaborate on their project, and I wanted to see if they could find and follow the information they needed on their own. In the workplace, your boss rarely gives a slideshow presentation on what she wants you to write. Without my overviews, students were left with no option but to get a copy of the book, even though it was quite late in the semester.

I was annoyed when I realized that so many students had gone without the textbook. It’s not a book that I wrote. It’s not a question of royalties. It was that I thought they had access to information that they didn’t. I began to understand why students asked me to review information so often and why they were confused on basic concepts. More importantly, I resolved to change my strategies so that students would buy the textbook for the spring semester.

This term I’m not using the slideshows that come with the book. Instead, I’m showing the e-book with the projection system, and pointing out significant passages that I want students to remember. I’m using the highlight tool in the e-book to mark those passages. Here’s an example of what students see, marked with a red arrow:

Using this method, I am also able to demonstrate reading strategies and how to use the features of the text. For instance, I’ve pointed out how to use the Writer’s Checklist at the end of each chapter and I’ve demonstrated how to take advantage of the marginal links to online resources for the book. Students have to consult their book to get the information, and I hope they’ll also read the additional details that I point out to them as I review the highlights.

I’ve also changed my in-class writing activities slightly. I hate pop quizzes, and I’ve never been in a workplace where the boss began with a quiz on the reading. I want students to write every class period, but I want the writing to be meaningful. So far, they have been writing about various webpages that I ask them to evaluate for audience, purpose, effective writing strategies, and so forth. The writing prompts are similar to those that I used last term, but I made one small change. I make explicit references to the textbook in the questions—and as a result, I’ve seen students consulting the book while they were writing their answers. They not only bought the book, but they’re also using it. That feels like a success.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.