Textbook is a widely used teaching tool (curriculum material) which presents the subject matter defined by the curriculum. A university textbook is required to contain the complete overview of the subject, including the theories, as well as to be of a more permanent character.

According to Wikipedia, retrieved 19:57, 8 August 2007 (MEST):

A textbook is a manual of instruction or a standard book in any branch of study. They are produced according to the demand of the educational institutions. Textbooks are usually published by one of the four major publishing companies. Although most textbooks are only published in printed format, some can now be viewed online.

Philosophical definition of textbook is “Textbook is nothing but a vehicle of curriculum transport.”

According to the Dictionary of Education, we can define textbook as: “A textbook is: A book deals with a definite subject of study, systematically arranged, intended for use at specified level of instruction and use as a principle source curriculum material of study for given course.” -C.V .Good, Dictionary of Education Textbooks are usually part of a pedagogical design, i.e. it can be the centerpiece of a course syllabus, it can be used for self-study (students and professionals), and teachers can assign just parts for reading. According to use contexts, functions of a textbook are not the same. But we do argue that one can identify particular functional and structural questions related to production, structure, function, use, etc. of textbooks.

Cultural Differences

Functions of the textbook and ways they are written differ a lot within different cultural systems. Daniel K. Schneider expressed that it is similar with:

• In the US, in particular in so-called teaching universities, the textbook is a center stage. It has built-in pedagogy and since chapters must be read in linear fashion.

• In Germany, Switzerland and France in ordinary university systems there are few textbooks. Students are exposed to more lecturing. Supplementary reading is often optional and concerns both introductory books and academic literature. There is a tradition of the “pedagogical manual” or “instructional book”. Interestingly, the Wikipedia textbook translates in French to school manual or “pedagogical manual” and in German to instructional book (Lehrbuch, “lehr” refers to teaching). Let’s have a look at the German definition of “textbook” in Wikipedia (retrieved 16:39, 10 August 2007 (MEST)). A “Lehrbuch” (textbook) is a special form of a non-fiction book used for teaching. It contains didactically prepared learning matter and materials. Finally, let us have a look at Textbook in simple English Wikipedia. A textbook is a book someone uses to learn. It is usually supplied in classrooms form primary school to post secondary school. People use it to learn from it about a certain subject. They might also teach other people about that subject.

• Germans and French make a distinction between university books and school books. French consider university books to be expository (no built-in pedagogy), where as the German authors just mentioned “didactically prepared contents”. This difference between the US and German/French definition does not exist for schoolbooks. I.e. it is expected that schoolbooks look quite a bit like their US counterparts. There is also a difference in format. German textbooks (at least for the humanities) are usually cheap and small pocket books, whereas in the US it is the opposite; textbooks are huge (large and fat) and expensive.

• In France most textbooks are sort of mid-sized soft covers, but there is also a series of Que sais-je, about 1200 little (128 pages) didactic books without illustrations for almost every domain that exists. A leading domain expert usually writes them. On the other extreme (both in France and Germany) there also exist huge and large textbooks as curriculum material, but mostly restricted to domains like medicine or law. Then it gets more complicated, there is not just a difference between language cultures, but between national cultures. E.g. Belgium textbooks (e.g. DeBoek) are much more based on instructional design principles and do have a structure similar to typical US books, but in Daniel K. Schneider’s opinion much less verbose and made in way that information can be found again.

This short discussion only tells us that textbooks can be analyzed in terms of their function and in this perspective; it becomes less clear what a textbook is. E.g., Johnson (2001) argues, “The definition of a textbook may be as general as to include other books made and published for educational purpose, or even any book used in the classroom. The textbook may also be a subset of an even broader and increasingly more commonly-used term “teaching media””. The question is how teachers and students make sense of the textbook within the context of wider learning environments and what function it has in relation to other teaching and curriculum materials and other learning activities.

From the teacher’s point of view

•    As major teaching aid with a lot of built-in pedagogy, e.g. review questions, self-assessment and work cases.
•    To help the teacher prepare a class (and also to recover from not so efficient lecturing).
•    As reading assignment to cover specific concepts.
•    As supplementary reading for various purposes (e.g. to help with term projects, to help preparing an exam, as references).

From the student’s point of view

Daniel K. Schneider has the suspicion that a typical US student enrolled in a typical teaching university does not read and work through the textbook as the authors planned it, i.e. they rather use as complementary reading or reference and skip activities that don’t seem to have a direct relation to quizzes administered by the teacher. It is also argued that textbooks, if available cheaply, would have bright future in the third world. However, one study made in Namibia found that textbooks as a curriculum material are very much underused i.e. “The major uses of textbooks in class were for diagrams and data, and to verify factual information. Occasionally, questions in textbooks were used as homework to test and/or consolidate knowledge.” (Lubben, 2003).

Textbook writing and pedagogical theory

Firstly, textbook writing is related to instructional design and therefore one might look at textbooks in terms of some instructional design models and methods. On a prescriptive level, one might argue that authors should use at least some kind of backwards design, i.e. define what students are supposed to be able to do (e.g. solve problems) and then write the books that enables them to do so. In the same spirit, one also could argue that textbooks should respect some first principles of instruction, e.g. let’s recall Merrill’s:

•    The demonstration principle: Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration
•    The application principle: Learning is promoted when learners apply the new knowledge
•    The activation principle: Learning is promoted when learners activate prior knowledge or experience
•    The integration principle: Learning is promoted when learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world
•    The task-centered principle: Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy. However, textbook writing is a specific activity and one should not forget that textbooks are usually just an element in a given pedagogic strategy and must be planned together with possible pedagogical use cases. E.g. Horsley and Walker (2005:265) identify a changing conception of textbooks that is related to changing learning theories. Teaching and learning materials e.g. textbooks as curriculum material are used differently according to pedagogical theory:
•    Transmission: Source of information, Basis of transmission, Knowledge authority, Structure of a teaching and learning program •    Constructivist: Activity and inquiry source; Provision of multiple sources for students; student knowledge; construction Multiple sources for teacher selection. •    Socio-cultural: Scaffolds learning; Accumulates students into disciplinary knowledge and practices; Source of inquiry activities; Basis of explicit teachings.

Pedagogical objectives

Textbooks are written with pedagogical objectives in mind by the author. Of course, teacher and learners must construct their own representation and they sometimes re-purpose a text in ways not anticipated. E.g. a textbook, instead of for strong instruction, can be used just for reference.

For an author, there are several ways to manage objectives. Often, advise on writing textbooks suggests to plan book chapters in terms of desired learning level outcomes. But the author should be aware that teacher’s define reading assignments (textbooks and other curriculum material as a whole or portions) in function of their pedagogical objectives. These may not be compatible with the original intent of the author.

The most important objectives concern learning objectives, e.g. what the student should master after having worked through the textbook, usually part of other class/homework activities. Again, both authors and teachers (and one could argue, learners too) should also engage in this exercise. For example, the IOWA  writing assistant identifies 6 levels of emphasis based on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. (retrieved 20:03, 27 July 2007 (MEST)):

1.    Knowledge: rote memorization, recognition, or recall of facts.
2.    Comprehension: understanding what the facts mean.
3.    Application: correct use of the facts, rules, or ideas.
4.    Analysis: breaking down information into component parts.
5.    Synthesis: combine the parts to make a new whole.
6.    Evaluation: judging the value or worth of information or ideas.

Depending on global objectives of the book, an author can put different emphasis on each “Bloom” level. Objectives at book and chapter level should also be associated with activities, assessment, etc. Here is an example for Synthesis-level objective. Target students are students in educational technology. They have to prepare an e-Text about e-learning standards as an activity.

•    Objective: “By the end of this section, you (as a student) will be able to design a learning object that introduces key components of e-learning standards, and in particular modeling languages.

•    Activities: Make your own summary of the most important concepts you can find in articles on and then design of a course module with that.

•    Assessment: The course module

•    Key Words: Design, formulate, build, invent, create, compose, generate, derive, modify, develop.

Usually in textbooks and other curriculum material, objectives are not just used to plan the text, but they are made explicit. Objectives then can write out at the start of chapters or sections and activities inserted where appropriate. Hints for self-assessment can added too.

Textbook language and organization of contents

Textbooks, as well as curriculum material, in language research seem to be identified as a genre (or genres). Most research focus on structural analysis of textbooks, but some research also produces knowledge that can be used for prescriptions: According to Jones (2005), textbook writers have three choices: simplification, easyfication, or the scaffolding of concept knowledge. We shall summarize some prescriptions can be derived from this article.
Simplification strategies – enhanced cohesion/coherence

•    simplification of content: explain new technical terms as they arise

•    simplification of form: make sure that the text has cohesive links and restores implicit relationships, e.g. when using general-specific of problem-solution progressions.

•    simplification by including explanations and exemplifications

•    using similar structures, i.e. syntactic repetition acts as a form of syntactic scaffolding.

Note that simplification may turn against learning. For example McNamara et al. (1996) found that “ text coherence improved readers’ comprehension, but also that giving readers with sufficient background knowledge an incoherent text that forced them to infer unstated relations engaged them in compensatory processing, allowing deeper text understanding than might occur with a coherent text.”

Easyfication strategies – enhancing structure

The purpose easyfication is to “give learners an additional instructional apparatus by developing a kind of “access structure” around the text without his [sic] having gone through the intervening stages of simplified materials” Bhatia cited by Jones (2005:9). Examples of such devices are:

•    Provide introductory paragraph(s) to a text (or text segment)
•    Provide a structural analysis (‘tagging’ sections) to a text (or text segment), e.g. as in Advance Organizers.
•    Provide a schematic representation of a text (or text segment)
•    Add annotations/explanations to the text, e.g. marginalia
•    Add meta discursive commentaries (before, in the middle, or after)
•    Add questions to encourage interactions with the text

Typical activities can be

•    filling in gaped texts
•    complete sentences
•    propositional clusters
•    produce or complete tables and flow charts
•    Write summaries of various sorts e.g. include critique, most things relevant, organize information, etc.

These activities can be assigned by teacher, i.e. must not necessarily be part of the text itself.

Writing Performance Objectives

It is important to distinguish between instructional goals and instructional objectives to understand the objective of using the curriculum material. Instructional goals are usually expressed in non-behavioral terms and are generally a more expansive vision than objectives. Objectives, on the other hand, are expressed in behavioral terms and are usually short-range outcomes. An objective is a description of a desired pattern of behavior for the learner to demonstrate. Despite the different approaches to writing performance objectives, most models include the following three components:

1.    Action — Identify the action what the learner will take when he/she has achieved the objective (e.g., to identify; to measure).

2.    Relevant Conditions — Describe the relevant conditions under which the learner will be acting (e.g., “given the patient’s history”; “with the use of the information from the laboratory results”).

3.    Performance Standard — List as many of the actual conditions as possible under which the objective is to be performed (e.g., “must be able to identify at least one possible treatment for the patient’s illness by the end of the case study”).
Textbooks are usually part of a pedagogical design, i.e. it can be the centerpiece of a course syllabus, it can be used for self-study (students and professionals), and teachers can assign just parts for reading.

According to use contexts, functions of a textbook are not the same. But we do argue that one can identify particular functional and structural questions related to production, structure, function, use, etc. of textbooks.

About the author

Tamanna Kalim

Tamanna Kalim

Tamanna Kalim is working in the developmental sector (Health and Education) for over 10 years in different multicultural settings, possess post-graduation both in Public Health (MPH) and Education (MEd). Her current position is Clinical Administrator in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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