Teaching Seminar
Dr. Lauren Scharff

Some of these notes touch on subjects that we will cover in more detail later in the semester (e.g. lecture issues).

Notes on Choosing a Text

What are some issues to consider when selecting a text for an undergraduate course? (These are not in order of importance, and should serve as a guide for some considerations rather than a complete discussion of the issue. Many are also admittedly my opinion, so you may disagree with them!)

1. Coverage of the course

  • it is preferential to pick a book with too much coverage than too little, because you can always leave chapters out
  • but, if you do choose a text that doesn't cover all the topics you wish to cover, you can always supplement in class (requires more effort on your part)

    2. Level of the text

  • need to consider student vocabulary (reading comprehension level)
  • methodology (how much the book contains)
  • level of the theoretical points

    3. Presentation of the material

  • writing style should be clear and jargon free
  • does writing contain examples / stories that the students will be able to relate to (these may help "grab" their interest)
  • are there figures / pictures? are they meaningful, or do they just take up space? (figures can be a nice break from reading text, but you don't want to waste the reader's time either)
  • are there tables? tables can be useful to summarize material, but tables that are too large (too many details / levels included) can be overwhelming
  • are there graphs? graphs can also summarize data, but you may want to be careful of graphs in a low level course. (even in upper levels courses, many students don't understand them!) If you do use graphs, make sure the information presented is very simple and redundant
  • are there summaries? summaries can be boring; some students may feel that they only need to read the summaries (especially if they seem substantial and they fall at the end of a chapter); however, summaries can be useful to highlight points previously covered. interim summaries may be better than long ones at the end of a chapter.
  • Good things to look for: information which will serve as a mnemonic; comparison and contrast of information; integrates information for the students

    4. General Points

  • you want integration
  • think about sequence
  • you want the text to have a point of view compatible with you, the instructor (minor disagreements can be addressed, but students tend to believe what they read more than what you say)
  • how recent should the literature be? very recent may initially seem most desirable, but it may not be appropriate in an intro course; although it is important, it may be too specific and beyond the scope of the class; remember that you can supplement a book with recent literature and you can correct or update an older theory if it has been updated or invalidated by current research

    5. PriceYou should make a text choice with out reference to cost because:

  • those who choose to keep it will want a high quality text to use for reference, etc.
  • compared to the cost of tuition, housing, etc. for a semester, the cost of books is trivial
  • but, if you're not going to use the text, don't require it

    6. What about texts with multiple authors?

  • as a positive, you do get different areas of expertise
  • as a negative, though, each area is more likely to get too high level and technical
  • writing styles may also vary, which decreases readability
  • there tends to be less integration in the final project

    7. Multiple Texts?

  • similar problems to multiple authors
  • money begins to become an issue

    Coordinating the Textbook and the Class

    Again, this is a collection of advise I've gotten in the past as well as some of my own opinions. It is meant to serve as a guide, not the final word on the topic.

    A. Read the entire text before starting the class

  • this is a great goal anyway; at least try to give is a thorough glance through - more than what you did at the time of the selection process
  • this will aid you in knowing what to assign and what not to assign
  • you will also become aware of topics which will require extra review in class

    B. Reinforcing topics from the textbook(or, in other words: how much of the text should you go over in class?)

  • you have all probably had the boring experience of getting no non-text material in a class - probably made you wonder why you attended class (if you haven't experienced this, you're lucky!) So, it's good to bring in some new material - but how much?
  • in the extreme, you could ignore the text entirely; however, even in this case there are reasons to still assign a text: it provides additional material, it provides additional viewpoints, it is a source for test questions, and it is a security blanket for the students
  • an alternate viewpoint: you can't cover all material in class, so you should be selective about what is most important and/or most difficult for review
  • another viewpoint: if itŐs worth assigning, it's worth covering in class, at least to a some extent. A consequence of this is that you won't be able to cover as much in a course, but this is not a serious problem. Most neophyte teachers tend to try to cover too much.

    C. Complementing the text: What can a lecture provide that a textbook can't?

  • you can use audio-visual aids in the classroom - and other newer technologies!
  • you have the freedom to be more informal in delivering a lecture than in writing a text. You can be more vivid in your presentation, and outrageous to make a point.
  • you can tie in other material, review previous lessons, and anticipate future subjects
  • you can respond to student's questions and difficulties in comprehending the material.

    D. Providing a rationale for covering a subject(in other words: why should your students study a given section?)

  • it may provide a background for something else (if so, these two subjects should be covered in conjunction with each other).
  • simply, it's interesting and/or satisfies our natural curiosity
  • it relates to personal experiences everyday lives

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