How to grow a “textbook”
By Joyce Kasman Valenza
Regardless of how you feel about textbooks
in this brave new world of open
curricula and academic sharing and supereasy
digital publishing, this may be the
best time ever to be without them. The
classroom texts (or courseware) that
many of us may be unaware we are
building have potential beyond the
power of ordinary text.
Here are textbook-growing
strategies and portals for
selecting text-y resources.
Start with an outline.
Use your district’s scope and
sequence, existing state and national standards
or the Common Core State Standards as they are published
Grab a virtual binding. You’ll need some type of
teacher-friendly platform for building a virtual binding. We
use Wikispaces for Teachers. Other options are PBwiki,
Google Sites, LiveBinders, and Netvibes; or a coursemanagement
system, like Moodle; or a social networking
platform, like Edmodo, SocialGo, Group.s, Spruz, or Ning.
Unpack and publish your traditional documents.
Use any of a growing variety of publishing tools
to publish your existing content. Upload those docs. Get
the embed code and transform them into super-attractive,
flip-able, shareable, searchable online books. My personal
favorites are Issuu and DocStoc.
Grab a few solid updating tools. To fully exploit
the dynamic potential of an online textbook, you’ll want
to search for RSS feeds and dynamic widgets that inform
learning in your content area. Consider the news and journal sources that are truly relevant to your course(s) and
simply access relevant feeds whenever you see
that lovely little orange RSS square.
Grab books for solid, more static
content. Visit Google Books (or any of a
growing number of ebook portals) to get full
and generous partial (preview) views of courserelevant
books to link to and embed.
Grab database content. For
dynamic, authoritative content, you
can’t beat subscription databases.
Grab the right search
tools. Build a list of search
tools that are relevant to your
class and your learners’ needs and
Grab your own present ations
and shop for the best of
others. Publish your presentations on a
portal like SlideShare or AuthorStream. Embed them on the
appropriate pages of your text. Shop for presentations that
others have posted for sharing. Embed those, too.
Grab a couple of pathfinders. Search for pathfinders
using the language of your content area and the
Grab some film. Portals include Snagfilms, Free
Documentaries, and Top Documentary Films.
Grab some open-source curricula. Most are
particularly strong in math and science. On the elementary
level, check out Scholastic’s StudyJams for math and science
and the WikiJunior Project.
Grab some student work. You can publish the bestwritten
work using digital publishing tools.
Set reasonable textpectations. You can’t build
all this e-texty goodness in a day. You won’t build it in a
semester. But you can build a base for
growing a dynamic, elastic, and powerful
text. Work with a librarian. Engage
your learners. Build with your gradelevel
or content-area partners, whether
or not they are in your building. If you
build it, they will learn. And so will you.
Joyce Valenza is the teacher-librarian
at Springfield Township High School
in Erdenheim, Pennsylvania, an author,
and a technology advocate.
¦ CK12 Flexbook
¦ Khan Academy
¦ Documentary/Nonfiction Film