Ditching the Textbook in ELA?

I don’t know when I first heard of Matt Miller and his “mantra” of ditching the textbook, but the idea appealed to me.  I love anthologies of literature because they have been curated and compiled, and the best of the best is often just a few pages away.  As I teacher, I hate textbooks and the lock-step instruction they recommend.  I don’t like that some of the selections are not appealing to teens, and I dislike the questions that, in spite of what the editors say, promote surface-level thinking at the knowledge and comprehension levels rather than encouraging students to think deeper, to make connections, and to develop their own opinions.  Moreover, especially in the upper grades where the literature is focused on American or British literature, I could rarely get past the nineteenth century!  So, four years ago, I ditched the literature textbook, the grammar book, and now the vocabulary book.

So, what do I use instead?

Fortunately, online resources for quality literature abound. One of my go-to resources for all things literature is Commonlit (www.commonlit.org). I can find almost everything I need from the classics to contemporary on this website, and the resources are free to teachers.  There is a paid version, of course, that offers more in terms of analysis across grade levels.  The literature, though is free.  There are assessments for each selection that are tied to the national standards in the Common Core that encourage both comprehension and analysis. In addition, Commonlit integrates with Google Classroom, which is the LMS that my school uses.

ReadWorks is also a useful source of reading passages with assessments.  I don’t use this as much as commonlit.org, but it provides a number of selections at all grade levels.  There are multiple genres, and teachers can make selections based on lexile levels. ReadWorks also integrates with Google Classroom so that a teacher can assign material for additional practice, building background knowledge, or for enrichment.

NewsELA is another useful source of texts, especially nonfiction for social studies and science classes.  The articles are often up-to-date.  An advantage of using NEWSela is that every text listed on the site can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual students.  So, every student has access to the same material but at a comprehension level that can ensure success.  There are also assessments. Again, NEWSela can be integrated with Google Classroom.

Who needs a textbook with so many resources available online and mostly for free?!

I am not sure I will ever be totally print/hard copy-free.  I still rely on printed novels for whole-class study.  I believe that students need to hold the text in their hands, to be able to mark lines in personal books or annotate with sticky notes.  I believe that they need the complete sensory experience of touching, seeing, and even smelling books (there is something about the smell of a new book!). However, with the various online resources for quality texts, I can customize the units of study rather than relying on someone else’s version of a literature unit.  I can differentiate the unit to meet the needs to my students rather than try to manipulate the students to meet the needs to the texts.

I hope you find these three alternatives to textbooks useful.  Do you have a favorite site for texts and materials to use in your classroom?  I would love to hear from you!

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