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  Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives: Using textbooks

JoEllen Ambrose: I find [it] very difficult to use a textbook as the only basis for your course. I don’t think that’s much fun and it certainly doesn’t teach kids a lot about critical thinking. We need to encourage our students to be evaluative in the materials they are reading and to make judgments about the source of those materials and the bias that might be there--especially with the Internet.

The use of textbooks often is based on the course that you’re teaching and how much you like the textbook--how much information it’s giving kids and how you can work with it. I teach a ninth-grade government class [that] has a book that’s hard for many students, so I find myself supplementing [it for] students who have more difficulty reading.

This course has a great textbook. Street Law really is engaging. The kids find it easy to read. It’s written by a couple of lawyers who had some input from teachers. The topics are very interesting to the students. It breaks them up with hypotheticals, e.g., “Here’s a case. What do you think? What are arguments for and against?” It engages kids in discussion. I’ve taught Street Law with kids that are in an alternative learning center. Those kids have a lot of life experiences so we’ve got a lot of things to add to it. But it is a textbook that really is versatile [for] many different groups and many different situations. It also is a conveyor of information. You want to take that information and work with it in a more meaningful way--to apply it.

Our units are divided by the chapters in the book. They are expected to read the chapters. I ask them to take notes in a meaningful way because I [want them to] have some autonomy in their learning. They will need to pull out what they think is important information. I will [give them an open-note quiz] to make sure that they did a good job on those notes. [On] unit tests, I will not [allow] notes so they have to have good notes to prepare. Sometimes when I feel a time crunch, I use a guided type of exercise, [like] a worksheet that pulls out the most important information.


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