Last Thursday (11th June), Nick Gibb delivered a speech titled the social justice case for an academic curriculum. As a science teacher interested in reading, my attention focussed in on the quote below:
“We are working with teachers and publishers to increase the use and availability of high-quality textbooks in schools. Good textbooks provide a structured, well-honed progression through a subject’s content.
…. textbooks are now a rare sight in English classrooms: only 10% of primary maths teachers here use a textbook as the basis for their teaching, compared to 70% in Singapore and 95% in Finland. I have challenged textbook publishers to do better, and am determined that we will secure high-quality resources to underpin an academic curriculum.”
I am convinced that better textbooks are needed. But that is only part of the story: I am also convinced that we need better readers.
In the United States, the Common Core emphasises informational texts (Common Core ELA). There, they have found that teachers are better trained in teaching fiction than nonfiction. The same is true here. In English primary and secondary schools, teachers are trained to teach literature; the resources emphasis fiction and more time is spent teaching fiction. Promoting a love of reading often means promoting a love of reading fiction.
And reading fiction is different to nonfiction. The knowledge and skills a learner uses to read “How electricity travels” are not the ones she uses on “Of Mice and Men.”
To use textbooks more, as Nick Gibb would prefer, we need to do more than produce better texts. We need to be better textbook teachers too.