Teaching and Learning History - 051716

Classroom Applications


Using Textbooks for Quality Instruction

Scott L. Roberts, Ph.D.
Central Michigan University

Of all of the educational tools used in history education, by far the most critiqued is the standard textbook. Some of these critiques include their overuse by teachers, containing biases and inaccuracies, and simply being boring. I agree with these criticisms. However, in my experience as a classroom teacher and teacher educator, I have discovered that, if used properly, textbooks are not as problematic as detractors claim.  Textbooks can be a useful tool in the teaching and learning of history.

What are some strengths of textbooks that make them suitable for classroom use and lesson plan development? First, textbooks often offer the most concise and straightforward means of providing students with information about the content being studied. Second, many textbooks are designed to align with state standards. Finally, textbooks provide teachers with numerous primary and secondary sources that can be used to allow students to work on the inquiry skills advocated by the Common Core Curriculum and the C3 framework.

There are several books and articles that can be useful for the classroom teacher who is thinking about using textbooks as an effective tool in lesson plan development. Please see the list below for more information:

Alridge, D. P. (2006).The limits of master narratives in history textbooks: An analysis of representations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Teachers College Record, 108(4), 662?686.
Apple, M. W., & Christian-Smith, L. K. (1991). The politics of the textbook. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.
FitzGerald, F. (1979). America revised: History schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.
Hickman, H., & Portfilio, B. J. (Eds.). (2012b). The new politics of the textbook: Critical analysis in the core content areas. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense.
Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: The New Press.
Loewen, J. W. (2010). Teaching what really happened: How to avoid the tyranny of textbooks and get students excited about doing history. New York: Teachers College Press.
Roberts, S. L. (2013). “Georgia on my mind:” Writing the “new” state history textbook in the post-Loewen world. The History Teacher, 47(1), 41-59.
Roberts, S. L. (2014). Effectively using social studies textbooks in historical inquiry. Social Studies Research and Practice, 9(1), 119-128.
Wade, R. C. (1993). Content analysis of social studies textbooks: A review of ten years of research. Theory and Research in Social Education, 21, 232-256.
Wineberg, S., & Monte?Sano, C. (2008) “Famous Americans”: The changing pantheon of America heroes. Retrieved from http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/textbooks/2008/wineburg.html


About NCHE

The National Council for History Education promotes historical literacy by creating opportunities for teachers and students to benefit from more history, better taught.