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Take out the textbook, please.


Like so many first-year teachers, I was handed a textbook in order to begin teaching in September – at that was it. It was understood that seventh graders would learn chapters 1-6 and eighth graders 7-12. My ninth graders would move on to the next level textbook in the series.

Modern textbooks are really a collaborative suite of resources that include correlating videos, transparencies, workbooks, and more. By teaching through the textbook, my role became that of photocopier and remote control operator. The lessons are so integrated, that I just had to guide them.

By May of my first year, we were done with the chapters. Now what? No one came along and handed me another text with which to run my class. Lesson planning was a vast blank slate. Filling 42 minutes of class time was a lesson in survival, not for my students, but for me. It was terrifying to be off the publishing company’s well-packaged path. But it’s also when I became a real teacher.

We started to review, but rather than doing so chapter by chapter, we did it by topic. Now my students didn’t have the artificial context of chapters, but real topics like ‘Family’ or ‘Travel’. I couldn’t rely on worksheets so I created experiences. It was challenging and demanded a whole new set of resources. When we reviewed shopping, it didn’t make sense to read about shopping in a textbook. So I went to a second-hand clothing store and purchased as much clothing as my bank account would allow in order to convert my classroom into a store. During our review of food and meal-taking I just had to have the toy grocery cart filled with plastic imitations of fruit, meat, vegetables and desserts.

Despite the fact that I was spending a small fortune on supplies, a wonderful thing happened – learning. And it was REAL learning, based on authentic experiences. Unfortunately, we spent most of my inexperienced first year reading and writing, but since then I’ve never turned back. I no longer even issue a textbook to my students.

Acquiring games, toys and props was an important step in building a wealth of resources. Entering my classroom, you will find stuffed animals, Nerf balls, Play-Doh, hula hoops, wigs, a bubble maker and a fog machine. Any trip to Walmart with my husband is a guaranteed conversation of “Katie, what on earth are you going to use that for?”. I continue to expand my “library” to include technology, using movie clips, news stories, and cartoons to bolster the learning process. When you remove the omnipotent book from the process, things start to get interesting.

My job is to teach teenagers how to speak another language. By using often the same techniques and resources that teach toddlers how to speak English, I can create a fun, experience-based learning environment that allows my adolescent audience to return to their inner child. I need fearlessness and fun to dominate the classroom, because an awkward, self-conscious victim of puberty is not the ideal learner of a brand new skill such as foreign language.

At first glance, it might seem that I use all these techniques to appease our society’s modern teenager who is often characterized by having a low attention span, a lack of motivation and work ethic, and a need for instant gratification. However, any teaching decision I make always starts with the percentages below, commonly attributed to the psychologist, William Glasser (although no direct source can be found). According to this research, “we remember
• 10% of what we read
• 20% of what we hear
• 30% of what we see
• 50% of what we see and hear
• 70% of what is discussed with others
• 80% of what is experienced personally
• 95% of what we teach to someone else.”

If academic success is dictated not by what we are taught, but by what we are able to remember, my goal is to optimize the memory of personal experience. At the end of each year, I don’t have to start review by saying, “Remember Chapter 7?”


Seeking my first foreign language teaching position at the high school level. Completely agree with your strategy. Couple of questions. Any trouble getting class buy-in to participate in traditionally primary school activities? If so, what did you do to overcome it?

Great Job of thinking outside the box of teaching!! The Internet is full of resources for Teachers to help students with every subject in the classroom. Teachers have to look beyond the textbooks to help students learn & remember more.

As a point of clarification, the percentages you cite refer work attributed to Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience. I recently did a scholarly research activity with my pre-service teachers in my educational technologies class around this "commonly held" wisdom. It teaches us to check our scholarly references--and not just to rely on one source. Research indicates that this data was erroneously attributed in many instances. One of the references includes Chi, Bassock, Lewis, Reimann & Glasser (1989) yet when a researcher contacted Dr. Michelene Chi, she "said this about the graph: 'I don't recognize this graph at all. So the citation is definitely wrong; since it's not my graph.' "(http://www.willatworklearning.com/2006/05/people_remember/comments/page/2/)

For more on validity, reliability & attribution of the percentages of what we retain based on hearing, seeing, doing, etc. see:

The "widely held" nature of this data is a good example of what can happen when "catchy" data gets replicated without research. When I shared this with one of my instructional colleagues she was floored. My pre-service teachers have seen it on hand-outs, posters, etc. I'd advise anyone wanting to use the percentages to read the research articles and then frame the data accordingly.
Also, when you see colleague or other professionals citing these percentages please point them to the articles as well.

Julia Hengstler, Educational Technologist & Instructor
Faculty of Education
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC

During my work on district and school-level curriculum maps/guides, I am amazed at the amount of educators that use the textbook as the curriculum. The course description using the standards established by your state form the curriculum. The textbook should be used as resource to teach the standards. Katie, your "box of fun" is great teaching in its purest form. How is one supposed to teach when they haven't gained the audience's attention?

I think this is a great idea. Being a college student with a minor in Spanish, I appreciate the fun activities that you have thought of. We have a textbook in my Spanish class and although it is not extremely boring, it doesn't really get me excited about learning Spanish. In high school, we did a Spanish market at the end of the year that required us to travel around the room to different stores (pharmacy, grocery, restaurant and ice cream store) and purchase items. This was all done in Spanish, and although it was extremely uncomfortable at times, I learned the most.
Especially when learning a language, the textbook is almost not relevant. When traveling to another country, one does not carry around their textbook to aid them. It's about the experience.
Although there are standards as Thomas stated above, these can easily be integrated into the fun experiences.

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Recent Comments

  • Kristina205: I think this is a great idea. Being a college read more
  • Thomas T.: During my work on district and school-level curriculum maps/guides, I read more
  • Julia Hengstler: As a point of clarification, the percentages you cite refer read more
  • Earnest Shinault: Great Job of thinking outside the box of teaching!! The read more
  • Diane Wilson: Seeking my first foreign language teaching position at the high read more



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