Teacher Educator Lesson: Opening Up the Textbook (OUT)


In this lesson, teacher candidates first engage in a demonstration lesson where they consider the traditional textbook story about Rosa Parks in relation to two primary documents that question and contradict that narrative. Through juxtaposing the textbook with these additional sources, this lesson models one way to use this ubiquitous classroom resource more effectively and judiciously. A debriefing of the demonstration lesson follows that includes salient points about textbooks and teaching historical thinking and culminates in introducing six strategies for problematizing the textbook. Candidates then examine and discuss one more example of a lesson that models this use of a textbook. Finally, for homework, candidates sketch a similar lesson.

Learning Goals:

  • Candidates will recognize that the textbook is one account of the past and as such, needs interrogation and close reading.
  • Candidates will understand that one way to teach for historical thinking using the textbook is to compare its story with primary evidence.
  • Candidates will see that reading and analyzing texts is central to understanding and knowing history.
  • Candidates will be introduced to the Historical Thinking Matters website.

Materials from the Historical Thinking Matters Website:

  • Rosa Parks Module Opening up the Textbook lesson
  • Materials used in that lesson ("Robinson," "Durr," and textbook documents)
Notes to Teacher Educator:

This lesson is designed for a teacher education class that lasts approximately 2.5 hours. "Candidates" is used to denote the students in your teacher education class; "students" is used to denote the pupils these candidates may be teaching in field placements.

Preparing for the Lesson:

  • Read and review entire lesson.
  • Make class set of copies of:
    • Three documents for demonstration lesson (Step 1)
    • Discussion questions (Step 2)
    • McKinley document (Step 5)
  • Optional copies:
    • OUT strategies (Step 4)
    • Handout with instructions for practice (Step 6)
  • Have available for class viewing (overhead, LCD projector, etc.):
    • Textbook excerpts (Steps 1 & 5).
    • Key points (Step 3)

Plan of Instruction:

STEP 1. Use Demonstration lesson: Opening up the Textbook [OUT] lesson from the Rosa Parks investigation.

Write the lesson's framing question on the board. (What do we know about Rosa Parks?)

If you have access to a class set of computers, you may want to have candidates answer the notebook questions online. This allows them to use the resources for each document and see how the notebook and documents work. See "How to Use Historical Thinking Matters."

This lesson is designed to cause candidates/students unease or confusion with the conflicting accounts. Use this confusion to generate questions rather than try to dismiss it.

The introductory movie for this investigation can be used as an additional source that challenges the standard textbook account. It could be the initial source that candidates encounter which challenges the textbook (between Step 3 and Step 4).

STEP 2. Debrief lesson in pairs.

Candidates first answer the following questions in writing and then share their responses with a partner.

    Questions to consider for pair discussion:
  • What did you learn from the lesson? What could students learn from the lesson?
  • What role does the textbook play in the lesson? Critique that role.
  • What components of the lesson make document based historical reasoning possible?
  • What additional modifications and supports might be necessary for using this lesson with students at your field placement?
STEP 3. Debrief lesson in whole group discussion.

Use the questions that candidates answered in Step 2 and some from the following list to guide a debrief discussion. Plan to make the big points that follow these questions during or after this debrief discussion.

    Questions to consider for group discussion:
  • What did you think of the lesson?
  • Have you seen the textbook used like this before?
  • Do you think there are other places where textbooks might be inaccurate or incomplete?
  • What might you need to use the textbook in similar ways for other topics? (Consider materials/knowledge/resources.)
  • What features of the lesson encourage historical thinking and reading?
  • What would be hard or easy for your students in this lesson?
    Key components of the lesson that encouraged historical thinking:
  • Multiple texts are used.
    • These must be sourced to understand what each contributes to the Rosa Parks story.
    • Students must read and analyze these texts in relation to each other, essentially checking sources for corroborating information.
  • Students must use evidence in the form of quotes or information from historical sources to support an argument or tell a story.
  • The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott is problematized. The idea that history is a single story to be memorized (as represented by the textbook) is challenged and the possibility of multiple stories made explicit.
  • The analysis of the textbook is guided with an investigative question. This pushes the reader to analyze rather than merely memorize or restate the text.
    Key points for designing OUTs:
  • A textbook is one account of the past. Textbooks are ubiquitous, often at the center of the history curriculum, and probably your most available instructional material. But as one account, they need to be interrogated.
  • What we did here was problematize the textbook account, what we call "opening up the textbook," by bringing primary evidence to bear on that account.
  • To open up the textbook, select a short (fewer than 2 pages) textbook passage about a topic that is not too broad or general. This allows for more careful reading and analysis.
  • Use a paragraph from the textbook as springboard. A successful OUT requires juxtaposition of texts or historical sources.
  • Creating a lesson where the textbook is problematized and interrogated is easier when you do it with content that you know well. Substantive knowledge of the topic makes it easier to question the authoritative tone and voice of the standard textbook.
  • Using OUTs can help students learn that historical accounts need questioning and introduce and teach particular historical reading strategies. But students need to do these kinds of lessons and others like them repeatedly if they are to become independent historical thinkers.
STEP 4. Introduce Opening up the Textbook [OUT] strategies.

You may want to copy these strategies and pass them out on a handout. For resources to help you explain these strategies, see examples in each investigation. (To find these start with the Teacher materials & strategies platform of the home page. Select a specific investigation, e.g. Rosa Parks, select materials; select textbook.)

    Six ideas for Opening Up Textbooks:
  1. Comparison (US to non-US; old to new: Leftist to Rightwing; Traditional Diplomatic to Social; etc.)
  2. Direct Challenge (bringing primary evidence to challenge issues of fact or interpretation)
  3. Narrativization (where does a text begin to tell story, where does it end it?)
  4. Articulating Silences (who is left out of the narrative; bringing in voices of the silenced; bringing to the surface issues of representation, narrative choice)
  5. Vivification (breathing life into a text that "mentions" or expurgates)
  6. Close reading (careful, attentive focus on word choice, bias, adjectives, etc., aka l'explication du texte)
STEP 5. Show another example of an OUT.

Look at Spanish-American War OUT.

Show textbook excerpt and have candidates question and comment on this excerpt.

Then hand out document (McKinley's speech).

    Questions to consider for discussing McKinley document:
  • How does the document challenge the textbook? Point to specific passages.
  • What opening up the textbook strategy is being used here?
STEP 6. Practice.

This step can be assigned for homework or saved for another class session.

Candidates use a textbook from the field to create a skeleton lesson where a textbook account is problematized. Ideally, candidates choose a historical topic they have studied and know well. Alternatively, it can be done using materials (documents) from another investigation on the site.

    Candidates should do the following:
  1. Read the relevant textbook passage (not more than 2 pages.)
  2. Pick passage that will be problematized and make notes about why this is a suitable passage.
  3. Select document(s) that they will use to "open up" the textbook's account.
  4. Describe in writing how these documents problematize the textbook's narrative.
  5. Answer these questions:
    • What particular passages or visuals in the textbook are being opened up? What strategy are you using to do so?
    • What particular details from each source do this?
    • What will students learn from juxtaposing this source/these sources with the textbook?

Find sources to problematize the textbook. Introduce websites to peruse for sources. You may want to use the bibliography included in a particular investigation to help you frame this. See "resources: bibliography" on the teacher side of this site.

Suggested Readings:

Bain, Robert B. "Rounding Up Unusual Suspects: Facing the Authority Hidden in the History Classroom." Teachers College Record, 108, no. 10 (2006): 2080-2114.

Using student work done in the context of investigating the Bubonic pandemic in the 14th century, Bain shows how students approach the textbook as a source impervious to questioning and what it may take to challenge this thinking in a classroom.

Carson, Clayborne. "To Walk in Dignity: The Montgomery Bus Boycott." Magazine of History, 19, no. 1 (2005): 13-15.

An informative and brief overview of the causes of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Kohl, Herbert. She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. New York: The New Press, 2005.

Kohl's brief book includes multiple examples of the conventional and inaccurate story of Rosa Parks and the beginning of the bus boycott and a more accurate and complete retelling of that story.

Lindaman, Dana and Ward, Kyle. History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History. New York: The New Press, 2004.

The authors include textbook excerpts from around the world addressing particular events in American history, providing readers with different accounts of the same event.

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: Free Press, 1995.

Loewen's study of 12 textbooks discusses why textbooks are hard to question, suggests questions that can be used to approach any historical text, and includes chapters devoted to correcting the record on particular historical topics in American history that textbooks have routinely Ôlied' about.

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

This memoir, written by the leader of the Women's Political Council, is a moving and informative personal account of the boycott.