Class Action: why texbooks are not an essential tool for teaching children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 10:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 10:20am

My daughter's school does not have any textbooks. It follows an international curriculum but I don't know what they are studying so it is hard for me to prepare her. Several parents have asked the principal to consider textbooks but they will not. What can we do?

It is hard for schools adopting an international curriculum to follow a textbook, simply because few good textbooks are available. The international curriculum also offers some flexibility as to when units are taught, which is not always in the same order as a textbook.

You can support your daughter with a general focus on maths and literacy using supplementary textbooks from overseas. These are easy enough to order online. However, this is not specifically what your daughter is learning at school that week, which I suspect is what you mean.

International schools apply an evaluation method that allows children to move along a continuum of learning

If you have decided to send your daughter to an international school, you are also paying for a more individualised approach to learning. Teachers in such schools are asked to differentiate lessons in their classrooms so each child is taught at a level relevant to them.

So, in writing, if a child still needs work on letter formation, they are not ready for speech marks. It also means a child confident with speech marks can be given a different activity, too. In upper primary, some schools split up their maths classes, so that those needing extra help in an area can be in a smaller group and those needing extensions can work together. A textbook only teaches at one level, which does not support such differentiated learning.

This is very different from the local methods of teaching, in which all children follow the same textbook and have to pass the same test. That test is then a cut-off point, which may impact adversely on a child's future if they are sick on that day.

International schools apply an evaluation method that allows children to move along a continuum of learning.

That testing is not to show what they were able to learn the night before the test, but to demonstrate what they are capable of on any given day. Teachers are looking at the rate of learning, as well as the level achieved.

A lot of Hong Kong parents think textbooks will give their children an edge on the tests.

International schools do not rely on one test, they have a selection of achievement standards and will use various methods to gauge this.

Many maths packages come with pre and post tests for the teacher to see where a class is weak or strong, and to suggest special groups for support or extension. Reading levels are carefully evaluated individually to ensure all children read at a challenging, but not daunting, level. This will not match up with what you may remember from a local learning experience.

And that may be what is uncomfortable to you.

There are other ways to support your daughter. Look at her homework. This should reflect what has been taught in the classroom. From this you can consider extension activities in workbooks from overseas. If you order an American workbook on division you might select pages that are similar to the method used in the homework.

Later in the year when they revisit that objective you can use that same book and do a few similar pages. Do not feel you need to finish the whole workbook in one go.

One element of international curricula is revisiting the same objectives two to three times a year so that there are a few chances for practice.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international school in Hong Kong