Textbook research

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This article deals with research on textbooks.

See also (and maybe before):

For now, this article just includes a list (disorganized) and short strands of textbook research. It should be completed some day, for the moment I just copy/pasted a few quotes and ideas - Daniel K. Schneider 19:57, 8 August 2007 (MEST))

“The noun "textbooks" provokes many, mostly negative, responses. When I tell my students and colleagues that I study textbooks, tombstones often appear in their eyes expressing painful and buried memories of cramming for exams and repetitious wading through excruciatingly boring pages as directed by teachers who, they felt, could not be bothered to teach the material themselves. One fellow lecturer who was clearly less than sensitive to my sentiments even ventured "what on earth can be interesting in textbooks?"” (Issitt, 2004: 683)

Users (students/teachers)

Reader-book relationship (from a discourse analysis point of view)

A textbook must be interpreted by the reader according to most modern cognitive and text analysis theories.

Rosenblatt (1978) cited by Johnsen (2001) “pointed out that no text is complete until it has been read, and that there must of necessity be several ways to read all texts since they are used by people with vastly different backgrounds, even if they are the same age.” and Fisch (1980) cited by Johnsen (2001) argues that “groups of reading and interpretation patterns emerge which are determined more by society than by individuals”.

See also Aamotsbakken (2005: 106)'s model readers vs. real readers

How students deal with textbooks

As a whole ...

There is also specialized research on how students understand elements, i.e. shorter units like presentations, in particular combination of illustrations with text. E.g. Wolf

In-classroom use of textbooks

E.g. Hoarsley (2001). Hoarsley (????) argues “that there is need for research that is committed not to the empirical search for 'effective' textbook use as defined by the producer (the publisher, designer, author), but to the uncovering of meanings attached to textbooks by the consumer (teachers and pupils). How do teachers and pupils make sense of the textbook within the context of wider learning environments, an make use of them ?”

Textbook - teacher relationship

E.g. Ball and Feiman-Nemser (1988:401) “Although the student teachers were enrolled in two different teacher education programs, all of them developed the impression that if they wanted to be good teachers, they should avoid following textbooks and relying on teachers' guides. They believed that good teaching means creating your own lessons and materials instead. These ideas proved difficult to act on during student teaching when the student teachers worked in classrooms where textbooks formed the core of instruction and they confronted the fact that they were beginning teachers lacking knowledge, skill and experience.” (cited by Johnsen, 2001).

“John A. Zahorik demonstrates the teacher-book complexity in his investigation of the relationship between textbooks and teaching styles (Zahorik 1990 and 1991). He based his work on that of K. Hinchman (Hinchman 1987) and D. Alverman (Alverman 1989), both of whom distinguish between three types of usage that also display a strong correlation to three teaching styles. The textbook may be perceived and used as a) a source of facts to be learned ("coverage"), b) a source of different types of activities ("textbook based activities") and/or c) a basis for interpretation and discussion ("higher level interpretation/reference").” (Johnsen, 2001).

Textbooks and the educational system

“Tools and media are ambivalent: as institutions they contribute to the stabilisation of the educational institution, but they also challenge the institution and they force it to evolve. The textbook is more than a simple tool. Because of the values that it transmits, and through the instrumentation that it offers to the master and the pupil, it highlights the professionalism of both, it testifies to their specialisation and becomes one of the factors of their social recognition. But, while the textbook officializes and consolidates, it also introduces changes, encourages innovations and facilitates reforms.” (Moeglin, 2005:20).

Other research looks into the approval processes and the relation of textbooks with curricula.

Production and Writers

The learner model adopted by authors

Crucially, the passive learner model embodied in textbooks masks three crucially political relationships:

  • the text and the learner are positioned such that the learner has a subordinate epistemological status;
  • what counts as knowledge is clearly circumscribed by the text and, by default, alternative claims on the same knowledge arena or alternative lines of exploration are cast as irrelevant;
  • the purpose of reading the text is end-directed towards an exam or outcome reflecting a goal-carrying social value. (Issit, 2005: 689)

Textbook production

  • Roles of publishers and editors

Cognitive processes in textbook production

  • The cognitive psychology of textbook composition, e.g. Flower and Higgins (see writing-to-learn for more references.

The texts themselves

Evidence-based textbook design

To be done, in the meantime, see:

Ulrich, N., Richter, J., Scheiter, K. & Schanze, S. (2014). Das digitale Schulbuch als Lernbegleiter. In J. Maxton-Küchenmeister & Jenny Meßinger-Koppelt (Eds.), Digitale Medien im Naturwissenschaftlichen Unterricht (S. 75-82). Hamburg: Joachim Herz Stiftung.

Scheiter, K., & Richter, J. (2015). Multimediale Unterrichtsmaterialien gestalten. Ergebnisse der empirischen Lehr-Lernforschung. Naturwissenschaften im Unterricht Chemie (Digitale Werkzeuge), 26(145), 8-11.

Analysis of learning modes and styles

Haynes (2005:295), in a study (based on Kolb's experiential learning) of three textbooks he concludes: “In summary, we may say that Beginning Theory, Doing English and The English Studies Book all provide frequent prompts to abstract learning. Two of them - Beginning Theory and Doing English - do this too for concrete learning. Doing English provides more fully than either of the other two texts for reflective learning, though through its learning activities The English Studies Book also does this to some extent. The section in The English Studies Book is the only one that explicitly provides for active learning. None of the books offers balanced provision for all four modes of learning.”

Linguistic organization

E.g. Lucas, 2005:57) concludes that “Textbooks are representative of the didactic genre, which cross languages and epochs. This genre is based on explanation but also aims at active implication from the reader. It implies a very careful organisation and layout, in order to guide the reader and provide room for interaction. Exercises are the canonical form of interaction. Due to the many constraints of clear explanation and sufficiently detailed information on each topic, textbooks share many common features. Clear segmentation allows parallel progression between illustration discourse and text discourse. Overall progression through the book is marked by explicit checkpoints. Although textbooks are highly constrained, they still differ widely according to matter and grade, not to mention culture.”

Aamotsbakken (2005:102) considers that textbook both contain open and closed texts (Eco). Open texts are open for interpretation because they challenge the reader with a spectre of explicit and implicit codes, intertextuality and a complicated structure.

Content analysis and politics

According to Johnsen (2001), “Up to the 1970s, the whole field of textbook research was dominated by a few traditions (history book revision and historical content analyses) and by individual and composite works published at long intervals.”. Examples are Fleming (1982) or Anyon (1979)

Cross-sectional / Other

Cultural differences

Textbooks are particularly important in the mainstream US Educational system that has strong roots in more traditional instructional design.

Most of Europe's higher education system is somewhat different

  • On one hand more emphasis is put on "Bildung" (education) as opposed to training. Students are supposed to organize knowledge themselves and be able to cope with all sorts of more primary materials (e.g. real academic books and articles).
  • Professors are supposed to develop their own lecture (and views). These actually may be considered "spoken textbooks" since often students are just supposed to reproduce contents at exams. University teachers also have a fairly low teaching load (e.g. about 6 hours) since their main job is to do research.

Both of these features (that are in contradiction) make textbooks not very popular in standard universities. However, in most European countries there are higher education institutions with little research and high teaching loads, such as the Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences and these have a lot in common with American "teaching universities".

Questions related to Dumbing down

Critiques of textbooks often claim that there can be dumbing down effect, in particular since some textbook authors indeed overdo simplification.

But one must clearly distinguish between (1) the general question whether systematic use of textbooks (as in teaching universities) can have a dumbing down effect and the (2) the question whether some textbooks are too easy and aim too low and whether this is a global trend in education.


Disclaimer: I don't have any knowledge in textbook research. I copied some references (e.g. from Johnsen, 2001) to have some starting points for further reading ... when I feel so ... - Daniel K. Schneider

  • Aamotsbakken Bente (2005). The relation between the model reader/-s and the authentic reader/-s. The possibilities for identification when reading curricular texts, Eighth International Conference on Learning and Educational Media. PDF
  • Altbach, Philip G., Gail P. Kelly, Hugh G. Petrie, and Lois Weiss, eds. Textbooks in American Society: Politics, Policy, and Pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
  • Alverman, D. (1989). "Teacher-Student Mediation of Content Area Texts." Theory into Practice 27.
  • Anderson, Thomas H., Bonnie B. Armbruster: (1981) "Content Area Textbooks." In: Anderson, Richard C., Jean Osborn, Robert J.Tierney (eds.): Learning to Read in American Schools: Basal Readers and Content Texts. New York
  • Anyon, Jean (1979) "Ideology and United States History Textbooks." In:Harvard Educational Review 49:3,
  • Altbach, P.G. et al. (1991) (eds), Textbooks in American Society: Politics, Policy and Pedagogy (Albany: State University of New York Press
  • Herlihy John (1992). The Textbook Controversy, Norwood, NJ: Ablex
  • Mikk Jaan (2000), Textbook Research and Writing, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang
  • Bourdillon Hilary, History and Social Studies - Methodologies of Textbook Analysis (Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1992).
  • Apple, Michael W., and Linda K. Christian-Smith, eds. The Politics of the Textbook. New York: Routledge, 1991.
  • Ball, Deborah Loewenberg, Sharon Feiman-Nemser (1988). "Using Textbooks and Teachers' Guides: A Dilemma for Beginning Teachers and Teacher Educators.", Curriculum Inquiry 18:4
  • Bhatia, V. K. Simplification v. Easification: The Case of Legal Texts. Applied Linguistics 4(1), pp. 39-78.
  • Cole, John Y., Thomas G. Sticht(eds.): The Textbook in American Society. Washington DC 1981.
  • Conderman, Greg; Elf, Nanci (2007), What's in This Book? Engaging Students through a Textbook Exploration Activity, Reading & Writing Quarterly, v23 n1 p111-116 Jan-Mar 2007.
  • Connors, Robert J. (1986). College Composition and Communication, Vol. 37, No. 2. (May, 1986), pp. 178-194. Available from JSTOR: HTML
  • Davies, Florence (1986). "The Function of the Textbook in Sciences and the Humanities." In: Gillham, Bruce (ed.): The Language of School Subjects.
  • De Castell, Suzanne, Allan Luke, Carmen Luke (eds.) (1989): Language, Authority and Criticism. Readings on the School Textbook. London/New York/Philadelphia.
  • Eco, Umberto. 1981. The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. London: Hutchinsons & Co.Ltd.
  • Farrell, Joseph P., Stephen P. Heyneman (eds.) (1989). Textbooks in the Developing World. Economic and Educational Choices. The World Bank. Washington DC.
  • Fisch, S.: Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge 1980.
  • Fleming, D.B., R.J. Nurse (1982): "Vietnam Revised: Are our Textbooks Changing?" In: Social Education No. 46.
  • Flower and Higgings, Collaboration And The Construction Of Meaning, Technical Report No. 56 PDF. This is a preprint of a writtten communication article.
  • Flower, L. & Hayes, J. R. (1984). Images, plans, and prose: The representation of meaning in writing. Written Communication 1: 120-160.
  • Gionfriddo, Jeanne Jarema, The Dumbing Down of Textbooks: An Analysis of Six Textbook Editions during a Twelve Year Span. M.A. Thesis, Kean College of New Jersey.
  • Grannis, C.B. (ed.) (1967): What happens in Textbook Publishing. New York.
  • Graves, M.F., W.H.Slater (1986). "Could Textbooks Be Better Written and Would It Make a Difference?" American Educator 10:1.
  • Haynes Anthony, Textbooks as Learning Resources, Eighth International Conference on Learning and Educational Media. PDF
  • Hinchman, K. (1987). "The Textbook and Those Content Area Teachers.", Reading Research and Instruction 26
  • Horsley, M. and Lambert, D. (2001) The Secret Garden of Classroom and Textbooks: Insights from Research on the Classroom Use of Textbooks, in Horsley, M. (2001) Ed. The Future of Textbooks? International Colloquium on School Publishing: Research About Emerging Trends: Australian Publishing Association: Sydney
  • Horsley, Mike and Richard Walker (2005). Video Based Classroom Observation Systems for Examining the Use and Role of Textbooks and Teaching Materials in Learning, Eighth International Conference on Learning and Educational Media. PDF
  • Issitt, John (2005) Reflections on the study of textbooks, History Of Education, November, 2004, Vol. 33, No. 6, [DOI
  • Johnsen, Egil Børre (2001), Textbooks in the Kaleidoscope, A Critical Survey of Literature and Research on Educational Texts, Translated by Linda Sivesind, Digital Edition Tønsberg: Vestfold College, 2001 HTML (This on-line text also includes a good bibliography, up the early 1990's).
  • Jones, Alan (2005) Conceptual Development in Technical and Textbook Writing: A Challenge for L1 and L2 Student Readers, Proceedings of the International Professional Communication Conference, Limerick, Ireland, 12-15 July, 2005. PDF - Abstract
  • Lucas, Nadine (2005). Textbooks as a research challenge in computational linguistics, Eighth International Conference on Learning and Educational Media. PDF
  • Lubben F; Campbell B; Kasanda C.; Kapenda H.; Gaoseb N.; Kandjeo-Marenga U. (2003). Teachers' Use of Textbooks: practice in Namibian science classrooms, Educational Studies, Volume 29, Numbers 2-3. Abstract
  • McNamara, D.S., Kintsch, E., Songer, N.B. and Kintsch, W. (1996). "Are good texts always better? Interactions of text coherence, background knowledge, and levels of understanding in learning from text", Cognition and Instruction, v14 n1 p1-43.
  • Michael, Ian (1990). "Aspects of Textbook Research." Paradigm No.2
  • Mikk, Jaan. 2000. Textbook: Research and Writing. Frankfurt: Peter Lang GmbH. ISBN 3-631-36335-4
  • Myers, G. (1992). Textbooks and the sociology of scientific knowledge. English for Specific Purposes, 11, 3-17.
  • Nazarova, T. S. Gospodarik, I. P. (2006). Strategy for the Development of the Textbook. Russian Education And Society 48 (6).
  • Pierre Moeglin, The Textbook and after,Eighth International Conference on Learning and Educational Media. PDF.
  • Rosenblatt, L.: The Reader, the Text, the Poem. Carbondale 1978.
  • Russel, Activity Theory and Its Implications for Writing Instruction. In Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction. Ed. Joseph Petraglia. (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum,1995): 51-78. (Word Preprint).
  • Schlafly, Phyllis (1996). The Dumbing Down of America's Colleges, Eagle Forum 29:9 (has to do more with a critique of the school system)
  • Hall, John et al. (1999). Mapping of International Studies of Textbooks, SCRE/OSI PDF (this is a short annotated bibliography).
  • Schorling, Raleigh, J.B. Edmonson: "The Techniques of Textbook Authors." In: The Thirtieth Yearbook of the NSSE. Part II. Bloomington 1931.
  • Sigurgeirsson, Ingvar: "Inquiring into the Nature, Role, and Use of Curriculum Materials in Icelandic Schools." Reykjavik 1990.
  • Squire, James R.: "Textbooks to the Forefront." In: Book Research Quarterly, Summer 1985.
  • Trail Mary Ann; Carolyn Gutierrez and David Lechner (2006)., Reconsidering a Traditional Instruction Technique: Reassessing the Print Workbook, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 32, Issue 6, November 2006, Pages 632-640. (Abstract)
  • Tyson-Bernstein, Harriet, Woodward, Arthur: "Why Students Aren't Learning Very Much from Textbooks." In: Educational Leadership, November 1989
  • Wolf, Shelby A. Interpreting Literature with Children, ISBN: 0805845143
  • Woodward, Arthur, David L. Elliott (eds.): NSSE Yearbook 1990: Part I. Textbooks and Schooling in the United States. Chicago 1990.
  • Zahorik, John A. (1990) "Stability and Flexibility in Teaching." In: Teaching andTeacher Education No. 6.