Textbooks versus children’s books

Can elementary students in certain settings learn more from children’s trade books than from textbooks? In an effort to find out, researchers H. Jon Jones, Western Illinois University, and William T. Coombs and C. Warren McKinney, Oklahoma State University, compared the use of nonfiction children’s books with a textbook during a two-and-one-half week unit on Mexico in two sixth-grade classes taught by the same teacher.

In one class, this teacher used the district-adopted textbook, following the procedures and activities outlined in the teacher’s manual. Instruction was teacher-directed and students carried out independent assignments and practice exercises by themselves. In the other class, five nonfiction children’s books were chosen by the teacher for use in place of the textbook. These books had a range of reading levels. On the first day of the new unit, the teacher introduced the theme of Mexico and briefly described each book. Students could choose any of the five to read and were allowed to change their minds once after 24 hours.

Groups made up of students who were reading the same book worked together (groups ranged from two to seven students). These students were given a brief introduction to effective collaborative group procedures through role playing. Each student in the experimental class was tested periodically on their chosen book. Each group was asked to design a project that would present information from their book to the rest of the class.

Learning increased with children’s books

While there were no significant differences between the classes on the pretest, the post-test scores were significantly higher for the class using children’s books and working as groups. Children’s books, used in conjunction with student choice and collaborative learning, were significantly more effective than traditional textbook lessons in conveying information about Mexico. In this experiment, carefully selected books that presented material in an appealing way and offered a variety of reading levels, appeared to increase children’s involvement in the topic.

These researchers caution, however, that simply using children’s books in the place of a textbook does not guarantee higher achievement. While this study offers some empirical evidence of the effectiveness of using children’s books in content classes, such as social studies, these researchers recommend further studies. They also warn that the amount of teacher preparation time necessary to choose books and develop tests for each, is significantly greater than required by using the textbook. They realize, as well, that financial constraints might preclude the purchase of multiple copies of children’s books.

“A Themed Literature Unit Versus a Textbook: A Comparison on Content Acquisition and Attitudes in Elementary Social Studies”Reading Research and Instruction, Volume 34, Number 2, Winter 1995, pp. 85-96

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