What makes a good textbook?

What makes a good textbook?

A  textbook is one that is essentially prescribed by a competent authority, primarily for exams. Naturally, one can expect that its publication is also sponsored by the same authority.

To avoid becoming mere “guides”, textbooks contain information, aimed at inspiring the student to explore the subject. While textbooks are compulsory during the initial years of schooling, they are strongly discouraged beyond high school.

A lot of thought, effort and dedication goes into the making of a textbook. While most of them follow a common format – text illustrated by drawings and exercises – some do turn out to be unconventional and unique.

So, what can make a textbook more appealing and interesting to students? Here are certain aspects that can make textbooks the perfect learning companions:

Appearance and design: The look of a textbook is what attracts any student. At a young age, they prefer colourful, illustrative textbooks and as they grow up, they move on to the intellectual ones. Textbooks with a striking bookplate can help instill pride in its owner. This bookplate will make students responsible for their book and also help preserve it for a long period of time. For a more personal appeal, students can create their own bookplates or add their designs to the pages of their books.

Quality matters: Publishers must pay attention to paper quality of the cover and the pages inside. The covers must be rugged, long-lasting and preferably laminated. To attract more attention, design competitions can be conducted in schools, in which students design their own dust covers. This will also increase the chances of students reading their textbooks. Many textbooks use cheap, heavy paper, have hardly any cover design and employ such infantile illustration inside, that they are an eyesore for most students. This must be avoided. Textbooks must have good quality pages and the content should be easy on the eyes.

Binding: Textbooks must have permanent binding that makes them easy to open. Good quality binding also ensures that the book lasts for a long period of time. Loosely bound textbooks will discourage the students from studying them.

Content rules: For many young minds, appearance matters more than the actual content in the textbooks. But ultimately, content rules. Consequently, both the information and the writing becomes important here. More often than not, textbook committees pay more attention to information than writing. This is because good writers of textbooks are hard to find.

Many scholars are involved in writing textbooks but most of their writing is not suitable to the young minds. An expert panel may find the books incredibly inspiring but students find the same books dull and boring. The current need is for textbooks that are informative, encouraging and educative. The mindset of the students and the cultural and economical context must be kept in mind while writing a textbook. In my opinion, experienced teachers, who are also good writers can write effective textbooks. Of course, the technical expertise of scholars and subject experts will always be needed.

 Wise usage: Textbooks must be used well, and used properly. Teachers must spend a class or two in teaching children how to use textbooks, how to add notes and references in them, how to preserve them. Most of the students these days get rid of their textbooks right after their exams. In fact, many forget that textbooks are reserves of information for life. Students can always go back to their old textbooks to brush up on basics.

Extra features: Footnotes in a book are like butterflies in our reading-garden. But hardly any textbooks contain footnotes. Why are our textbooks devoid of these pretty things? Textbooks must also have indexes. When was the last time you found a textbook with an index? These little additions help make a book complete.

Textbooks are not just information bins. They are the symbol of the evolving learning capacities. They must be cared for and preserved for posterity.

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