MattMillerThis is a guest post by Matt Miller, a Google-certified high school Spanish teacher in Indiana. His blog, Ditch That Textbook, encourages teaching with less reliance on the textbook and emphasizes using technology for creative teaching. Sign up for his e-mail newsletter and get a free ebook with his best tips and practices for ditching your textbooks! You can also find him on Twitter at @jmattmiller.

Matt’s approach can also be supported by digital textbook and course management platforms, like Connect For Education.

Textbooks. They’re static, bulky and expensive. They‘re outdated as soon as they hit student desks, and there’s no practical way of updating them. Students can’t add comments, click links or watch videos with textbooks. Textbooks still have a place in many classrooms, but in many ways, they’ve become outdated. There is a better way … at least, there was for my classes.

About five years ago, I ditched my textbooks. I locked them in the tall, wooden cabinets at the side of my classroom. Since then, I’ve been crafting and honing the curriculum for the four levels of high school Spanish that I teach.

It all happened in what I like to call a moment of “calculated exasperation.” I had thought about going this route for a while, but one day I had had enough. I was ready for a change, and I pulled the trigger. My students could hardly speak Spanish. They were bored with worksheets, workbook pages and unimaginative end-of-chapter questions. It was time to make the move.

Here are some of the main components of my own paperless classroom:
1. A curriculum that fits my students’ needs. I didn’t even have a set curriculum at first! I started with my old textbooks. I took what I liked, and then perused other textbooks and websites. I arranged it all in a logical order, grouping similar texts together in thematic units. I made sure that everything aligned with state academic standards, school calendar and district requirements.

2. A home base. I created a Weebly website that houses everything my students need. It has basically become my digital textbook. I can update study guides as need be. I can add, change or remove vocabulary terms as they become more or less relevant to our studies. If I find a great video or article I want my students to see, I can link to it here. My site is organized by class, with a separate page of resources for Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish 3 and Advanced Placement Spanish.

3. Study guides. These are the documents I’ve created for my students that outline everything they need to learn in a given week. In Spanish, my curriculum revolves around teaching vocabulary, grammar and culture. Everything my students need is created in Google Docs, and shared with them on our class website. You don’t have to create your own documents, though … there’s plenty of great content available on the web! If you can find it, provide links to material which exists online. If you’re not totally ready to ditch your textbooks, create a blended environment with some online material and some from the textbook.

4. Study aids. There are so many great tools online that help students learn. I’d suggest linking to them directly on your website. Quizlet lets teachers create flashcards with their own terms and definitions, and an interactive version can be embedded into a class website. Student-created videos (or teacher-created videos) from WeVideo, Powtoon, YouTube and Explain Everything can be added to class websites to help students, as well.

5. Student work. When students create work digitally, it can be shared with others in the class, in the school or all over the world. My students create storybooks using Google Presentations, with videos and more. We add them to the site so they can show anyone at any time.

What have been the results of going paperless?
1. Students have more access to their work. They don’t have to worry about leaving something in their lockers or losing a paper if it’s all safely saved in their Google Drives. If students don’t have Internet access at home, they can save documents to their own devices (we’re piloting a “bring your own device” policy at my school) or print them.

2. Students are more collaborative in their work. When we blog or create in Google Apps, students can write comments on each other’s work. This allows them to connect with each other like they do on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If they’re comfortable with online commenting, I’m willing to let them do academic work on sites like the social media they love.

3. We’re doing work we couldn’t do otherwise. Some activities are impossible with traditional paper-and-pencil methods! For example, we collaborated with English-learner students in Spain. We wrote questions and answers back and forth instantly in Google Docs. Sometimes, we were able to watch the students in Spain typing their answers in real time!

4. Students have more input. When I create the website that serves as my digital “textbook”, I have complete control to change them as necessary. Students request vocabulary terms that interest them and give me suggestions for what we should learn next. I can make those changes quickly and easily in our study guides and on my class website.

My journey to textbook liberation has not been an easy one. There have been times where I wondered if I was crazy for doing it. There have been times where it would have been easier and faster to just give my students worksheets and questions from a textbook. But in the end, their experiences have been better, more individualized to their unique needs and more fun! Take the jump … ditch that textbook!