Saturday, February 5, 2011

Textbook Proposal

Pitched assessment textbook to a publisher this week, had it tentatively accepted. Title, The Cheap, Simple, Straight-Forward Guide to Student Evaluation, says it all.

But honestly, it drives me crazy when text salesmen come around and want to sell me a text that sells for $140+ (and god only knows how much markup the u bookstore will add to that!), of which I can only use three chapters in my course, and which the students will never open again once the course is over. Most evaluation texts devote hundreds of pages to theory which no classroom teacher needs, but which ed psych profs insist on teaching anyway. My attitude is that most of that stuff can wait till grad school. What pre-service teachers need is just enough practical hands-on skills (how to write a multiple choice question, how to set an essay assignment, how to handle oral questioning) to survive practicum and the first two years of teaching. The sort of info I offer on the website.

I figure we can sell the text for under $25 and it will be something students would actually keep around and consult for at least their first couple of years of teaching. I want to see my text on teacher's bookshelves, preferably dog-eared from their constantly consulting it, not in student's trash at end of term. I'm guessing the e-version of the text could be even cheaper -- maybe as little $5. I would have no hesitation asking students to spend $5 on a text; but I cannot bring myself to ask them to spend hundreds on the uniformly pompous, tedious, bloated texts that are currently out there. Up to now I have simply refused to buy texts and just used a custom learning resource (i.e., course reader printed by bookstore) but the price on that has kept creeping up, and as our university is one of those refusing to sign off on ACCESSs new copyright agreement, books of readings have become almost impossible to produce. So time for me to produce my own cost-effective text.

I know it's what I want in for my class, and my publisher is betting that once its out there, other profs will use it too. Or if not, their students will certainly buy it, whatever the official text for the course.

Because in addition to a focus on what preservice teachers really need to know, I intend for the book to be readable -- plain, readable English with touches of humor. I can't stand how pompously serious all the other textbooks are. The last time I took a text to a major academic press, they made me edit out nearly all the humour. This makes no sense to me, but they said profs on other campuses reviewing the manuscript all complained that they felt they were teaching a serious course and needed the text to be serious. Because I had a coauthor, I had to go along with deleting huge chunks of what I considered to be the really interesting bits. That's so wrong! Students want entertaining writing. "Serious" so often translates as "pompous" and "tedious", that it kills students' love of the subject. They want to see the same passion in the text as they get from good profs. (I sometimes wonder if those profs who rejected the funny bits in that manuscript felt threatened by the text being more entertaining then they were....) The one article I went to the wall for was a provocative essay -- not funny as such, but totally in your face outrageous attack on standard interpretation of things. They let me keep that chapter in. So the text itself went by the boards as soon as my colleague and I stopped teaching that particular course (I changed campuses) but my provocative essay, I am pleased to say, is still reprinted in course readers across Canada, and there isn't a conference I go to that someone doesn't come up and tell me how much they love that article and how refreshing it was to read something not dull.

So, all those factors coming together -- realizing I've made far and away more money from the reprint of that one provocative article over time than from all my other textbooks and chapters put together; annoyance over the weak selection of outrageously overpriced options available to me from mainstream publishers; and the collapse of ACCESS agreements -- have made mesee it's time for me to write my own evaluation text.

If it goes over well, the Cheap, Straight-forward, Provocative Introduction to the Sociology of Education could be next.