Review Guidelines


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General review guidelines are often requested by curriculum supervisors, school boards, teachers and others in charge of the selection of history textbooks. Some reviewers seek fully quantifiable standards, exact readability gauges, and "scientific" formulas. They should understand that such mechanical devices do not exist. Reviewers instead should try to set reasonable, not inflexible criteria for textbook language and content. This paradigm is adapted from History Textbooks: A Standards and Guide (1994) and featured in the Massachusetts History and Social Sciences Curriculum Framework (2002).

Basic Questions

Is the information accurate? Is the treatment of various groups in society fair and unbiased? Is the reading level appropriate for the students who will be using the material? Is the book written in a clear and comprehensible manner? Is the book written in a style that will be interesting and hold the student's attention? Do the review questions and other end-of-chapter exercises support the material presented in the narrative? Are pictorial and sidebar materials relevant to the subject matter? Are chronology and linkages with geography integral to the book's design?

Content and Style

Examine the table of contents. What subjects are emphasized? What themes and patterns emerge? What logic guides the movement of the text? What kinds of history are stressed? In the case of American history, does the book develop the idea of a national character and civic identity? In the case of world history, does the book explain the unique impact of Western ideas and technology on global society?

Examine one unit. Is there a systematic development of ideas? Are topics treated in depth? Is the narrative lively in style and rich with experiences of people? Is there correspondence between the narrative and the illustrations, sidebars, supporting biographies, or primary source references? Is literature included or referenced? Are different genre of primary sources included, either as a complete reference or in a meaningful excerpted passage?

Instructional Activities and Teacher Guidance Materials

Read over a lesson. Compare the material intended for the student and that intended to guide the teacher. Identify the lesson goal or objective. Is it sound? Look at the way in which primary sources, maps, graphs, and tables are used to enhance the core text.

Examine the instructional activities. Do they provide opportunities for students to be actively engaged in the learning process? Are they varied? Are opportunities to write provided? Can students of differing abilities find opportunities for success in learning the content? Do questions provided for students help them to analyze the information and to think critically; that is, to reflect, hypothesize, analyze, verify, synthesize? Do the activities provide for curriculum integration and correlation? Do students have opportunity to discuss or debate ideas presented in the textbook? Do activities become more challenging as the year progresses?

Examine the teacher's edition. Is a detailed scope and sequence list for the course provided? Is there a direct relation between the teachers' the students' materials? Are these teachers' materials more than banal marginalia? Are opportunities offered to extend or enrich the text? Are primary sources or literature a part of this extension?

Examine another lesson in the teacher's text. Are there ideas, activities, or suggested materials to engage student interest? Do the activities make sense? Are they varied? Are they appropriate for the grade level and the reading ability of students? Are varied instructional strategies suggested to meet the learning styles or ability levels of different students? Can students generate their own questions? Are extension activities suggested? Are they meaningful?

Examine evaluation and assessment materials. Are both formal and informal assessment strategies suggested? Do these strategies enable students to hypothesize, analyze, and draw conclusions about the subject matter they are studying? Do assessment strategies include student writing exercises?

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