My abiding memory of textbooks in school is having to copy from them, word for word. Boredom drove me to try to beat my desk-mate at copying, to see if I could fit more words on a line than she could.
Years of dull lessons mean I have huge empathy for those who are instinctively against textbooks, and who see booklets as simply an extension of this kind of poor teaching.
And yet when we were plunged into remote learning without warning last year, it was my colleagues in schools with booklets – those teacher-made textbooks – who had the upper hand.
Lacking a supply of those widely promised but so far rarely spotted personal devices, and working with communities for whom internet connections weren’t reliable enough to move to “live” lessons, having packs of thoughtfully created, largely self-explanatory work ready to post out to families came into its own.
Now home learning is at our door again, these booklets will prove helpful for those looking to support students – both with and without tech.
Creating booklets for remote learning
So how did we make these booklets? I’ll start by saying that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel, and if you have a great textbook and you have one per pupil, stop reading now and send that out.
1. Use what you have
Booklets should reduce workload, so don’t look to painstakingly type out something that already exists somewhere else. Instead, use the exercise to consolidate what you undoubtedly already have across many forms.
Booklets are not workbooks – you don’t need space to include every student task, and if you did that you would probably spend at least a teacher’s salary on printing.
2. Make it small and perfectly formed
Begin with a two-page constraint per "lesson". Two pages is about the amount of material students can usually grapple with in a 50-minute period.
3. Start with the content
Start with the stuff: the content. Have a short title, a lesson number and aim for around a page and a half of reading at 11-point font, single-spaced.
Next, script the task or tasks that students would do at the end of this content: it could be a series of questions or activities, or just one extended essay-style question.
Then go back to the content and start to break it up, incorporating questions and opportunities for practice that will support students when they come to that final task. This could be questions or activities in between the chunk of reading, to break this up for students.
4. Keep track of what the booklet covers
Finally, when you have planned the content and tasks for each lesson, jot down the core knowledge that you have covered.
Having planned every lesson, you should have a great sense of the key overall learning you want children to remember long after the unit is complete.
5. Questions and recaps
Once you have completed step four, you can use this list to go back to every lesson and script three- to five-question recaps for the beginning of each lesson.
Remember that children need far more repetition than we ever think they do, so don’t be afraid to repeat questions or ask old questions in new ways.
6. Finishing touches
If you follow the steps above, you should come out with your standard booklet. Now there are things you can add to ensure that the booklet meets the practical demands of classroom and home learning.
You need to choose a cover with an image and a list of contents so students can see the shape of the unit. You also need page numbers and line numbers (start a new section for each page or each lesson or you will end up with “line 1025”, which is barely readable).
7. Design for independence
In order to future-proof your booklets, you should invest some more time and put answers in the back of the booklet so children can self-check their work.
If you have set extended tasks, it also helps if students can see some model paragraphs. This will help them to understand the standard they are aiming for.
What is even better is to teach the booklet once and collate some wonderful student examples, so their work can live on in each booklet’s iteration.
I’ve never been a fan of PowerPoint, but now, more than ever, when so many of our children do not have access to a device they can work comfortably on at length, we need to think again about teacher-made textbooks and embrace the benefits of the booklet.
Jo Facer is principal of Ark John Keats Academy in London