Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On the Value of Teacher Guides


I’ve heard writers question the value of providing teacher guides for their books. Those who have tackled writing one themselves have likened it to writing those old books reports we were forced to produce back in the day. Other writers hire professionals to write their guides for them, almost always having to pay for them out of their own pocket. Still others have been known to accept whatever the publisher is willing to provide, without any power to change them. I’ve never contemplated the value for the writer to provide a guide until recently when I’ve found myself searching or guides to help me prepare my lesson plans. Now I ‘d like to voice my opinion on these guides—yes, yes, yes!

After a few weeks of cursory internet searching, it’s clear to me that not all teacher guides are created equal. Those on the publisher’s sites tend to be the worst, meaning less expansive, including only a few questions on the specific book and none on the topic as a whole. From what I’ve seen so far, those who hire “professionals” to write for them are of a mixed bag—some excellent, some sounding like they copy and pasted questions from previous curriculum guides.

But, boy oh boy, some of these things are really well done. I’ve found some gems that are well written, well thought out, and, I might even say, thought provoking. One particular favorite was a full18 pages long and had it’s own table of contents! It talked about how this particular book could be used successfully in ever subject matter from science to art, it provided projects to do in an hour and those to pursue if you had time over a few weeks. I immediately noted down several books suggested to read to accompany their book and headed to the library to check them out.

I don’t know if this kind of guide sells books but it definitely provides a potential reader/ teacher with a reason to choose to read it with their students. It can be quite a challenge to know which book to choose to discuss a broad topic when you only have time to read one book. The well written guides offer ideas on the directions a teacher can go in and, when so many of the options are intriguing, it makes it an easy decision to choose that particular book.

The more I think about it, the more these guides might be the first place to start for one’s own writing. Visualizing how your book might be used by a teacher, what themes could be picked out and what activities could grow out of the ideas the book focuses on. Writing with these ideas in mind, perhaps the final product will have that magic marketing appeal that all publishers are looking for.  This could work if we don’t spend a lot of time fussing over the guide as a procrastination tool to writing the manuscript. On second thought, I’d better stick with reading them rather than writing them for now.

4 comments:

Sandy Brehl said...

I agree! Commercial study guides run the gamut from pointless to brilliant. In addition, there are many online links on which teachers post their own guides after exploring and using a particular book. Those are the ones I tend to find the most helpful.
Ask teachers who've contacted you (for questions, Skype visits, etc.) to share their own suggestions and related titles with permission to post them on your website/blog for other teachers.

Mindy Hardwick said...

I wrote a teacher's guide for my upper middle grade novel, STAINED GLASS SUMMER. I'm a former seventh grade teacher, and so I had the skills to be able to write a guide. It was eye-opening! I learned a lot about my book which really surprised me. I worked on STAINED GLASS SUMMER for a ten year period and thought I knew everything about the story. But writing the guide, pushed me to think how it could be taught and I found themes I didn't realize were in the story. Here is a copy of mine:

http://www.mindyhardwick.com/books/stained-glass-summer/

Melissa Stewart said...

SCBWI now offers its members a list of vetted individuals and small companies that offer a range of marketing services. One category on the list is Curriculum Guide writers. Here's the link:

http://www.scbwi.org/Resources/Documents/SCBWI_ResourcesforPublishedAuthorsandIllustrators.pdf

You must log into the scbwi.org website before you can access the list.

Loreen Leedy said...

If a well written guide with easy-to-implement ideas is available, it stands to reason that a teacher would be much more likely to use a particular book. Making activities to go with my books is a priority of mine this year.