Special Features of TAA Award-Winning Textbooks: From the 2019 Awardees

Special Features of TAA Award-Winning Textbooks: From the 2019 AwardeesAt the 32nd Annual Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference in Philadelphia, PA, TAA members Al Trujillo and Dave Dillon hosted a panel of textbook award-winning authors to share features that they considered instrumental in the success of their books.  

The panel consisted of Jocelyn Nelson, author of Gateway to Music: An Introduction to American Vernacular, Western Art, and World Musical Traditions, 1st Edition, Frank Carrano and Timothy Henry, co-authors of Data Structures and Abstractions with Java, 5th Edition, and Monica Sherwin and Dave Hall, co-authors of two winning titles, Oklahoma Studies Weekly – Our State, 6th Edition and New Mexico Studies Weekly – Our State, 1st Edition. Below is a summary of the textbook features they felt were most significant in the achievement of their 2019 Textbook Excellence awards.

Gateway to Music: An Introduction to American Vernacular, Western Art, and World Musical Traditions, 1st ed.Jocelyn Nelson, author of Gateway to Music: An Introduction to American Vernacular, Western Art, and World Musical Traditions, 1st Ed.

Nelson wrote her award-winning textbook while teaching the content. By doing so, she said, “I knew as I went along what students were responding to and what did not work, so I was constantly able to adjust for that.”  

With a goal of having her “text look more like her students”, Nelson decided to cover a wider breadth of musical genres than the traditional focus on classical music in a general music appreciation textbook. Further, she challenged the traditional “canon” defining a canon as any musical piece we “elevate” and found ways to “invite students to find their own examples” through “playlist options” sections in her book instead of fixed musical selections. A “Find…Observe…Ask” pedagogical approach to this element challenge the students to explore further while reinforcing terminology from the chapter.

Data Structures and Abstractions with Java, 5th ed.Frank Carrano and Timothy Henry, co-authors of Data Structures and Abstractions with Java, 5th Ed.

Carrano and Henry identified multiple pedagogical features to their award-winning book, highlighting the modular structure of the material, the flexibility for presenting and receiving the information for practical application of the concepts, and real-world examples that “provide a context for the new material and help to make it easier for students to learn and retain abstract concepts”.  

A specific feature of their book illustrating the flexibility of their approach is one called “Design Decisions”. This feature “shows students there can be multiple solutions” to a specific problem. Carrano and Henry attribute the strength of this feature to their coauthoring relationship, as each brings different approaches to designing a solution to the same problem. The authors’ discussions (and arguments) captured in this feature encourage students to look beyond a single solution to the problem while illustrating that software design processes involve trade-offs.

Oklahoma Studies Weekly - Our State, 6th ed.New Mexico Studies Weekly - Our State, 1st ed.Monica Sherwin and Dave Hall, co-authors of Oklahoma Studies Weekly – Our State, 6th Ed. and New Mexico Studies Weekly – Our State, 1st Ed.

Studies Weekly publications redefine what a textbook looks like with a weekly newspaper format to the material. A standards-based, customizable curriculum focused on K-8 Social Studies, K-5 Science, and the Civil Rights Movement subjects, there are currently more than 35 states represented by titles available in print and digital formats. Each print edition title consists of 32 to 36 weekly four-page lessons. Despite the unconventional format, Sherwin notes, “this is a genuine textbook” that covers 100% of the individual state standards for the school year and requires substantial research effort to accomplish that goal for each state served.

Paired with an online platform for each title, Studies Weekly publications encourage high levels of interactivity. The online component “is full of images, videos, interviews, documents, maps, etc.” which allow teachers to “track students’ progress in real time”. Hall, serving as the designer on the award-winning titles, tests content with his own kids, saying “If they don’t like it, we change it.”

The complete session recording with author Q&A is available in the TAA Presentations on Demand library.

For more award-winning textbook advice, check out the series of posts from our 2019 award winners and be on the lookout for advice from the 2020 award winners in upcoming articles.


Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.