CBL: Creating Textbooks For Students With Students


Students in my college Music Appreciation course provided a solution to the lack of textbooks by creating their own, publishing to the Apple Books Store.


Big Idea: Equity - providing free educational resources for students to provide greater access to learning.

Essential Question: What can we do to reduce the cost of textbooks and provide instant access?

Challenge: We will create our own textbooks to support our learning and future students.

Our bookstore had a difficult time acquiring textbooks for my Music Appreciation course last semester. After a week of instruction, no books. I had an innovative idea that would provide a unique educational experience for my students, but I wanted them to think it was their idea. 

A challenge routinely faced by college students is the cost of textbooks. I continue to make efforts to relieve students of these expenses by creating quality resources available at no expense.


Using Freeform, I sketched a plan for creating our own textbook. In addition to content, I wanted to students to consider copyright, plagiarism, design. Then I developed my step-by-step approach including elements to be included in each chapter.


The instructor’s brainstorming plan for creating a book.
Instructor’s preliminary brainstorming

On the day we would start this educational adventure in challenge based learning, I put on my best acting face so that I could truly engage these students. I stormed into the classroom “fired up” about the problem that we were facing and wrote “We have a problem!” on a perceivably blank Freeform document. I challenged the class to offer solutions to the problem. After sidestepping ideas like making scans of one textbook for everyone to share (yikes!) and picketing in front of the bookstore (whoa!), a student in the back of the room spoke up and said, “We could write our own textbooks!” - music to my ears. 😁 Others in the class supported this idea. So we began to investigate what that might look like. Here’s a portion of our brainstorming session.


In-class brainstorming notes for creating a textbook.
In-class brainstorming notes
In-class brainstorming notes for creating a textbook.
In-class brainstorming - Chapter contents

Ultimately, we decided to create five separate books - one for each era. We elected to include one historically marginalized composer in each of the five books as well.

In order to complete this project, students would need to develop a wide range of skills. Our collective brainstorm led to this list.


In-class brainstorming of necessary skills
Skills needed to complete project

By the conclusion of the class period, we had a plan and would be ready to act! I marked out “problem” and corrected it to say “solution.”


We have a solution!


I drafted a calendar that would lead us through the process. It was my first time embarking on such an activity and was all an experiment. At times I doubted myself and thought “why am I doing this” and “what if it is a failure.” But then I also considered, “what if we don’t do this - we’ll be missing out on a great opportunity.” I followed through with my innovative and adventurous instincts. Here’s the calendar we would follow.


Project calendar for textbook creation.
Project calendar

I strategized how I might form groups to maximize participation and contribution from all members. In the first weeks of class, I had taught the fundamentals of music, standard in a music appreciation course and a necessity for doing this work. As an assessment for our foundations of music unit, I strategically selected five team leaders who would select their team members. In teams, we completed a variety of quizzes using the Socrative app, including the always fun and competitive Space Race. These activities built community and camaraderie among the teams and the class as a whole. These teams would be the teams that would build their individual chapters. 

Each class began by completing a Heardle Activity, a discussion of the weekly Listening Log entry, and then launching into our book work. Each day would bring new opportunities to teach technology skills such as page layout, paragraph styles, table of contents, image descriptions, and use of live text. 

To demonstrate the composition of a well-designed Apple Book, we referenced several exemplars such as Jodie Deinhammer’s “The Heart” and Terrance Shipler’s “Susquenita’s Book of Presidents.” We also browsed Apple Education’s “Creating Digital Books on Mac and iPad” and read through portions of Grant Andrews’ “Referencing, Citation and Bibliography Style Guide” to support our learning, creating, and researching.

We paused research midway through the project to break up the repetition, completing Apple Education’s Pop Art Activity with composers as our subjects. These projects turned out so well that they were then compiled into a collage that became each book cover.

Once the books were assembled, we devised a proofreading plan. I wanted each student to not only proofread their own text, but to proofread all of the books created in the class. After two rotations of revisions, a team member exported a revised edition for proofreading rounds three and four. Not only did students support students by providing substantive comments, they were inspired to implement new ideas into their own books and were exposed to the composers and works of each of the other eras of music.

On exam day, students made final revisions and completed a checklist before airdropping their final drafts to me.

Final project checklist
Final project checklist

Students participated in a Socrative quiz on composers and works from all periods to assess their learning and then formed new groups with one member from each team to complete the same Socrative quiz in a Space Race format. Oh what competitive fun to celebrate learning and the conclusion of the semester!

The final assignment required each student to submit a reflective video in which they addressed the following questions:

  • What did you contribute to the book project?
  • What did you learn from this (music-related)?
  • What did you learn from this (life/process-releated)?
  • What are you most proud of from your work?
  • What would you do differently if you started over?
  • What grade do you feel you deserve for your work in our class this semester? Please justify your choice.
  • Is there anything else you would like to share?


These five books will be used as a foundation for my next Music Appreciation class who will read them to familiarize themselves with each era and will be tasked with revising and expanding these texts to become stronger and more robust resources. The process will continue for years, improving with each iteration.


  • I am delighted to have embarked on this journey together to create these resources. I’m glad that the fear of failure didn’t derail this project.
  • The class was a delight to work with and we developed a great sense of community in our short time together, likely the greatest camaraderie of any class I have taught.
  • The resources we created are well-designed. Their layout is beautiful. I do feel that some of the groups could have provided more content. Perhaps, I should have students submit a mid-term project that I could review in detail to assess their progress. 
  • Students seemed to enjoy this work and are proud of the results. One of them commented that it felt like they were in an honors course, being given the autonomy to be creative and develop a resource that would be published for consumption by the public. 
  • When motivation stalls, some solutions that were effective were:
  • An artistic activity such as the Pop Art activity.
  • Brain breaks to visit the art gallery.
  • Shoutouts by experts in the field on social media (Michael Hernandez shared our post and provided some kind words of support that reminded students of the impact of their work.).
  • Homemade cookies for the win!
  • Quality of student work improves when public display is imminent. 
  • Relevance and purpose are at the heart of challenge based learning. An assignment that is relevant and has purpose warrants student investment in the work and renders quality products.


📚 You can find these resources on Apple Books here. 📚


Back of a student working on Freeform for brainstorming on iPad.
Freeform brainstorming


Students drawing and coloring composers for the book covers
Pop Art Projects
Student working on page layout on iPad
Page layout work

All Replies

Posted on January 18, 2024

Love your story and solution Donald! Nothing better for learning than to get students involved in the process and engaged. So many skills are gained in this example of CBL. Your students did a nice job on their book creations. The photo of the authors at the end is super!

Posted on January 24, 2024

Thanks so much, Cheryl! I didn't have room in the body of the post, but I also want to give a big shout out to fellow ADEs Jodie Deinhammer and Michael Hernandez for their inspiration and support along the journey.

Posted on January 24, 2024

Student reflection videos at the conclusion of the semester included these comments among others.

  • "I know a lot more about Bach than I ever did and now I can actually have conversations with the music majors."
  • "I learned that teamwork is not so bad and I made friends along the way."
  • "I learned how to use the iPad to be more efficient in my work."
  • "I've used a lot of the things I've learned in here in different classes."
  • "I feel like I've became a more creative person."
  • "I didn't come to college thinking that I'm going to be writing an Apple Book."
  • "I think this is a great format for learning about music appreciation."
  • "Overall it was just interesting and such a different class. I can say that I truly enjoyed it."

Posted on February 06, 2024

SO many valuable practices here, Donald! I especially love your reflections at the end of your post and the student reflections you shared in the comments. Such relevant, authentic authoring... and incorporating creativity so seamlessly as well. Kudos to your student authors and you as a CBL ambassador!

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