There was a time when the only texts I could give my students were those in the textbook (and anything I could legally copy). I'll call that the dark ages and we won't speak of it further.
Today I teach in a room where all my students have laptops. There are many implications of that, but lately the one that interests me has been the impact 1:1 has on what my students can read and the ways they can interact with their reading material.
I've come to a point where I really can identify which standard I need to teach and then choose texts that support that. Certainly there are texts that should be taught as classics, but this year I am much more concerned about the critical reading skills my students need to develop. I am finding that the California standards push student thinking in good ways.
Our current focus standard is Reading 2.5: Analyze an author's implicit and explicit philosophical assumptions and beliefs about a subject. Certainly there are texts in our textbook that I could use to help students master that, but those texts don't relate to each other well. They would not follow thematically or chronologically.
By using the much larger range of texts I can find on-line I am able to put together a unit that makes sense to the students thematically (views about nature), chronologically (westward expansion) and cognitively. Because the texts are online students can copy and paste key sections into their journals for further reflection. Using an online highlighter they can color code the text to identify assumptions and statements about nature.
Recently we've been following a theme of nature in American Literature. I've been able to send my students to a page with over 150 Native American stories. Each student read a different story and collectively they determined how Native American Literature views the natural world. We were also able to read William Byrd's account of the history of Virgina, classic examples from The Fireside Poets, excerpts of the journals of Lewis and Clark and Sarah Raymond's diary about her family's trip across the plains in a wagon train. None of which were in the textbook. All of which challenged student's reading skills and gave them an opportunity to search for the writer's assumptions. Blog Post to Students for Lewis and Clark Readings
Online text selection supports standards focused learning.