Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

October 3, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview Of The Month: Kelly Young

I’m starting a new feature called “Interview Of The Month.” I was inspired by David Kapuler’s Inside The Cyber Studio, where he interviews teachers about how they use technology in the classroom.

My “interviews of the month,” though, will have a different focus. I’ll be talking with anybody in the education world who I want to get to know better and who I think others might be interested in, too. How’s that for a broad criteria?

Future people who I’ll be talking with for this series include:

Claus von Zastrow, the director of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 17 leading education associations. He writes the influential Public School Insights blog.

David Cohen, one of the key people behind The Accomplished Teachers Forum and co-author of a recent Op Ed piece titled Test scores poor tool for teacher evaluation.

John Norton, director of The Teacher Leaders Network.

Anne T. Henderson, co-author of Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships.

Jim Burke, author of numerous books and founder of the popular English Companion Ning group

I’m starting off this series with Kelly Young, who I consider a key mentor.  I’d be surprised if there is  anybody else in the country who knows more about effective instructional strategies than Kelly.

Kelly is the founder of Pebble Creek Labs, which provides curriculum and professional development to urban high schools across the United States in Language Arts and Social Studies.  Kelly has been a teacher, principal, and district Superintendent (and a lot else along the way!).

Luther Burbank High School, where I teach, has had the advantage of working with Kelly as we have completely restructured our ninth and tenth grade English curriculum — and instructional strategies. We  have done the same with Geography and World History.   A great number of our teachers say that working with Kelly has transformed the way they teach – including me.   Readers know by the student evaluations I’ve shared here that students like the results, too.  I don’t believe that test results are the be all and end all of assessment, but it’s good information to have, and our test scores have gone up, too.

Other ESL teachers and I at Burbank have also been able to successfully adapt these engaging instructional strategies to these classes. I share a number of examples in my forthcoming book “Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies That Work,” which will be published next year by Linworth Publishing.

Because of Kelly’s talent and expertise, I asked him if he would agree to answer a few questions:

Based on what you’ve seen in the time you’ve spent in hundreds of schools across the country, what have you seen working most successfully and what have you seen not working well?

Well I’m biased, but I find that teachers get energized when working on instruction.  Teachers want more tools, more options. Relative to engaging and challenging students, teachers want choices.  They need repertoire, our favorite word.  They want to think about the science and art of teaching—learn more, talk and share, practice and get better.  The work is more satisfying and stimulating, also they become successful, so it becomes a self-renewing and self-sustaining proposition.

What breaks spirits and creates cynicism is prioritizing things other than teaching, turning down the screws relative to test scores, and not giving teachers’ relevant tools, skills, and support.

As part of your work, you do professional development regularly with hundreds of teachers.  How do you think they would characterize the challenges they face today?  What do you think they take-away from your trainings?

My, the challenges…  If you think too hard about it, it blows you away.  It overwhelms.  It breaks your heart.  The good news is how much students need good teachers.  Forget how badly they deserve them, regardless of ability, SES, race, gender, language, their antennae is sharp; they can sniff immediately when they have a teacher that a) cares, and b) has tools that will help them.  Our professional development is all about application and classroom practice.  The take-away is that what I learn today I can use tomorrow, and the more I practice it, the more I can help students.  And students can smell that.  They know when they are in the hands of a teacher who learns, who cares, who believes in their skills and is eager to change student learning trajectories and really, lives.

What do you think are the three most important skills/strategies for a teacher to have in their repertoire in order to help students learn?

Just owning a rich, powerful repertoire is huge.  And that journey never ends.   We have to study our craft continually.  There is a huge library of instructional strategies, stuff I knew nothing about when in school or in my early years of teaching.   But when I found out about the concept of repertoire, it was like a religious experience.  Imagine playing guitar your whole life knowing only two chords.  When you know there is much more, it is freeing, and a life long study.  So three?  Hard question.  I’m going to cheat a little by being a bit broad in my answer… 1. Literacy strategies to help students engage with text and make meaning.  There are a lot of them. 2. Strategies to help students talk with one another about their learning.  They like school more, and learn more, when they have to dialogue, purposefully, about their learning.  It is also a vital skill for work and life.  3.  The Inductive Model.   This strategy is so rich, so full, can go so many places.

Can you expand a bit on those three skills you think teachers should have?  Could you briefly “paint a picture” of what each might look like?

I could write and talk for days about this… but I’ll try to exercise brevity…

  1. Students HAVE to learn how to make sense of text.  There is no getting around that, as a high school student, college student, worker or adult.  But students have been woefully unprepared, especially with expository text, which is 90% of their reading in high school, college and workplace.  So we MUST learn techniques that teach and help students think while they read. Our curriculum provides strategies, that with modeling and lots of practice, make a big difference for students.

  1. Learning groups, and later work groups, talk to one another.  They problem solve, they read, discuss, argue, interact.  Schools where teachers talk and gab and blab some more aren’t doing students any favors, especially with students of limited engagement and lackluster skills.  Students need daily practice with working in teams, with reading text and writing to prompts and talking to one another about their work, their ideas, their problem solving.  We simply don’t have enough classrooms where dialogue is student to student around text, ideas, student work.

  1. The Inductive Model is a learning/teaching strategy that is as powerful as they get, and few teachers know about it. It’s a natural higher-order learning strategy, and if students used it daily they wouldn’t just like learning more, AND learn their content better, they’d actually become smarter.   I cannot say enough about its power.

I understand that Pebble Creek Labs is in the midst of some changes.  Could you share what those are?

We began as a consulting shop that helped teachers grow their instructional repertoire.  Studying teaching is fun, real, relevant, useful, inspiring.  I began to write curriculum to help teachers practice the strategies daily, to get more expert with strategies faster.  This also exposed what a lack of engaging curriculum there is out there.  It is sad.  We had to start somewhere, and chose to start where the greatest need is— the early years of secondary school, in literacy.  The work took off and we got so busy helping schools with our curriculum that we become kind of nichey… inadvertently.  We want to help teachers of all levels, at all disciplines, with learning about teaching.  I really believe in our curriculum, and have seen amazing results.  I believe in the need to help urban, traditionally underserved, secondary schools and their students.  Having said that, we also want to work with students and teachers everywhere on instruction and repertoire.  All students, and all teachers, want to be in classrooms of diversity, depth, challenge, creativity.

If a school or district has a relationship with Pebble Creek Labs, what does it look like?

It depends.  We start with a focus on instruction, and a commitment to practice.  We have curriculum materials to move the process along.  We have other embedded structures to assist with professional community.  Mostly we care about a commitment to learn and get better, and establishing and developing a learning relationship together.  We don’t do “in and out” work. We partner with the school and/or district and go on a learning journey.

What cities are you working in now?

We’ve been lucky to work in interesting projects and towns over the years.  We spend between 35-50 days a year in a site, so we get to know it well and develop some really special relationships with school and district personnel.  It’s a joy and pleasure.  Most of our projects are multiple years. We are into our sixth and seventh year in a handful of projects, so the impact and change is profound.

Presently we have large projects in Milwaukee, Austin, Sacramento, Houston, with a number of smaller projects across the country.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this blog’s readers?

Oh, well, probably some dirt on you…..  Nah, actually I’d like to share how much fun it has been to watch your growth as an educator, and how satisfying it is to see how much you model what it means to be a “professional teacher.” Your readers see your expertise through your web site and blog, but probably don’t get how much you are an “everyman”  teacher… like them, with classes that go well, and classes that don’t.  With colleagues that are amazing and colleagues that aren’t.   My guess is your readers are much like you—smart, dedicated, committed.  So I guess I’d like to thank you for your contribution to the field, and for keeping it real.  And I’d like to thank them, who by virtue of reading this website are kindred spirits. Let’s keep helping kids and representin’ this wonderful profession.

How should people get in touch with you if they’d like more information?

We have a new, improved web site we are just launching…. We want it to be dynamic, helpful, fun.  Check it out and help us improve it.  I can be reached at [email protected] .  We care, we respond.  Please feel free to connect.

Your new web site has a blog, doesn’t it? I know that I, and I suspect other teachers,  would be very interested in hearing your views.

Well I’m not afraid to share my views, and maybe, hopefully, my musings will be of interest to readers. Our new site will have a blog, in some respects inspired by yours.  We are still learning about the new web site and its applications.  We know we want it to a) explain the company, b) provide a place for Pebble Creek teachers to talk and share and problem solve with one another, and c) to allow for us at Pebble Creek to share all the great things we see, as well as to comment on and “weigh in” on topics of interest and importance to teachers and the field.

People can visit and subscribe to Kelly’s new blog here

November 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Giving Thanks: Eleven Key People Who Changed My Professional Career(s) — For The Better!

Yesterday, one of my favorite bloggers – Alexander Russo — wrote an excellent post titled Giving Thanks: 6 Key Moments That Changed My Post-Grad School Career .

It’s inspired me to do something similar:

1. Johnny Baranski, who invited me to join the Portland (Oregon) Catholic Worker and which led to my spending seven years in the Catholic Worker Movement, including starting a soup kitchen/emergency shelter in Santa Rosa, California.

2. Mary Ochs, who took a chance and hired me for my first job as a community organizer and led to a nineteen-year organizing career.

3. Larry McNeil, who was my first supervisor when I began organizing for the Industrial Areas Foundation and from whom I learned so much.

4. Jay Schenirer, then Sacramento School Board member, who encouraged me to apply for my first (and, so far, only) teaching job — at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento.

5. Ted Appel, Burbank principal, who hired me and who continues to provide incredible leadership at our school.

6. Kelly Young, who provides literacy consulting to our school and to others, and from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than from anyone else.

7. Katie Hull Sypnieski, Lara Hoekstra and Dana Dusbiber, close teaching colleagues, friends, and co-authors for the past eleven years.

8. John Norton from Middleweb, who provided very early encouragement to me to begin blogging and writing books.

9. Mary Ann Zehr, who suggested to Education Week that they approach me about writing a column there.

Feel free to share your “thank you’s” to people in the comments, or leave links to blog posts where you do the same….

November 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“‘Doing’ Geography Instead Of ‘Studying’ It”

‘Doing’ Geography Instead Of ‘Studying’ It is my latest post at Education Week Teacher.

In it, four educators share their thoughts on teaching geography: Kelly Young, from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than from anyone else; Elisabeth Johnson, who is the best social studies teacher I’ve ever seen; middle school educator Lisa Butler; and Matt Podbury, who teaches Geography at an International School in France.

Here are some excerpts:





I’m adding it to The Best Websites For Learning & Teaching Geography.

November 11, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

My New BAM! Show: “How Can We Help Students Appreciate the Value of Learning Geography?”


How Can We Help Students Appreciate the Value of Learning Geography?
is the topic of my latest ten-minute BAM! Radio show.

Elisabeth Johnson, the best Social Studies teacher I’ve ever seen and Kelly Young, from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than from anyone else, are my guests.

It’s an upcoming topic in my Education Week Teacher column, and both Elisabeth and Kelly have contributed written commentaries that will be included there.

May 12, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“School Leaders Must Focus On ‘Authentic Learning,’ Not ‘Test Prep’”

School Leaders Must Focus On ‘Authentic Learning,’ Not ‘Test Prep’ is my latest post at Education Week Teacher.

In Part One of this series, three educators — Anne Reeves, Justin Tarte, and PJ Caposey — shared their responses (I also contributed my own).  Today, Justin Baeder and Kelly Young (who I consider my mentor in education) contribute their answers.  I include comments from readers, too.

Here are some excerpts:



April 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

My New Radio Program: “How Can Administrators Help Support an Engaging Curriculum in the Classroom?”


My new BAM! Radio program is on How Can Administrators Help Support an Engaging Curriculum in the Classroom?

Kelly Young (who I consider to be my primary mentor) and Anne Reeves are my guests in this nine-minute podcast.

December 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Teachers Must Help Determine New Ideas Being Implemented”

Teachers Must Help Determine New Ideas Being Implemented is my latest post over at Education Week Teacher.

In addition to commentaries by Renee Moore and Kelly Young (who I consider a mentor and from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than anyone else), I share some of my own thoughts…


I’m adding that post to The Best Posts & Articles On Building Influence & Creating Change.

September 21, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Advice For Aspiring Principals: ‘Shadow, Connect & Dream’”

Advice For Aspiring Principals: “Shadow, Connect & Dream” is the final post in my three-part Education Week Teacher series offering advice to aspiring principals.

Scott McLeod, Kelly Young (who I consider a mentor and from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than anyone else), John Gabriel and Paul Farmer all offer their advice. In addition, I’ve included comments from readers.

May 7, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

How Reading Strategies Can Increase Student Engagement

A few days ago, both Daniel Willingham and Robert Pondiscio — two thinkers and educators whose opinions I value highly — wrote posts critical of the use (or, perhaps, the over-use) of teaching reading strategies to students. They both suggest that this can result in making students feel bored by reading.

I certainly agree that teachers misusing reading strategies in class can indeed, as Dan Willingham put it, cause “collateral damage.” I’d also suggest that poor teaching of just about anything can have a similar result.

Done well, regular teaching and reinforcing of reading strategies can have the opposite result, and I see it in my classroom, and the classrooms of my colleagues, everyday.

Reading strategies are not just for comprehension — they are also for engagement.

We don’t have students explicitly apply them (or, if they do, very seldom) during their pleasure reading. But for reading text they are unfamiliar with and often, at least initially, not interested in (especially informational text in English and in content area classes) reading strategies like highlighting, visualizing, connecting, asking questions, evaluating, and summarizing provide a tool for students to extend their thinking and also a provide a system for accountability. Explicitly being challenged to ask questions, expand those questions to higher level orders of thinking, and then share them with their classmates agitates everyone to wonder and explore what the answers might be. Some reluctant readers become more engaged when they know they can draw and visualize what they are reading. Pushing students to consciously agree or disagree with what they read and provide evidence for their beliefs helps students develop needed critical thinking skills. And, yes, all that engagement reinforces comprehension, too.

I’ve invited Kelly Young, an extraordinary consultant from Pebble Creek Labs for our school (and for many others), to also comment on this issue. I’ve written often about Kelly, who I consider a mentor.

Here are his comments:

I appreciate Mr. Willingham’s spur to open a conversation about the value and weight of reading strategies in the larger milieu of reading instruction.

For openers, I cannot imagine responsible reading instruction without the teaching of reading strategies, though I too worry about appropriate balance and priority.

Just as teachers of music, dance and sports use exercises and drills to refine, expand and enhance learner skills and technique, so should reading teachers give students’ methods and means for making text more available and understandable, and thus enjoyable.

When I take a tennis lesson, I don’t expect to only play during the lesson… I expect to learn strategies through exercises that will expand my skill set. I also don’t expect to just do drills, as I need to apply my sharpened skills to the larger game.

The same holds for reading instruction. Through strategy work, in appropriate balance with general reading and free reading, we make transparent via modeling and practice varied means of engaging with text in novel and more sophisticated levels of thinking. This expansion of reader tools has the effect of broadening and strengthening students’ reading repertoire. Students are asked to read and interact with text through different lenses and points of contact. This arms students with more tools through which to connect with and enjoy reading. Done correctly, it simultaneously makes text more engaging while sharpening and expanding meaning-making competencies.

Done poorly, indeed it feels monotonous and superfluous, though not a reason to deny expanded and powerful tools from students. That is a teaching problem. Reading strategies are not to be confused with teaching methods, they are learning strategies for student to own and apply as needed with varied levels and types of text. They are also not to be confused with assessment and poorly worded multiple-choice questions testing student comprehension. Such “methods” do not teach reading skill; they only test it, weakly.

Reading strategies are an amalgam of tactics and approaches for making reading more available and understandable, more vivid and rich. As with most teaching and learning challenges, the magic is in the right mix of applied practice and inquiry. More tools, and more understanding of these tools, only enriches the reading and learning experience.

How do you use reading strategies in your classroom?

(see Robert Pondiscio’s thoughtful response in the comments)

March 7, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources For World Read Aloud Day

'' photo (c) 2014, Laurie Sullivan - license:

March 5th is World Read Aloud Day in 2014, and here are a number of useful resources:

World Read Aloud Day Activities

World Read Aloud Day Blog

Tools and Tips for World Read-Aloud Day is from The New York Times Learning Network.

Great Read-Alouds From The New York Times is also from The New York Times Learning Network.

Of course, there’s Jim Trelease’s Home Page.

Make Every Day Read Aloud Day is by Donalyn Miller at Education Week.

Nonfiction Read Alouds: A Lost Opportunity? is by Robert Pondiscio.

Here are some tips on using Read Alouds
as an instructional strategy from our school’s consultant, and my mentor, Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs.

You might also be interested in The Best Posts On Students Reading Aloud Individually In ESL Class.

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

September 26, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Now, This Is What I Call Professional Development!

Atul Gawande, one of my favorite feature writers, published an article in The New Yorker today titled Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you? (miracle of miracles — it doesn’t appear to be behind a paywall!).

In the article, Gawande (who is also a surgeon) discusses how he had felt he had reached a “plateau” in his surgical skill, and looked at other professions which employed “coaches”:

[Coaching] holds that, no matter how well prepared people are in their formative years, few can achieve and maintain their best performance on their own.

Gawande considers examples of coaching in athletic and non-athletic venues, and writes extensively about the instructional-coaching program run by the Albemarle County public schools in Virginia. There, the program is completely outside the formal evaluation process and completely voluntary.

I’ve written extensively about the coaching program our individual high school runs with Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs, and why those two elements — outside the evaluation process and being voluntary — are also critical for its success. I’ll end this post with links those pieces describing what we do but, most importantly, I want to mention that Pam Moran, the Superintendent of the Albenarle County School District, has agreed to answer a few questions I’ve posed to her specifically about the coaching program. I’ll be posting those responses (and possibly thoughts from other staff involved in the program there) shortly, but wanted to get the word out about The New Yorker article quickly.

Here are links to pieces I’ve written about our school’s coaching effort:

There Are Some Right Ways & Some Wrong Ways To Videotape Teachers — And This Is A Wrong Way

Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way)

Why I’m Afraid The Gates Foundation Might Be Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft

“Tape and Analysis to Produce Growth, not a Score”

July 14, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Should Teachers Be Doing During Student “Free Voluntary Reading” Time?

Free Voluntary Reading (also known as SSR, Extensive Reading, and a number of other terms) is a key element in the English curriculum at our school — and in many others. It’s basically the practice of having students read a book of their choice during a period of time in class, and encourage that they do the same at home (you an learn more about it at The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading).

In class, especially during two-period double block mainstream and ESL classes, we generally have students read for the first fifteen or twenty minutes. Kelly Young from Pebble Creek Labs, our extraordinary instructional strategies consultant about whom I have often written, is always pushing us to be active and walking around during this time, talking with students about what they are reading, having them read passages to us, asking them questions, etc.

We all know that what he’s suggesting is the right thing to do. To be honest, though, for many of us, it’s easy to, instead, use a a portion of that time to get ready for the lesson, answer a couple of school emails, clean-up papers from the previous class, or just take a breather for a minute or two. The spirit is willing, but the body sometimes doesn’t follow.

However, a new study might give all of us a little bit of a push to take Kelly’s words more seriously.

In an article in the Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers found that teachers providing individual feedback to students during this kind of reading time was, by far, one of the most effective ways to help improve students’ reading ability. It primarily looked at students using their silent reading time to read class text (thought not exclusively), but it seems close enough to the basic ideas of Free Voluntary Reading that we should carefully consider what they found.

You can watch a video about the study, too, at Best Practices Weekly.

What do you do during the time your students Free Voluntary Reading time, if that’s a practice you use?

June 12, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

How My Ninth-Grade English Classes Evaluated Me This Year

As regular readers of this blog know, every year I have students evaluate my classes and me and post the results — warts and all — here (as well as email them to my colleagues). I think that making the results public, and letting students know in advance that this is what I’m going to do, may help them take it little more seriously than they might otherwise.

I do a different evaluation process for each class, so each year write several different posts. This one is from my double-block ninth-grade English class and from my one-period pre-International Baccalaureate ninth-grade English class.

Another advantage to making these results public is that it makes it a little easier for me to review results from previous years. That kind of comparison can give me more food for thought. You can find all these posts at My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers). However, since this is the first time I’ve taught an advanced English class, I don’t have previous evaluations to compare it to, though it can be intriguing to compare the results to my double-block class.

Here are the results (I’ll give the results and analysis for my double block first, followed by the results from my Pre-IB class):

1. In this class, I learned…. 2/3 said “some”; 1/3 said “a lot”; none said “a little” (double-block)

This is the typical response….until the last day of school (which is this coming Friday). On that day, I provide students with an essay they wrote in September and an essay they wrote in May, along with an “improvement rubric.” Students then assess each of the essays and see the dramatic improvement they typical made (you can read more about this process, and the research behind it, here. At that point, I usually tell students I’ve misplaced their evaluation of me and ask them to do it again. Nothing changes…except for the responses to this first question. Then it typically goes to 1/3 saying “some” and 2/3 saying “a lot.” I do this two-step evaluation process as sort of my own “action research” project. I’ll write another post next week saying if this kind of change happens again, or if it does not.

My advanced class rated it as 1/3 “some” and 2/3 “a lot”

Most of the students in this class came in with, and continue to have, a high-degree of intrinsic motivation, so these results are not a surprise (except I did think there would be a slightly higher number under “a lot.”

2. I tried my best in this class….1/3 said “a lot of the time”; 1/3 said “all of the time” and 1/3 said “some of the time.” (double block)

This is the typical response I get each year. I think I need to get serious about revisiting The Best Resources For Learning How To Best Give Feedback To Students, and perhaps figure out a better way to regularly remind myself about implementing those strategies. I’m not sure what else I can do — besides strengthening the life skills lessons I’ve written about — to try to increase this level of effort.

My advanced class rated themselves as 1/2 “a lot of the time” and 1/2 as “all the time.”

Again, they’re pretty intrinsically-motivated to begin with…

3. My favorite unit was…. Natural Disasters came in first and was closely followed by Mt. Everest (double block)

Usually, Natural Disasters and our unit on Jamaica are close, and Everest is typically the least favorite one. Jamaica didn’t even get one vote this year as the favorite, and I’m not sure why. I’ll have to ask students this week. Katie Hull, my colleague, and I both made substantial cuts to the length of the Everest unit this year, and I’m pretty sure that’s a major reason it was a hit. It’s typically an extremely long unit. We used the time we saved to have students create their own units on topics of their choice (which I’ll write about in a post later this week).

My advanced class ranked it the same way — Natural Disasters followed by Mt. Everest.

Again, I think the reduction in time for Mt. Everest paid-off.

4. My least favorite unit was....Latin Studies came in first, closely followed by the one we do on Nelson Mandela (double block)

Latin Studies is heavily literature-based, and includes poetry and a more essay-writing than the other units. It’s typically ranked near the bottom, as is the Mandela unit. I it’s time for me to consult with any of my colleagues who do similar student evaluations (other than my close colleague and co-author Katie Hull) and Kelly Young from Pebble Creek Labs, our school’s outstanding consultant, to see if these low-rankings are typical across-the-board and, if so, are there any changes to the unit we should consider. And if there is enough information to find that they are not typical, then I should probably try to figure out what I need to do differently.

My advanced class ranked it the same way.

5. As a teacher, I think Mr. Ferlazzo is…. 1/3 said “okay”; 1/3 said “good” and 1/3 said “excellent.” No one said “bad” (double-block)

This is my typical ranking. I’ve written a further analysis below.

Half of my advanced class ranked me as “good” and one-half ranked me as “excellent.”

There are basically never any classroom management issues in my advanced class, while it’s not uncommon for a number of students in our double-block classes to be facing multiple changes. Because of that, it’s easier to focus all of my energy in the advanced class into just teaching English, while that’s not always the case in my double-block, where I need to often teach other life-skills. I feel like I constantly work towards being a better teacher but, given the circumstances, I’ll settle for the 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3 ranking in my double-block. I’m going to write more about this topic in a future post.

6. Did you feel that Mr. Ferlazzo was concerned about what was happening in your life? 2/3 said yes and 1/3 said no (double block)

That’s my typical ranking.

My advanced class gave the same assessment.

7. Mr. Ferlazzo is patient...practically everyone circled “some of the time” (double block)

This is the result that I’m probably surprised with the most. Usually I get a 2/3 “some of the time” and 1/3 “a lot of the time.” I’ve got to think about this one. I like to think I’m a pretty patient teacher.

My advanced class ranked me as 1/3 “some of the time”; 1/3 “a lot of the time” and 1/3 “all of the time.”

8. Did you like this class? 2/3 said “yes” and 1/3 said “no” (double block)

That’s slightly lower than the typical response, but I can live with it.

Everyone in my advanced class said they liked the class.

9. What was your favorite activity in this class? “Working in groups” came in first and was closely followed by “writing essays.” (double block)

Working in groups always comes in first, but I was a bit surprised at seeing “writing essays” being ranked so highly — it usually comes in much lower. My colleague Katie and I worked hard this year and developing and implementing a very scaffolded writing process and, based on my conversations with students, for many it was the first time they have been successful writers.

My advanced class ranked “clozes” (fill-in-the-blanks) as number one and working in groups as number two. None of them ranked “writing essays” as a favorite activity.

I think they really saw the clozes as challenging puzzles (clozes came in third place in the double-block class). I’m going to ask them this week about their low-ranking of essays. I suspect it was because I didn’t do as much scaffolding since we only had half the time.

10. Which activity do you think helped you learn the most? “Writing essays” came in first, and then “practice reading” (when students can read a book of their choice for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each class) and “working in groups” tied for second. (double block)

My advanced class ranked “data sets” as number one, followed by “working in groups.”

I’ve previously written about data sets, and shared what my students have said about them, at Helping Students Write Essays.

There’s lots of food for thought here.  I welcome any reactions, and would love to hear from teachers who have their students do similar assessments.

I’ll be posting the results from my other classes later this week.

April 19, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Think Alouds” In The Classroom & “Driving Alouds” In The Car

“Think Alouds” are an important instructional strategy I use in my mainstream English class and with my Intermediate English Language Learners. I read a passage and make transparent what good readers do, or I’ll write something and model what good readers do. I write about this process in my new book, and you can read more about it at our school consultant’s website, Kelly Young’s Pebble Creek Labs.

Now, The New York Times reports on a major new study examining car accidents and driver education recommends that driving lessons incorporate this same kind of strategy:

One way to address all of these issues is “narrative driving,” in which the adult drives while giving a teenage passenger a play-by-play. Point out examples of unsafe driving, explain why you are changing lanes or slowing down, announce when you are checking the mirrors, and explain how you are reacting to information. Show the prospective driver how you deal with distractions like a disruptive child in the back seat without taking your eyes off the road.

“It’s helpful to talk out loud about what you’re seeing and doing,” Dr. Durbin said. “It sensitizes your teen to the fact that there is a lot more going on up here in the front seat than he thought there was.”

Good teaching strategies don’t have to be limited to the classroom….

April 11, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“This is Your Brain on Shakespeare”

This is Your Brain on Shakespeare is a pretty interesting short article on a research a professor did on what listening to Shakespeare did to people’s brain. He found that it can “shift mental pathways and open possibilities” for what the brain can do.

I think the research reinforces the importance of Read Alouds in general. I’ve learned from Kelly Young from Pebble Creek Labs how valuable a carefully selected short passage (that is well-read by the teacher) can have on students. By including a few words that might be new to them and by showing writing styles that they might be seeing for the first time, I could see how good Read Alouds can have an unusual affect on the listener’s brain. You can read Kelly’s description of the Read Aloud instructional strategy here.

April 4, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Helping Students Write Essays

In a previous post, Three Good Questions For Teachers To Ask Themselves (& Answer Them Here If You Feel Like It), I shared that one of the areas where I have improved this year is in teaching writing.

There have been a number of reasons for that improvement, including just spending more time on it. There’s one particular area, though, that I think has made a big difference — more explicitly connecting our use of categorization to writing.

I’ve written a lot — both in previous posts and in my books — about our use of inductive data sets in teaching and learning. This tool comes from our work with Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs, and you can read his description of it here.

Briefly, it’s a matter of presenting students with numerous short or longer examples of information on a broader topic (called a “data set”) — let’s say Jamaica — and then students need to categorize the information. My books offer numerous examples of its use with English Language Learners and native-English speakers. This activity, and subsequent ones, promote higher-order thinking skills.

In terms of writing, this categorization activity is easily transferable to writing — the categories can then be converted into paragraphs, and students can also easily cite their source. It’s a very accessible process that students can use in writing whatever they need to in any class — even when they don’t actually have a formal “data set.” Instead, when they’re reading a textbook, for example, they just need convert whatever notes they’ve taken into categories.

You may wonder how I know this idea of categorization has been such an important reason behind my student’s writing improvement. Well, I asked them.

On Friday I asked students to respond to this question:

What are things you’ve learned in this class about writing essays that you think will help you in other classes and in life?

They wrote many of the thoughts you’d expect from any English class — thesis statements, topic sentences, “hooks,” etc. Many, though, wrote these kinds of words at the top of their papers:

I learned that you can do categories first and then write your essay from it is it’s easy.

Organizing the categories first and then writing paragraphs from them.

Making categories out of the data sets helps me write essays because it makes the paragraphs easier to write.

Summarizing categories helps a lot.

It’s always nice to see that what we think we teach is what students actually learn….

March 30, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Three Good Questions For Teachers To Ask Themselves (& Answer Them Here If You Feel Like It)

We ninth-grade English teachers had another great day of professional development with our school’s instructional consultant, Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs.

He started off the day asking us three questions:

What have you gotten better at this year?

What do you still need to figure out or work on?

What’s keeping your kids from making big time gains (that are within our control)?

It seems to me that these are good questions to ask ourselves at this time of the year (or, in fact, at anytime).

I thought I’d briefly share my responses, and invite readers to share yours in the comments section. I’ll compile everyone’s responses into a post in mid-April. Please leave your comment by April 15th. I’ll elaborate more on my responses in that post.

My responses:

What have you gotten better at this year?

I’ve gotten a lot better at teaching writing; identifying tech-related activities for our mainstream students that bring a value-added (the use of that term for discredited teacher assessments really makes me wary of using it) benefit to their academic work; showing more patience in classroom management; and differentiating instruction for students with challenges.

What do you still need to figure out or work on?

I need to do a better job at “transfer” — helping students see how they can apply what they are learning in our class to others classes and in their lives; differentiating instruction for students who have an appetite for bigger challenges; making relationship-building time for students who seem to be doing well and not have it all eaten up by those with the biggest needs; and I’ve always got to be conscious about talking less.

What’s keeping your kids from making big time gains (that are within our control)?

Our Small Learning Community (twenty teachers and three hundred students) has organized a mentorship program where a number of juniors (most are in my Theory of Knowledge class) are mentors to our ninth-graders. It’s had a tremendously positive impact on our ninth-graders, and I think it would be great if we could figure out a way to expand it in our SLC and throughout the whole school. Our SLC Lead Teacher, Rachel Schultz, has done an excellent job organizing it. Years ago, our school had was called an “Advisory” where we created time for teachers and students to do something like this, but had to end it for a variety of reasons.

Okay, now it’s your turn. How would you answer these three questions?

March 26, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Students Really Do “Get It”

I’ve previously written about the professional development effort we have at our school where Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs videotapes us teaching lessons, and how he and I showed my video and involved students in the process (see Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way)).

One of the many reasons I wanted to involve students was to model the importance of accepting critique and working to get better at what we do.

This week, as part of our unit on Jamaica, students needed to compose, and perform, a song using Bob Marley’s music as a model. Two students chose to sing about me. In addition to commenting on the shine of my bald head, they sang about the videotaping experience. The one minute recording is pretty funny, and also shows that you never know what you do in the classroom will really “stick.”

March 16, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“Learning a foreign language literally changes the way we see the world”

I’ve previously posted about the benefits of learning another language (see The Best Resources For Learning The Advantages To Being Bilingual).

A related article on a new study was just published headlined Bilinguals See the World in a Different Way, Study Suggests. I was struck by some parts of the article and study, though not by necessarily connecting it to our English Language Learners.

In our mainstream ninth-grade English classes, some of the units we teach including having students review “glossaries” of the slang or language that people speak in the areas we’re studying — New Orleans and Jamaica. We have them do a variety of activities with it, including identifying words they like, writing postcards using the language and developing a dialogue (all this is part of our curriculum from Kelly Young and Pebble Creek Labs). In fact, tomorrow, we’ll be having our students record their short conversations using Fotobabble and post them on our class blog.

Students always love these lessons, and I think parts of this study gives me more insights into their academic value. The study talks about intentionally learning a language, but I would think even a short exposure to one, like we do in our classes, might have some comparable, though limited, benefit. Here are some related excerpts from the article:

As well as learning vocabulary and grammar you’re also unconsciously learning a whole new way of seeing the world,” said Dr Athanasopoulos. “There’s an inextricable link between language, culture and cognition.

“The benefits you gain are not just being able to converse in their language — it also gives you a valuable insight into their culture and how they think…It can also enable you to understand your own language better “