Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

August 24, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: “I’ll Work If You Give Me Candy”



Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

I wrote this post in 2009, and continue to believe in the importance of making “individual deals.” You might want to also check out The Best “Fair Isn’t Equal” Visualizations and The Best Resources On Differentiating Instruction.

Students were working on an assignment a couple of weeks ago. “Jack” (who faces a lot of challenges at home, and has been having some difficulties at school), however, was not. I went over to him and asked how it was going, and if he had some questions about what he needed to do.

“I’ll work if you give me some candy,” he replied.

I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that he was better than that, and that he needed to get to work. I knew that he didn’t like me “bugging him,” and we had made an arrangement a couple of months ago that when he was in this kind of mood I would leave him alone for a few minutes. Often, after that period of time, he would get focused without needing any additional intervention.

A few minutes later, though, and Jack still wasn’t doing the assignment.

I went over to him to check-in. “I’ll work if you give me some candy,” he repeated.

I asked him to go outside where we could talk privately. I asked him if he felt that eating helped him to concentrate. He said yes, it did.

I said, “Jack, I want you to be successful.   We all have things that help us concentrate — with me, it’s important to be in a quiet place.   You know there’s a class rule against eating in class, and I certainly don’t feel comfortable with your eating candy. But how about if I give you the option of bringing something besides candy to school and, if you’re having a hard time concentrating, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, you can have the option to eat while you’re working? How does that sound?”

He eagerly agreed, we shook hands on the deal, and he went back to class and focused on his work.

He’s been working hard since that time, and has not eaten anything in class since we made our agreement.

But his knowing that he has the option to do so, I believe, has been a key part of the solution.

This is similar to the option I’ve given some students to leave the room when they feel like they’re going to “blow”  — as long as they remain directly outside the door (see When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!). All of us, particularly students who have family lives which are often out-of-control, function better when we feel we do have a certain level of control over…something.

I have individual “deals” with many students in my class, and everybody knows it (we talk pretty explicitly about everybody being different, having different talents and different needs).  Only very, very ocassionally will students actually exercise the power they have in these deals.   Some might think these kinds of arrangements would prompt charges of unfairness from other students.  Surprisingly enough, in my five years of teaching, that has never occurred.  The students who don’t need these deals to focus understand why some do,  and everybody else understands because they have their own special arrangments with me.

What kinds of individual “deals” have you made with students in your classes?

August 22, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: “Evaluating Teachers In Order To Fire Them?”


Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

I wrote this post in 2009, and subsequently revised it considerably and it was published in The Washington Post the next year under the title The best kind of teacher evaluation.

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered the city’s public schools to start using student achievement data in the evaluations of teachers who are up for tenure this school year.

“It is an aggressive policy, but our obligation is to take care of our kids,” Bloomberg said last week in a speech in Washington.

“Nobody wants to promote and give lifetime employment to teachers who can’t teach,” Bloomberg told reporters after the speech. “Those days are gone.”

Bloomberg, like Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama, has long pressed for merit-pay programs that reward teachers for gains in student achievement.

The state also should make it easier to fire ineffective teachers, he said.

Assuming that this is an accurate report on what the Mayor said (and since it comes fromhis own Bloomberg News Service, I’m guessing that this is a safe assumption to make), this is representative of an all-too-common context in which teacher evaluation is discussed — it needs to be done so teachers can be fired.

Given that common context, is there any wonder why many teachers, like me, get very, very cautious when the topic is broached?

I don’t pretend to have the answer to what is the best way to evaluate teachers. However, I do have a pretty good idea of how not to do it. And I have some very clear ideas on what has worked for me and made me a much better teacher.


Jay Matthews at the Washington Post has recently written two posts about the new evaluation process implemented by Michelle Rhee at the Washington, D.C. schools.

You should read his two posts, but before I describe it and share my reaction, I should preface my remarks by telling readers that it would be very difficult to find a teacher anywhere who is more open to critique than I am. I spent many years working as a community organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation, which is known for many things — including its exceptional work and for its very high emphasis on the value of critique (those two qualities are related).

Even with that background, I would find very little value in the D.C. program — at least how it’s described in those two columns (though I have to say that I don’t necessarily agree with all the teacher comments quoted by Matthews). Having some stranger parachuted into my room for thirty minutes with a checklist, and who has no real knowledge of my school, my students, or me is unlikely to be received well by me, nor provide me with particularly helpful feedback.

However, I do relentlessly pursue evaluation and critique, and here are some of the things that I have found helpful:

* Being observed by administrators who know our school, our students, and me, and whose judgment and skills I, in turn, respect. I know they are genuinely concerned about my professional development for several reasons, including their knowledge that helping me improve my skills is the best thing they can do to help our students. Administrators typically come by for two thirty minute formal observations each school year, and numerous short “drop-ins.” I’m very confident in my ability as a teacher, but I have received some very helpful hard critique this way that has made me an even better educator.

* Getting a clear message from administrators that asking for help — from either them or other teachers — is not a sign of weakness, as I wrote in Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?. In addition, having administrators and teachers clearly make data freely available and encourage us to reflect on it (individually and collectively), but in a culture of being data “informed” and not data “driven.” I’ve written more about that in“Data-Driven” Versus “Data-Informed.”

* Hearing regular feedback from students. I’ve written in-depth about how I use this process:

Results From Student Evaluation Of My Class And Me

Results From Student Evaluation Of My Class And Me (Part Two)

* Having colleagues observe me and provide feedback. Our “Small Learning Community” of twenty teachers (our school is divided into seven similar SLC’s where the 300 students stay with this same group of teachers all four years) periodically do these observations on our own initiative with our own short checklist (which we created) that includes questions like:

Are all students engaged? If so, how? If not, why?

Do you feel the expectations of the class are too much or not enough?
Is the work being given higher order thinking or just task work (book work)

In addition, these kinds of observations provide opportunities to see how our same students act in different classes, which can be very helpful to us as teachers. (Jay Matthews wrote an interesting column about the value of increasing peer collegiality for professional development)

* Doing what Alice Mercer did — observe my class, then write an open letter to my students asking them questions. Both Alice’s observations and the students’ answers were very insightful.  You can read about it at What Alice Mercer Saw When She Observed My Class.

* Hearing from parents about what their students tell them about our class. I always try to find-out — either over the phone, during home visits, parent-teacher conferences, or open houses — what their children say about our class — good or bad.

I’m not sure how all those features could be incorporated in a formalized teacher evaluation system — or even if they should.

But, come on, I can’t see how any of them can’t be better than what they’re doing in D.C…….

August 21, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: One Of My Favorite “Best” Lists Shows Life From Many Different Perspectives

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Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

In 2009, I first posted one of my most unusual and, I think, interesting lists, The Best Sites For Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes.

I’ve been adding to it ever since…

It includes videos illustrating what English sounds like to non-English speakers, online simulations of trying to experience various learning and physical “disabilities,” fun clips using GoPro cameras showing life from various animals’ points of view, and a whole lot more.

It comes in very handy when teaching Perception in IB Theory of Knowledge class….

August 20, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: A Pretty Interesting Year-Long Ed Tech Experiment


Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

In 2009, I was able to do a pretty interesting ed tech experiment and teach one ELL United States History class with students using computers every day and another U.S. History class that almost never used computers.  Here is the final post I wrote about the results:

As some readers might remember, Holly Coyle (my exceptional student teacher) and I taught two United States History classes with English Language Learners this year — one entirely in the computer lab, and the other — for all practical purposes — entirely out of the computer lab (but using what  –in my mind at least — is a very engaging curriculum).

We did assessments and evaluations at the beginning of the year, at mid-year and at the end of the year.  You can read more about this — and download the actual assessments — at my post Mid-Year Results Of My “Experiment”. Two of the assessments tested basic knowledge of U.S. History (admittedly, pretty low on Bloom’s Taxonomy) and the third was a student evaluation of the class.

In January,  the results showed that student achievement gains were about equal, though students in the technology-oriented class seemed more engaged and interested in U.S. History.

The two June assessments that tested U.S. History knowledge on a basic level were, like they were in the ones we gave in January, just about the same in both classes.

The one where students evaluated the class itself — if they liked it, if it made them want to study more US History, etc — was a bit of a surprise.  As I wrote earlier in January, even though both classes evaluated it positively, the zero period class was more engaged.  In the year-end one, again both classes evaluated it positively, but this time the non-tech class was much more engaged.  The only place where the tech class evaluated it more positively was that they clearly felt like they developed more computer skills — which was to be expected.

I’m not surprised that the knowledge level is similar, but I am surprised that the non-tech class felt that they liked it more and got more out of it.  The fact that the tech class took place an hour before regular school began, and that students repeatedly complained about having to getting-up early, might have some effect on the difference, but the amount of difference really was pretty striking, so it’s unlikely to have been the only factor (by the way, all students voluntarily chose to take the early class).

In retrospect, I would have done two things differently:

1) I wish we had given a straight pre-and post-assessment on English comprehension.  Based on the data from our family literacy home computer project, I would have expected that those in the computer lab would have had a greater increase in understanding English, though I might very well have been proven wrong.

2) I would have put more time into figuring-out how the tech class could have connected more with our International Sister Classes. We started out strong in that regard — for example, students were corresponding with an EFL class in Spain to learn how the Spanish Conquest of the New World was taught in that country — but ended up succumbing to the impulse of having to “cover the curriculum” and those connections fell by the wayside. I suspect with a little more strategic planning on my part that kind of cooperation could have been integrated.

Feedback is welcome.  Again, you can download the assessments by going to my January post.

August 19, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: Compasses Or Road Maps?



Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

I wrote this post in 2009 and a version of it was published in Education Week Teacher a year later under the headline of Giving Classrooms a Purpose.


I read, hear, and even write a lot about “techniques” that are supposed to improve schools and classroom instruction. Often times, professional development books and workshops (and teacher hand-outs at staff meetings) are filled with zillions of them — how to use multiple intelligences, technology, specific instructional strategies with students that have special needs, etc.

These techniques are obviously important.

I wonder, though, if we teachers and our students, schools, and districts might be better off if we spent a little more time focusing on — for lack of being able to come up with better terms — our “cultural orientations” or basic “ways of thinking”?

What am I talking about?

Please bear with me as share my thinking on all this. Usually, I don’t post a piece like this which is more of a “process post” — I don’t necessarily have as much clarity as I would like, and, instead, am sharing my thoughts and hoping that feedback from readers will helping move my thinking along.

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of Peter Drucker’s birth. Drucker was the renowned business and management philosopher, writer, theorist, analyst. His thinking also says a lot to community organizing (my previous career) and teaching (my present one). National Public Radio’s coverage of this anniversary pointed out that his most important idea was:

the importance of a company having a sense of mission or a purpose, and that that’s not identical with its strategy, it’s not identical with its business model, it’s why it exists and what social good or greater good that it’s serving. That’s a very important Drucker idea.

When I’m talking about a “cultural orientation” or “way of thinking,” I think mean something like what Drucker meant. But something more than “whatever is good for kids.”

I’d like to give three examples of what I mean — in the classroom, in a school and, in the context of schools connecting with parents.


In the first part of each school year, in most of my classes I lead a discussion with students asking what they want our class to be — “A Community of Learners” or a “Classroom of Students.” I write about this more extensively in my book “Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies That Work” (which will be out next summer), but I’ll give a short description here.

I write the two columns on the overhead and give some examples of the difference between the two. In a classroom of students, a teacher does most of the talking. In a Community Of Learners, students work in small groups and are co-teachers. In a “classroom” people laugh when others make mistakes, while in a “community” people are supported when they take risks. In a “classroom” the teacher has to be always be the one to keep people focused, while in a “community” students take responsibility to keep themselves focused.

Most students say their previous classes had been more like a “Classroom of Students.” I ask students to share what other differences they might see between the two types. Here are a couple of examples students said this year:

In a “classroom” “students start a fight and end up hurting each other.” In a “community” “they don’t start a fight, they talk it out.”

In a “classroom” “the only way to succeed is doing exactly what the teacher says.” In a “community” “you have more than one choice in succeeding.”

After adding to the list, students then decide which one they’d rather have. No one has every chosen a “classroom of students.”

By starting with this basic “cultural orientation” or “way of thinking,” students developed their own ways of approaching (I guess you could almost call it their own “techniques”) how the class would operate. It provided a framework for looking at numerous issues throughout the whole school year, and respected their judgment and wants.


Ted Appel has done a tremendous job working with teachers over the past few years at our school to develop a “cultural orientation” or “way of thinking.”  Basically, it’s not acceptable for students to not do well — everybody succeeds.  That way of thinking operates almost universally among the faculty, and is amazingly prevalent among students as well.

Our tutoring project, where students hire (and fire) teachers of their choice, is an example of this way of thinking. We didn’t set-up an after-school tutoring center and then blame the students for not showing-up. Ted and our staff began with the thinking that some students needed help, and looked at what were the barriers to them getting the most effective assistance they could get so they could do well and thought outside the box.


In my book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, I highlight the differences between parent involvement and parent engagement.  Some of those differences include the primary “involvement” tool schools use is their mouths to talk, while the primary “engagement” tool is their ears to listen.  Involvement is often about one-way communication, while engagement can be about two-way conversation.   The invitation to involvement is often “irritating” — challenging parents to do something the schools want them to do, while with engagement it’s often “agitation” — challenging parents to do something that they say they want to do.

Obviously a few examples are useful to illustrate each of those parent engagement elements, but if schools are committed to that kind of criteria, they can judge their own possible actions against them.  They don’t necessarily need a long laundry list of what they should or shouldn’t do.

I guess all I’m wondering is how many schools and districts are skipping looking  these big kinds of cultural orientations or ways of thinking?

I wonder if there should be more of an investment in developing our compasses instead of giving us road maps?

What do you think?

August 18, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: “Data-Driven” Versus “Data-Informed”


Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

I published this post in 2009, and it received a lot of positive feedback.  I later dramatically expanded on the topic in my The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven” list.

Two very talented educators — Ted Appel, the extraordinary principal we have at our school, and Kelly Young, creator of much of the engaging curriculum we use at our school through his Pebble Creek Labs — brought-up the same point in separate meetings with teachers at my school this week: The importance of not being “data-driven” and, instead, to be “data-informed.”

These conversations took place in the context of discussing the results of state standardized tests that came out last week. Here’s the point made by Ted:

If schools are data-driven, they might make decisions like keeping students who are “borderline” between algebra and a higher-level of math in algebra so that they do well in the algebra state test. Or, in English, teachers might focus a lot of energy on teaching a “strand” that is heavy on the tests — even though it might not help the student become a life-long reader. In other words, the school can tend to focus on its institutional self-interest instead of what’s best for the students.

In schools that are data-informed, test results are just one more piece of information that can be helpful in determining future directions.

I’ve been thinking about these conversations. Here is an example of how the perspective of being data-informed plays-out in my own teaching practice.

Typically, students in my classes show high-growth in state test results. This growth comes without “teaching to the test” (in fact, that is strongly discouraged at our school) and, instead, by focusing on developing life-long learners (again, which is our school-wide policy). I typically will spend thirty minutes or so teaching test-taking strategies, but that’s about it.

This past year, most of my students continued to demonstrate high-growth in the state test results. That is, everywhere except for my ninth-grade mainstream English class.

It was a hard class. Regular readers might remember this class by having read my post about it titled Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?

The first semester was very difficult.  Lots of student transience, family problems, economic issues — the works.  Finally, I was able to get things under control at the beginning of the second semester.  I thought their subsequent work was good, but in the spirit of being data-informed, I can see that it’s possible that I might have lowered my standards.  Perhaps I was just thrilled that everybody was doing their work, seemed engaged, and was getting along that I “settled” for that.  I don’t think that was the case, but it’s possible.  In addition, the fact that the first semester was so chaotic meant that they received a full semester of less than high-quality instruction.

Reviewing the test results sparked this kind of reflection — on my own.  I certainly have not received any kind of pressure from our data-informed administrators.

As a result of this reflection, which was informed by data, I’ve made two decisions:

* I’m going to begin the classroom management program that I shared in my previous post from day one in my ninth-grade class.  If it took six weeks to move from extrinsic to intrinsic after a semester of chaos, I suspect it will take far less time at the beginning of the year.

* I’m going to make visits to the homes of most, if not all, of my ninth-grade students.  I usually make a lot of home visits, but the past two years they’ve been primarily to the home of my ESL students.  This year, I’m going to switch the focus.

Other than these two actions, I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done in my class — though I also believe I just become a better teacher each year with more experience.

Something tells me that a “data-driven” culture would have resulted in pressures to do something considerably differently.

What about you — is your school culture data-driven or data-informed?

August 16, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: A Super Tool To Help When You Have A Sub

Substitute Wanted                                                                                                                                           Allen Gathman via Compfight

Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

I published this post in 2009 after I developed this tool to help out my class, and the teachers who substituted for me when I was sick or at a meeting/training.  It was so popular that I also included it in one of my books:

I thought this might be a good opportunity to share my Attitude and Behavior With A Substitute Teacher grading rubric.

I only use it with classes that I’m concerned about. In those classes, a few minutes before the ending bell rings, the sub passes out the rubric. Students grade themselves, and then the sub grades them. It works quite well — subs can grade by “faces” instead of having to try to remember names (you’ll notice on the rubric there’s a caution and way to spot if students don’t put their real name on it), and pushes students to reflect on how they’ve handled themselves.

Yes, yes, I know — I’m a big believer in developing intrinsic motivation, too. I just figure that I miss class so seldom, subs have such a challenging situation anyway, and remembering how I behaved with a sub when I was a student, that using something like this is best for everybody involved.

August 16, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: My Book & Blog On Parent Engagement In Schools

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Next February, this blog will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary! Leading up to it, I’m re-starting a series I tried to do in the past called “A Look Back.” Each week, I’ll be re-posting a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years.

In 2009, I published my first book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, co-authored by Lorie Hammond.  The book is best known for highlighting the differences between parent involvement and parent engagement.

At the time of the book’s release, I also began a blog called Engaging Parents In Schools. You can see about fifty “Best” lists related to parent engagement here.

About a year ago, life started getting too hectic for me to continue write posts over there. However, I continue to publish a weekly series of links to new resources about parent engagement.

I’ll be writing more about engaging parents in my upcoming book on English Language Learners, and a lot more in the fourth book in my student motivation series.

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