Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

October 16, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Trust Can Have A Pretty Powerful Impact In The Classroom

'Trust' photo (c) 2011, Artem Popov - license:

I’ll Take 90% Student Engagement Over 100% “Compliance” — Any Day has been my most popular post of the year so far, and was reprinted in The Washington Post as Getting students to engage — not just comply.

In that post, I describe the weekly reading log that I have students complete about their reading at home, and how I specifically do not ask them to have their parents sign it — student signatures are only required. And how students are on an honor system to describe their plan to “catch-up” on their reading time if they don’t read a full two hours a week at home.

As my blog title stated, I’ve determined through a number of ways over the years that 90% of students typically handle it honestly. However, I forgot to mention in that post one other tactic I use to determine that percentage, and I just applied it today in class.

Periodically, I’ll hand out blank pieces of paper to all students and tell them not to put their name on it. I tell them that all I want them to do is write “yes” if they tend to be honest in the reading log or “no” if they are not. I make it very clear that I will not change the procedure no matter what they answer — I want to minimize the odds that students will write “yes” because they’re afraid I might start requiring parent signatures.

I tell them to fold their papers so no one can see what they wrote and have a student collect them. While they’re doing something else later in the class period, I’ll tabulate the sheets (sometimes I’ll have a student do it). Usually, I have two students who write “no” in each class. However, today, in both classes only one student wrote “no.”

As I did today, I’ll announce the results, tell them I’m impressed, though not surprised. As I did today, I will also jokingly announce that I will have the “no” paper analyzed for fingerprints and track that person down.

The purpose behind doing this process, however, is not really for me to check-up on them — there are plenty of other ways I do that (as I mentioned in my previous post). What it does do, though, is reinforce to students that they are in a genuine community of learners who are people of their word. And the one or two students who are not following-through also feel some peer pressure that they, too, need to step up to the plate.

Trust can have a pretty powerful impact in the classroom….

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October 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Excellent Education Week Feature: “Inside Classroom Management”

'If you wonder where I am....' photo (c) 2013, Katie Walker - license:

Inside Classroom Management: Ideas and Solutions is a special feature from Education Week Teacher.

It includes videos, interviews, columns — you name it. Most can just be clicked-on, though a few require free registration to access. It looks pretty impressive.

You might also be interested in My Best Posts On Classroom Management, not to mention my new Ed Week book, Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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September 23, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

An Extremely Important “Take” On “Wait Time” — One That I Hadn’t Thought About Before….

“Wait time” is commonly referred to as the time between a teacher asking a question and calling on a student to answer it. It’s an important, and often overlooked, element of classroom interaction.

Here’s what I wrote about it in one of my books (minus the footnotes):

The average time between a teacher posing a question and a student giving the answer in a typical classroom is about one second.. Multiple studies have shown that the quality and quantity of student responses increases when the wait time is increased to between three and seven seconds. There may very well be times when that time should be extended further for individual students. For example, a teacher could pose a question to a student and say that he will return in a minute and expect an answer.

Today, Alfie Kohn sent out a tweet offering a “take” on “wait time” that I had never thought of before (and I’m embarrassed because of it):


Marilyn Watson is an educator who has written several books. Here’s a link for more info about her.

I think her observation is so important that I’ve highlighted it in the image below:


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September 22, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Study: The Benefits Of Saying “I Don’t” vs. “I Can’t”

Thanks to Elena Aguilar, I’ve learned about an important study that could have important classroom management implications.

The study, titled “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior, found that having people say “I Don’t” had a major positive effect on fortifying their self-control.

LifeHacker has an excellent summary of the study (most of the research itself is behind a paywall).

But here’s an excerpt from the study itself:


I could see including this research in the information I have students read about in the self-control lessons we do in class (which you can find in my books), and also directly applying it in specific interventions.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

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September 21, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Many More Questions For Class-Closing Activities….

I’ve turned my popular post from earlier this week sharing and inviting questions to use as class-closing activities into The Best Questions To Use For Class Closing Activities — What Are Yours?

Many suggestions from readers are now included, and more are welcome!

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September 21, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: Teaching Fifth Graders About A “Growth Mindset” & “The Brain As A Muscle”

'Mindset + Mindstorms' photo (c) 2011, Benjamin Chun - license:

Matthew Becker is a fifth grade teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He taught two of the lessons in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves, and has written this short guest post about his experience.

You can also find more information about those topics at The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning and at The Best Resources On Helping Our Students Develop A “Growth Mindset”.

Teaching About A “Growth Mindset” & “The Brain As A Muscle” To Fifth Graders

by Matthew Becker

This summer I became aware of Larry Ferlazzo’s blog and the books he has authored on the subject of helping students to become self-driven and self-motivated learners. I was immediately intrigued, since they seemed to be related to my current reading interests and more importantly, directly tied to student learning. Upon contacting Larry through Twitter, I took his advice and purchased his book “Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges.”

During the first two weeks of school, I implemented two of the lessons detailed in his book. I first presented “The Brain is Like a Muscle,” and two days later I followed it up with the “Grit and Growth Mindset” lesson plan. I chose these lessons for two reasons. First, they supported the idea of developing a growth mindset, which I had read about earlier this summer in Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindsets.” Second, I thought the lessons were set up to make learning concrete for my students with minimal effort to alter them to match the learning levels of a fifth grade classroom.

My students and I interacted with interesting articles, videos, charts, and quotes from notable people; they were fascinated by the information and the various materials. Students participated in paired readings, turn and talk discussions, summarized and drew visualizations of what they read, and shared their learning with the whole class. We worked on important reading skills and had great discussions.

I altered the lessons slightly and assisted in the reading of the articles by adding explanations to help their understanding and meet their reading levels. The article for the “Grit and Growth Mindset” lesson was very challenging, so I used to simplify the vocabulary and make the readability more appropriate. It worked well with a little editing, while maintaining the integrity of the article, and without diminishing any of the learning that took place.

As a result of implementing these lessons my students are now able to explain how their brains will grow new neurons and connections if they “exercise” it through learning. This excites them. They are also able to articulate the importance of persevering when learning gets messy and challenging, and by doing so, they would become better learners. They get it! I truly believe that the foundation for some great learning is being set for the school year.

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September 19, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Questions To Use For Class Closing Activities — What Are Yours?

'52 Photos-Week 52- Endings' photo (c) 2013, aussiegall - license:

(NOTE: This post was not originally a “Best…” list — it was one where I shared some of my ideas and invited readers to share their own. Since that time, a number of readers have contributed suggestions, so I’ve revised it to include their ideas, which can be found in the second half of the the post)

I’ve previously written about research on the importance of “good endings.” It’s a priority for me to end my classes on an upbeat note, but I’ve been thinking lately that I might be able to enhance its benefit to students if I’m a bit more intentional about it with a regular formal closing activity that might take a minute or two. I’ve certainly often done this, but I’m going to try doing it more like 70-80% of the time instead of its present 50%.

I just give students a question to answer as sort of an “exit slip.” However, what I’d like to try is developing a fairly lengthy list of good questions — a “question bank,” so to speak — and see what happens if I give them the freedom to choose one of the questions (with the caveat, of course, that they can’t just pick the same one over and over again).

So I thought I’d share the questions that I use (many which I shared in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves) and invite readers to contribute the ones they use. Then I’ll create a document (giving credit to those who contributed questions) that I’ll post on this blog and that I suspect will be distributed widely.

This seems to me to be a perfect opportunity for some “crowdsourcing.”

Here are the questions from my book and others I use that I didn’t include there (one or two may have come from Rick Wormeli):

* What are two things you learned ?
* What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned?
* Imagine a simile or a metaphor about what we learned .
* Think of one thing you have learned in class that you can apply in another class or another part of your life. What is it, and how can you apply it?
* What was your favorite activity in class ? Why?
* What was your least favorite activity in class ? Why?
* What would you tell your parents or guardians you did in class ?
* How would you teach one thing you learned to your little brother or sister (even if you don’t have one)?

These next questions are from Harvard’s Project Zero:

* How does something you learned connect to what you already knew?
* How did it extend your thinking further?
* What questions do you still have?

Here are some more shared by Zane Dickey, an IB teacher in Africa:

How will this help you change the world for the better?
How does this lesson help you to be an upstander?
How can you apply this lesson to your own life in a meaningful way?
What specifically would you add to this lesson that would appeal to you?
What Way of Knowing (WOK) did you utilize most ?
How did this lesson make you feel and why?
Summarize this lesson or skills learned in one sentence while smiling.

The next questions are taken from 2007 Foundation for Critical thinking Press

What did you learn that will help you act reasonably and effectively in your life?
How will this help you become a more proficient reader, writer, speaker, listener?
How will it help you improve the quality of your life and the lives of others?
How will it make you become reasonable and a fair-minded person?
How will it help you use your reasoning skills to contribute to your own emotional life and that of others?
How will it help you think, feel, and act effectively and with integrity?

@poida writes: Here’s 2: What was the best part of class “? What would you like to learn more about in this class?

Elizabeth Stein suggests this post from Ideas For Educators.

Leave your questions in the comments or tweet them to me….

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September 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

I’ll Take 90% Student Engagement Over 100% “Compliance” — Any Day

'Keep It Up Sign Card Motivation 2012 Girls on the Run Grand Rapids Montessori February 22, 2012 9' photo (c) 2012, Steven Depolo - license:

I have students in my mainstream ninth-grade English and in my ESL classes complete a simple “Reading Log” every Friday. It has five columns — ones for the day, title of the book, the number of minutes read, space for a student signature and one for a parent signature.

Though I leave it on for a reason, the “parent signature” box has remained blank for years.

I tell students at the beginning of the year that I expect that they will read a book of their choice at least two hours each week, and that if they promise to me that they will tell the truth on the log — even if they read less some weeks — that I will eliminate the requirement of a parent signature. Students always agree and make a public commitment, as well as shaking hands on it with me. I think seeing the “parent signature” column is a reminder of that commitment.

Each Friday, they quickly complete the sheet and, if they haven’t read for two hours during the previous four days, they write a few words at the bottom of the sheet with specific plans on when they will read that Friday night or over the weekend (“I’ll read for twenty minutes after we get home from our cousin’s barbeque,” etc.). I check with students on Monday (during the first ten minutes of class, which is always silent reading time) if they followed through and, if not, they tell me how they’re going to make-up the time that week. And we talk about how things do come-up, and that there’s always flexibility.

I’m confident that the vast majority — at least ninety percent — of students are genuinely honest, and determine that by seeing how far they’re getting in the books they read during our silent reading time and by the progress they make during cloze and fluency formative assessments. And, based on my previous experience, I’m also confident in saying that it’s a much higher percentage than years ago when I required parent signatures, which are easily faked.

Yes, I talk with parents about the reading expectation, but between the multiple home languages, regularly changing phone numbers and moves, and other difficulties in making parent contact, there is a large percentage of parents that I just can’t communicate with — despite my obvious commitment to parent engagement.

Of course, this instructional strategy is combined with a strong emphasis on relationship-building and with life-skills lessons focused on helping students develop intrinsic motivation.

So, let’s say ten percent of my students might not be entirely truthful to me.

As this post’s headline says, I’ll take 90% student engagement over 100% “compliance” any day….

(You might also be interested in My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them)

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September 11, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Study: Young People Respond Better To The Positive Than They Do To Threats

'Be Positive' photo (c) 2008, Paul Hamilton - license:

In a previous post, Emphasizing Pride, Not Shame, In Classroom Management, I talked about a study that showed determined having people think about the pride that they will feel in themselves after resisting temptation was a very successful self-control strategy. And, interestingly enough, they also found that trying to encourage self-control through the use of shame or guilt actually resulted in people showing less self-control.

Now, in a new study that reinforces
and expands the findings of that previous one, researchers found that young people, as one of the study’s authors said, “learn better from good news than from bad news.”

Here’s an excerpt from NPR’s report on the research:

The study findings square with neuroscience showing that positive information is processed in many parts of the brain, while negative information tends to be centered in the prefrontal cortex, Sharot says. That’s the part of the brain that matures last, into the 20s in many cases. It’s the area in charge of judgment and problem-solving.

“We learn better from good news than from bad news,” Sharot says.

Parents may gain more traction by emphasizing the benefits of avoiding risk. “If you want your kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, it’s not that you’ll get sick if you don’t eat it,” she says. “You’ll be smart and better at sports.”

Teenagers might benefit from being reminded that they’ll be more likely to make the basketball team if they’re not smoking cigarettes.

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September 4, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Little Respect Can Go A Long Way In The Classroom

'React, Respect, Intersect' photo (c) 2011, New York City Department of Transportation - license:

Today was the third day of school. Three times a year, one of the many formative assessments we do in ninth-grade is have students read two passages to us for a minute each so we can gauge their reading fluency. I always set a couple of chairs just outside the door so the student can read privately and I can keep a close eye on what’s happening in the classroom.

The rest of the class was focused on a writing assignment, and I had asked them to work quietly. While I had taken the first student out to read to me, I noticed through the window that one student (let’s call him “Jim”) was a bit unfocused and trying to talk to another student.

I went to the door and said, loudly, “Jim, please, I had asked people to work quietly while I was outside. Please!”

A couple of minutes later I came back into the room, asked for everyone’s attention, and said:

“I apologize to the Jim and to the class. There was no reason for me to publicly embarrass Jim. I could have easily spoken with him privately. It’s important to me that we all respect each other, and I didn’t show respect to Jim.”

The shocked look on students’ faces was priceless. It was clearly outside of their experience for a teacher do say something like that.

Everyone was totally focused on the writing assessment afterwards — for thirty minutes.

And it wasn’t because of their fear of punishment.

And I’d lay odds that a whole lot of that focus is going to carryover for a long time.

A little respect can go a long way….

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September 4, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study: “Using harsh verbal discipline with teens found to be harmful”

'Yelling Man' photo (c) 2011, Paul Cross - license:

A new study has found that:

Many American parents yell or shout at their teenagers. A new longitudinal study has found that using such harsh verbal discipline in early adolescence can be harmful to teens later. Instead of minimizing teens’ problematic behavior, harsh verbal discipline may actually aggravate it.

The findings obviously can be related to classroom discipline, as well, and are related to previous studies that have shown that:

Authoritarian parents whose child-rearing style can be summed up as “it’s my way or the highway” are more likely to raise disrespectful, delinquent children who do not see them as legitimate authority figures than authoritative parents who listen to their children and gain their respect and trust

As that previous study found:

Authoritative parents are both demanding and controlling, but they are also warm and receptive to their children’s needs. They are receptive to bidirectional communication in that they explain to their children why they have established rules and also listen to their children’s opinions about those rules. Children of authoritative parents tend to be self-reliant, self-controlled, and content.

Some classroom management advice to keep in mind at the beginning of the school year.

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July 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Now This Is The Classroom Management Mindset I Need To Have….

This tweet provides the kind of classroom mindset I want to have and remember:

I’m adding it to Best Posts On Classroom Management.

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June 4, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The Power Of Stories

Dan Willingham writes on his blog about yet another study that provides “evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcomes.”

I’m not going to describe that particular research here since Dan does an excellent job over there. But I will spend a little time reviewing how I’ve written about stories previously here on this blog and in my books (you might want to explore The Best Digital (& Non-Digital) Storytelling Resources for even more info).

Neuroscience researchers Renate and Geoffrey Caine have reflected on the importance of stories in their study of two types of memory systems: taxon and locale.

Taxon learning consists of lists, basic skills, and habits. Locale, on the other hand, involves creating stories out of a person’s life experiences. Taxon tells how to turn a key in our house door and locale tells us what to do when we lose the key. Taxon memories must be rehearsed regularly to move into long-term memory. Locale memories, however, go automatically into long-term memory. Taxon learning responds more to extrinsic motivation and is resistant to change once a fact or habit has been learned. Locale learning is more responsive to intrinsic motivation and is always evolving.

Professor Melanie Green calls it “narrative transportation.” Another researcher likens the effect of stories to a Trojan House — they make people let their guard down.

And here’s how Jerome Bruner summed up the research:


But just teaching information through storytelling is only….part of the story.

If we want to maximize the effectiveness of stories in the classroom, then not only should we tell stories, but we should also help students use their own personal stories to construct new knowledge.

As I described in my ASCD Educational Leadership article, Get Organized Around Assets:

I used my Hmong and Latino immigrant students’ locale memories to strengthen their reading skills during a unit on feudalism. The textbook’s authors listed several key facts about feudalism: People spent most of their time working in the fields, they didn’t own the land they farmed, and their homes had one or two rooms. The book flatly declared that feudalism had ended with the Renaissance. Instead of having students memorize these facts (taxon memory), I asked students to think about them, write about whether they’d experienced any of these conditions in their home culture, and ask their parents and grandparents the same question (locale memory). Every student commented that they were either experiencing some of those “feudal” conditions currently or had done so very recently, either before their families emigrated or while they lived in refugee camps. The class concluded that the textbook was mistaken in saying feudalism had ended.

Examining parallels between their lives and the lives of people in the Middle Ages strongly engaged students. Many clamored to read more challenging texts about the Middle Ages. This unit provided countless opportunities for my students to learn reading strategies, academic vocabulary, and grammar. They embraced those opportunities because the lessons took place within the framework of their own stories and those of their families.

During my nineteen-year community organizing career, our primary strategy was to learn people’s stories, have them share those stories with others, and then help them develop a new interpretation of those stories. This new interpretation then was the engine that would propel themselves to action. It’s similar to a challenge we face in the classroom—we need to help students connect our lesson content to their background knowledge and then attach new understandings and learnings to it.

So, yes, we teachers need to emphasize the use of stories in the classroom. But let’s make sure they aren’t just ours.

Let’s make sure our students are tellers of their own tales, too…..

(For more thoughts on this topic, you might want to explore my New York Times post, English Language Learners and the Power of Personal Stories)

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June 1, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Keep Calm & Carry On”

'Streeter Seidell, Comedian' photo (c) 2005, Zach Klein - license:

This has been a challenging year for me in the classroom. My classes, as do most at our 100% free lunch school, always have a considerable number of students facing multiple difficult challenges, but this year the number and severity was noticeably larger than usual.

I’ll go into it more in-depth in a post after the school year is done in two weeks and I have a little more distance. However, I read a short article today that shared some wisdom that I hope to carry into these final two weeks and beyond.

I pride myself at being very patient, not being reactive, and being able to “get over” things quickly, but I’ve become a bit worn down by the classroom challenges of this year, and have sometimes not done a good job of not letting my sense of feeling frustrated at one student or class spill over to how I treat other students and other classes.

I’ve previously posted some ways I deal with these issues at What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

Today, I read a useful short article titled Keep Calm & Carry On.

The author offered two suggestions on how to move beyond feeling frustrated that I think are helpful. Here’s one:

Mr. Loehr was describing something he had observed in the best tennis players – namely that they were meticulous about renewing themselves in the 20 to 30 seconds between points. The first thing these players did when a point ended was to turn away from the net. I loved the metaphor: Turn away from the net. Let it go.

When I’m feeling frustrated, I try to become more conscious of my breathing and slow down, but it’s sometimes hard to remember. I think this metaphor of “turning away from the net” could an effective reminder.

Here’s his other idea related to Adam Grant (see my previous posts about his work here). Grant’s research suggests a simple, and not new, idea:

…that people who give without expecting anything in return actually turn out not only to feel better for having done so, but also to be more successful. Giving, Mr. Grant explains, does not require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It simply involves a focus on acting in the interests of others.

The author of the article, Tony Schwartz, describes feeling frustrated in an airport and applying Grant’s research by asking people how they were doing, hearing one person respond “I need a cup of coffee,” and then just going to get one for her.

I’m wondering if I could get into that kind of pattern — anytime I have a frustrating experience with a student or class, get into the habit of intentionally doing something “nice” (and out of the ordinary kind of “nice”) for another student or another class? It could be simple — for example, if I see that a student is not feeling well and has been getting up and getting facial tissue from the box in front, I could just bring the box to him/her once and ask if they needed one. Just a thought….

What are your strategies for “keeping calm and carrying on”?

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May 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Emphasizing What Students Can Do, Instead Of What They “Can’t” — Part Two

'Pecha Kucha: Positive Negative Patterns' photo (c) 2010, bluekdesign - license:

I wrote a post a couple of years ago titled Emphasizing What Students Can Do, Instead Of What They “Can’t” and have since elaborated on it in my books and in an article at ASCD, Eight Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say, and Do.

As I said in that original post:

For example, if a student asks to go the restroom, but I think the timing is not right for our lesson, I’ll respond, “Yes, you can. I just need to have you wait for a few minutes” instead of just saying, “No.” Or I’ll start off field trip instructions by saying what students can do, instead of what they can’t.

Marvin Marshall, who inspired that original post, has now written another one that is somewhat related and is worth reading. It’s titled Use Contingencies, not Consequences, to Discipline.

You’ll want to read the entire piece, but here’s an excerpt:

A more effective discipline approach than imposing consequences is to use contingencies because they paint positive pictures and empower. Contingencies prompt people to feel better, not worse.

Here is what a contingency sounds like: “Yes, you may do that, as long as you first do this.”

And here is an actual example: “Yes, you may go to the park, as long as your room is clean.”

I’ve found that these positive approaches are generally much more effective than alternatives.

The challenge, of course, is remember and having the patience and self-awareness to use them “in the moment”…..

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May 26, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Quote Of The Day: ” What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry”

What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry is an excellent Harvard Business Review article, and very applicable to the classroom (as well as in other areas of life).

Here’s an excerpt:


It’s a refinement on what I’ve written about the importance of saying “I’m sorry” to students.

I tried out Bregman’s advice last week in class. A student was upset because I didn’t get over to him as quickly as he would have liked when he had a question (a chronic reaction from this particular student). We’ve talked before about how I have many other students who need my help, and, typically, I just quickly say “Sorry” when he expresses his impatience and move on to his question. This time, though, I said, “Sorry, I can see that you wanted to get this work done and were frustrated you had to wait to get my help before you were able to move on” and then got to his question. He clearly was able to “let go” of his anger quicker than usual and re-focus on the work.

It’s just one more positive classroom strategy to have in one’s “back pocket.”

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May 26, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Classroom Management Strategy: “Sometimes The Only Thing Worse Than Losing A Fight Is Winning One”

«That's for you!!!»
Photo Credit: Tambako The Jaguar via Compfight

An old community organizing adage goes like this:

“Sometimes the only thing worse than losing a fight is winning one.”

In organizing, that can mean your group gave so much to an issue campaign that you’re left with burnt-out leaders and a hollowed-out organization, or perhaps you burned too many bridges with potential allies along the way (it could mean many other things, too).

I was reminded of this saying when I overheard a teacher commenting that he “never let a student have the last word.”

The vast majority of the time, I don’t believe a teacher can ever truly “win” any kind of power struggle with a student. The teacher may “win” in the short-term, but the relational toxicity left behind will be long-lasting. Learning struggles and classroom management problems are likely to escalate and continue.

Dr. William Glasser suggests that most classroom management problems relate to students’ needs for power and freedom. Instead of getting sucked into power struggles with students, perhaps we should spend more time helping them feel and be powerful.

In addition to that last link, you might want to read my article, Eight Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say, and Do, to get more related classroom ideas, and/or my books.

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