Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

April 28, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

The More We Try To Control, The Less Chance Of Getting Our Preferred Outcomes

I’ve written regularly in my blog and in my books about the advantages of helping develop intrinsic motivation.

Here’s some more evidence from a TIME Magazine report titled Pushing Teens to Change Their Eating Habits Could Backfire on a recent study regarding parents, their children, and diet:

Anyone see any classroom parallels?

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

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April 17, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Appealing To The Self-Interest Of Bullies

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Photo Credit: Pimkie via Compfight

The nineteen year career I had as a community organizer before I became a educator a decade ago has had a major influence in how I teach. One lesson I constantly remember is the importance of connecting to a person’s self-interest. Of course, it’s difficult to know what a person’s self-interest is prior to building a relationship with them.

But it is possible to make some educated guesses, too.

For example, in the sleep lesson you can find in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves (you can also find some elements of it in The Best Resources For Helping Teens Learn About The Importance Of Sleep), I emphasize how researchers have found that lack of sleep often results in weight gain and poor grades.

In the lesson on rudeness found in my book, Self-Driven Learning (you can also find elements of it in The Best Ways To Deal With Rudeness In Class), students read about the negative social impacts rudeness has on people who are rude, and on people who just witness rudeness.

I’ve found that using that strategy tends to be more effective than preaching, and then the next step is looking at the broader implications of what values do we want to use to guide our lives and how we want to be remembered.

Now, some new studies have opened the door to a similar lesson on bullying I’m preparing. There are plenty of lessons out there on the impact bullying has on the person being bullied. I plan on using this new research to also show how it can hurt the bully, too.

Here’s an excerpt:

Bullying, it seems, cuts both ways. The consequences of isolating or ostracizing another person may include heightened feelings of anger, shame, and guilt, as well as a sense of social disconnection. In a series of studies by Nicole Legate and colleagues, for example, individuals who complied with instructions to shun others suffered socially and emotionally as a result of the experience.

I’ll post what I eventually come up with. In the meantime, though, if you have used any particularly effective lessons on bullying, please leave a comment. I’m all ears….

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April 10, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“This Is Boring” — Part Two

I’ve previously posted about a short lesson I’ve done on being bored and what students — and teachers — can do about it (see Have You Ever Had A Student Say “This Is Boring”? Here’s A Lesson On It I’m Trying Out Tomorrow).

A new article (Could boredom be curable?) in The Boston Globe follows-up on the research I used in that lesson and adds the results of even more recent studies.

Two ideas mentioned in the article are not “earthshakers,” but I still might try to add them to my lesson as strategies that students should keep in mind if they feel bored.

One is that research found that if subjects found that their mind was wandering towards pleasant alternative leisure activities, just being reminded that this wandering could be a symptom of feeling bored resulted in the elimination of feeling that way. In other words, remembering that thinking of pleasant leisure activities led to feeling bored led to:

boredom symptoms [being] evaporated. Apparently, just tuning into the conflicts that are making us feel bored can go some way toward banishing boredom.

Another finding was that just changing a physical surrounding can eliminate boredom. For example, students could just change seats or sit on their desks.

Again, I don’t think these are brilliant insights, but could just be one more tool in a student’s toolbox — if they are made aware of them.

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April 9, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
4 Comments

Helping Students Make A Connection Between What They’re Learning In School To Their Goals In Life

'Stepper connection' photo (c) 2009, Simon Vanherweghe - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’ve previously posted, and written in my books, about a study that showed the value of having students write a few sentences after lessons about how what they just learned can be connected to their life (see “Relevance” & Student Learning). I’ve also posted a comic strip that humorously highlights the impact of seeing relevance can have on a student.

We just finished a unit (on Jamaica) in our ninth-grade English classes and, before we began our next one on Everest, I thought I’d apply a version of this kind of reflection to see how it went.

First, I gave each student a sheet asking them to list what units and life skills we had studied so far this year, and how we studied them (you can download this sheet and, in fact, all three sheets I used in the exercise here). Then, after they had completed it, I gave them a sheet asking them to list their personal, academic and professional goals. After that sheet was done, I had them clear their desks, put the first sheet on their left and the second sheet on their right with space in the middle for the the third sheet I then gave them. That sheet said “List ways how what we have studied and how we have studied them this year can help you achieve your goals.”

In other words, how what we have done (on their left) can help them achieve their goals (on their right).

I’ll share some examples in a minute of what students came up with, but it’s safe to say it was an exceptionally successful reflection. After people made a list, they made them into posters, which they will share with each other tomorrow.

Though I shouldn’t have been surprised — since this is what happens all the time when I ask students to write what they think are the most important things they have learned in class — it’s the life skills lessons that seem to stick (those are the ones found in my books on helping students motivate themselves.

Here’s a sample of what they wrote:

Self-control can help me with my career by helping me not get angry.

Self control can help me by remembering to use condoms.

You need grit to succeed in college because it’s probably going to be kinda hard.

Self control can help me with the military because if I have self control I won’t have to worry about losing my anger and snapping at one of my teammates or my drill instructors.

Patience and self-control can help me get along with my brothers and sisters better.

Writing, reading, typing and speech can help me with becoming a lawyer.

Grit is going to help me in my own business on the days I just don’t feel like working.

Taking personal responsibility is a step to me becoming a good husband for my wife and a good father for our kids.

The life skills we learned will connect to my career because I will have to have patience to be a teacher to younger kids.

Reading better will help me get the credits I need to graduate.

As always, I’m eager to hear suggestions from readers on how to make my lessons better!

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March 19, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
3 Comments

What Are Your Thoughts, & What Has Been Your Experience, With Ability Grouping/Tracking?

Greg Toppo’s article yesterday in USA Today, More teachers are grouping kids by ability, has gotten a lot of attention over the past twenty-four hours.

And it got me thinking that I’d like to explore it further in this blog among readers, and possibly extend it to a post in my Education Week Teacher column.

I personally am generally very wary of ability grouping within classes as well as the tracking of entire classes, though recognize it can be tricky issue.

Here’s what Robert Marzano says about it in the context of cooperative learning in his book, “Classroom Instruction That Works”:

In general, homogenous grouping [organized by ability levels] seems to have a positive effect on student achievement when compared with no grouping….students of low ability actually perform worse when they are placed in homogeneous groups with students of low ability — as opposed to students of low ability placed in heterogeneous groups….In addition, the effect of homogeneous grouping on high-ability students is positive but small…It is the medium-ability students who benefit the most from homogeneous grouping.

I’ve certainly experienced that clear negative impact on students (and on the teacher!) of having a class entirely comprised of students facing major challenges. I’ve seen the slight positive impact on high-ability student groupings, but I’ve also often seen their benefiting a great deal from mixed ability groups and classes, especially if they have a history of being typically with only similarly “high-ability” students in the past. For example, I made a major effort each year of recruiting students into my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class each year who have not taken any “advanced” classes in the past, and they contribute a great deal of experience and knowledge to the class that I don’t believe my IB Diploma track students have not been exposed to in the past.

I haven’t necessarily experienced what Marzano says about “medium” ability students being in a homogeneous group. When a very few are in a class with lots of other students who face many challenges, I can see some of these “medium” students being seduced to go on a downward trend and not feel challenged, but it’s hard for me to see them experiencing problems with being mixed with “high-ability” or when there is a reasonable balance of all levels.

I also haven’t experienced problems with mixed grouping with a mixed-ability class. I’ve had lots of students have higher-ability in some areas (technology, writing, reading) and lower-ability in others. I just try to mix-and-match in small groups depending on the assignment, and sometimes I do have higher-level assignments for a higher-level group. In my ESL class, I have groups divided by English-level, but it’s clear to the class it’s just based on if students have learned some English in their native country and by how long they’ve been here, not on intelligence.

What has been your experience with tracked classes and ability groupings within a mixed class? Are there different implications for primary than there are in secondary?

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March 12, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Very Thoughtful Column On Bullying

Defining Bullying Down is a column in The New York Times by Emily Bazelon, the author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

There are a lot of reader comments there, quite a few negative, but her perspective seems to make a lot of sense to me.

What do you think?

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March 2, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
4 Comments

Writing Letters To Students Redux

A few years ago I wrote Writing Letters To Students, which tells about a tactic I sometimes use in the classroom and includes an example. I’ve also written about it in my books.

This has been a somewhat tough year in the classroom for me (I can only imagine what it would have been like without all the tools I’ve had in my backpocket to help students motivate themselves), and I have many students who are facing multiple challenges. I’m sure it’s no different from the issues faced by thousands of other educators, particularly ones who teach in inner-city schools like ours.

Last week, in one of my classes, I wrote short letters of a few sentences each to everyone of my students, included them in sealed envelopes with their names, and left them on their desks. Each letter shared something I appreciated about them, what they did, and what I hoped they would be able to do in the final three months of the school year to tie in with what I know about the dreams they have for themselves (“I really appreciate how you’ve turned things around this semester and have become a serious learner. Even when there are plenty of opportunities to get distracted, you’ve been doing a good job at staying focused. You’ve said you want to be more of a leader, and I know that in the last three months of the school year you can do that by helping other students more in small groups”)

Students were generally surprised and pleased, though a few tried, unsuccessfully, to be rather nonchalant about it. They seemed to have an impact on student attitudes. We’ll see how long it lasts, but I’m optimistic. At the very least, however, it provides me with something else to refer back to — in other words, instead of saying “Please get back to work” when a student is off-task, I can say “remember the letter.”

I’ve been having some challenges with some students in one of my other classes lately, so I’ll be doing the same there on Monday.

In my previous post on this topic, a number of readers wrote in to share their own experiences with writing letters to students. I hope people will do the same here….

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February 5, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Brain “Priming” In The Classroom

I’ve written several posts about brain “priming” research and how I apply it in the classroom, as well as some of my ethical reservations.

I primarily use it on days for standardized tests, and they’re all fairly innocuous (such as asking students to think and write for a minute about a successful ancestor). Also, even though some researchers have said that priming is not going to be successful if people are told in advance what is being done to them, I tell students ahead of time what we’re doing and why in the hope that they can apply these techniques to help them prepare for future high-pressure situations they might be in, like job interviews, and also because I just wouldn’t feel good about this kind of overt manipulation. I write about these ideas in my upcoming book.

Even though some researchers say it might not work if “subjects” are given prior knowledge of priming, more recent research related to placebos in medical treatment have found them to be effective even if patients know they are placebos (see my book for more information on that research), and it doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a stretch to apply those finding to priming. And, interestingly enough, I just learned about a big controversy going on in brain priming research which just may prove that point.

Apparently, though there have been a number of  successful replications of famous priming experiments, there have also been failed replications (I’m assuming that’s not that unusual in science). These failures have raised questions about if priming truly does exist (though it still has many believers, including Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman).

In one recently well-publicized failed replication of a famous priming experiment, one groups of people were given words to rearrange like like “bingo” and “Florida,” “knits” and “wrinkles,” “bitter” and “alone.” Another group were given words that had no connection. In the original famous experiment, the first group then walked down the hall slower than the second group.

However, in last year’s failed replication, it didn’t work at all — except in one instance. And that was when the group with the “slow” words was told that they were expected to walk slowly. Then they did.

I, and apparently many others who are far more knowledgeable on the subject than me, still tend to believe that priming works. But if we’re wrong, and clearly the jury is still out on that, telling my students ahead of time about the research seems to not only be the ethical way to go but a way that will also lead to positive results.

What do you think — am I missing something?

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February 2, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

The Best Ways To Deal With Rudeness In Class

One of the chapters in my upcoming book shares ideas and lesson plans on how to deal with rudeness in class, and I thought readers might appreciate a compilation of my previous posts on the topic:

How Do We Contribute To Students Being Rude In Class?

A study has found that when you gossip about someone, the people listening tend to attribute those same negative characteristics to….you.

Help Me Develop A Simple Lesson On Rudeness

“The High Cost Of Rudeness”

Feedback, including suggestions of additional resources, is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

You might also want to explore the 1000 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

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February 1, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Student Reflection Form On Goals & Joy

I’ve published many posts on student goal-setting (see The Best Posts On Students Setting Goals), along with others on the benefits of having students share positive events that have happened in their lives (see My Best Posts On Why It’s Important To Be Positive In Class). And I have even more extensive information about both, including lesson plans, in my books.

Today, I shared with my class a simple reflection sheet hitting both those topics, and that I’ll be using periodically with them this semester. You can download it here, and I’ll also share the questions and sample responses in the body of this post. They wrote their responses in a few minutes and then shared with a partner, followed by a few sharing with the entire class.

It went very well.  I have students do a reflection every Friday, but this particular combination seemed to really be helpful — it was a reflective exercise for the students; it gives me a ton of information for follow-up conversations with them on Monday and beyond; and some of the responses that I didn’t include here are good info for our counselor to know.

If you’ve got any ideas on how to make it better, I’m all ears…..

1. Look at the goal sheet in your notebook for this semester. List two the things you did to HELP you achieve the goals you set for yourself:

I woke up on time in the morning.

I did follow directions and I did help others.

I caught up on my sleep and I paid attention.

I read more and worked hard.

I got a bit off track yesterday but Monday-Wednesday I was great. But I know that I can’t pay attention to anything else but what’s in front of me and that’s my goal for the remaining of the year.

I was more patient.

2. Again, look at the goal sheet. Did you do anything that HURT your efforts to achieve the goals you set for yourself? If so, what were they and what can you do to help avoid repeating it?

I talked too much, and I can help myself by just doing my work and not talking to anyone.

Yes, what I did was dicey and got a couple of students off-task. But now I know that I have to be serious.

No, I didn’t do anything that hurt my effort to achieve the goals I set for myself.

The thing that stopped me from my goal was watching too much TV and I need to watch TV less.

I wasn’t patient and I could avoid it by not getting mad.

Yes, I did. It was this week because I was being rude. Something I’ll do to avoid repeating it is to follow the rules.

I didn’t become a leader because I was playing too much. Next time, I’ll just help people when I finish early.

3. What are the two most fun and energizing things that happened in your life this week – in or out of school?

My aunties and cousins came to my house, we went to the park and played basketball against the grown-ups and the kids won because of me.

I got to see a friend that I haven’t seen in a year. It was fun to get caught up with each other.

I found $20 on the way to school.

I don’t got any fun and energizing things that happened in my life this week.

I went to my uncle’s house and played with his dogs.

Lifting weights and training for the next football season.

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January 25, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

How My Theory Of Knowledge Students Evaluated Me This Semester — “We learned things that are different than normal classes”

As usual, during the semester finals, I had my students provide anonymous evaluations of classes and me. I always tell them (and always follow-through) that I will be posting the results — warts and all — on my blog and also share it directly with colleagues. I doing that enhances the odds of their taking it seriously. I tell them that I put a lot of time into helping them become better learners, and now it’s their turn to help me become a better teacher.

Today, I’ll share the results from my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class. I’ll go through results from other classes later tonight and post about them during the weekend.

You might also be interested in The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers).

Here is the simple form
I had my TOK students complete.

Here is each question, followed by representative answers, which are in turn followed by a short analysis by me:

1) What are the two or three most important things you have learned in this class so far?

How to ask Why all the time and how to improve my work ethic.

A different way of thinking — how emotion can relate to everything in some way.

The distinction between science and pseudo-science.

How to make presentations. (many wrote this)

Actually, many things we learned interest me. The way we’re influenced by perception, emotion, language and reason was the most striking.

I learned how to communicate better, write better and think better.

What we think we know may be tainted — keep and open mind.

How we need to question things to open our minds.

MY ANALYSIS: I was generally pleased with many of the responses to this question.  However, a number of students also just listed different Ways of Knowing or Areas of Knowledge.  I need to remember in the future to ask students to be more specific in their responses and give some examples — Model, Model, Model!

2) What have you liked about this class or how it was taught?

I liked how we presented our thoughts and the debating.

What I like about this class is that it very relaxing unlike my other classes that are stressing me out so much I’m going crazy.

I liked how it was taught because it was not boring desk work.

I liked how Mr. Ferlazzo kept the class fun and humorous while still learning.

I liked the pace of learning — it wasn’t too fast or too slow, it was just right.

I like how we give presentations because I’ve been able to improve my skills with presenting.

Working in groups and making posters.

I liked that we had weekly homework that we knew about ahead of time and that we learned through student presentations.

All the partner work.

We learned things that are different than normal classes.

I liked how the class was very organized and worked like clockwork.

I liked that it helped me get confidence in myself when presenting in front of the class.

I liked how this class is college level — I actually feel like a college level.

The class was fun. I never fell asleep in the class because your bald head is always too bright — it keeps me awake.

MY ANALYSIS Again, I’m pleased with these responses. I work hard at keeping the class engaging and it seems to pay-off. Also, just FYI, I love how document cameras enable students to quickly create simple “posters” on regular size paper for use as a presentation visual.

3) How do you think this class could be improved?

Less use of posters.

I didn’t like how the class worked like clockwork, because sometimes there are times when things were not finished in time.

More control over the class and less posters and presentations.

Give us less work.

You need to control the class more.

No boring readings.

We could have discussion circles. It can be disrupting when people argue during teaching lessons, so a way we can limit that is to have a discussion circle.

I think that this class is already one of the best classes that I have ever taken.

I do not think this class needs to be improved.

This class can be improved by students listening more, sometimes people talk too much and don’t listen to Mr. Ferlazzo.

Let us debate more.

MY ANALYSIS: Student comments echo the two areas where I have also been feeling a need to improve — a need to provide more structure to class debate/discussion and a need to rein in a few overly talkative students. Neither are huge problems, but clearly I need to do something about them both. Today, I had some individual discussions with students on classroom management, and I’m confident about handling that. I’m less clear on the best way to provide more structure to student discussion/debate, and am interested in hearing ideas from readers.

4) What grade would you give Mr. Ferlazzo as a teacher? What do you think he does well? What do you think he could improve?

Half the class gave me an A or A+; the other half gave me a B or B+

Here are a few comments:

You could be more creative in the work you do.

Your work is fun to do.

I think you do well at everything. I don’t know what you could improve on.

I think you could improve on not wasting a lot of paper.

You are very flexible and understanding. As for improvement, I believe you should be more strict and not take so much “bs” by some students.

You’re intelligent and you give recognition to students. You make me feel better about myself and my stance in your class. I think you should not take so much from students who disrespect you.

You speak a little slow, but you’re okay (I teach my Beginning ESL class before TOK)

You could improve on giving instructions.

I think you could improve by having more control over the class.

You’re bad at explaining what to do. But you’re funny and understanding.

MY ANALYSIS:
My two takeaways on working a bit more classroom management and also on providing instructions. I need to be clearer, and put them down on paper.

5) Are there ways you think that what you learned in this class will help you in the future? If so, what are they?

The Ways of Knowing will help me in the future to get to know the truth instead of assuming.

I liked learning about doublespeak and manipulating language. I think I can use that in the future.

Yes, all the topics. Like the science stuff and presentation.

I think this class has helped me on my thinking skills.

Yes, the ways I look at things will be different.

I learned how to prepare presentations in a very short time and this will help in the future.

The way of how I view life.

Yes, especially ethics. Thinking more about right and wrong will help me think about the things I do.

MY ANALYSIS: The answers to this question are typically the ones I’m disappointed in the most.  I have tried regularly to highlight the practical aspects of what we’re learning, but, as usual, I need to explore ways of doing it better.  It’s not that the responses I share here are bad — it’s just that they’re less specific than I would like, and that many other students didn’t really write down anything.  All suggestions are welcome.

And, of course, I invite any and all feedback.  Look for summaries from my other classes soon….

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January 19, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

How Do We Contribute To Students Being Rude In Class?

One of the chapters in my upcoming book shares ideas and lesson plans on how to deal with rudeness in class and I’ve previously posted about this topic, too.

The Harvard Business Review has just published a lengthy article
on rudeness in the workplace and, though I don’t think much of it would be useful to teachers, it did have one interesting finding:

Model good behavior
. In one of our surveys, 25% of managers who admitted to having behaved badly said they were uncivil because their leaders—their own role models—were rude…. So turn off your iPhone during meetings, pay attention to questions, and follow up on promises.

Just another reminder to us to remember the power of leading by example….

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January 17, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

This Is One Of The Best Articles On Giving Student Feedback That I’ve Seen…

I’ve written a lot about effective ways to give student feedback, and you can seem a collection of pieces about the topic at The Best Resources For Learning How To Best Give Feedback To Students.

An article entitled Choice Words by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey has been published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and it’s an exceptional commentary with practical suggestions on giving effective feedback.

I especially like the framework they use — dividing helpful feedback into ones that emphasize student accomplishments, identity and agency.

It’s a definite addition to my previously mentioned “The Best…” list.

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January 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

The “Best Learning Techniques” Are Useless If Students Won’t Do Them — A Critical Take On A Well Done Study

(See Dan Willingham’s response in the comments)

I value and respect the work of Dan Willingham, the co-author of a recent well-publicized study on the effectiveness of different learning techniques. And I have equal respect for Annie Murphy Paul, who has written a widespread article summarizing its findings.

I have no reason to doubt any of the findings in the study. At the same time, though, I question its usefulness to many of us in the classroom for the same reason I have raised questions in the past about Dan’s critique of regular student use of explicit reading strategies (see How Reading Strategies Can Increase Student Engagement):

The “best” learning techniques are useless if students won’t do them.

Here’s how the study evaluated ten techniques:

Practice testing and distributed practice received high utility assessments because they benefit learners of different ages and abilities and have been shown to boost students’ performance across many criterion tasks and even in educational contexts. Elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, and interleaved practice received moderate utility assessments.

Five techniques received a low utility assessment: summarization, highlighting, the keyword mnemonic, imagery use for text learning, and rereading. 

I don’t feel a need to repeat word-for-word my previous post on reading strategies and engagement. But I don’t think the students in our school are that different from millions of others who face many challenges, including motivational ones, in — and out — of the classroom.  I’d suggest that the study’s list could be done in precisely the opposite order for showing how to help students successfully engage with what’s going on in the classroom.

I appreciate good education research. What I’d appreciate even more, though, is a little recognition that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

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December 8, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

How To Recover From A Classroom Train Wreck….

Leipzig Train Station
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

I wouldn’t want to teach at any other school than where I’m teaching now, and I think the same goes for the vast majority of our faculty. And I think the same percentage of our students wouldn’t want to be attending any other school either. Since we’re in Program Improvement, every year we need to provide forms to our students where they and their families can request an assignment to another school, and typically students look at me like I’m a bit crazy and many say something like, “Why would I want to go somewhere else?”

That being said, as the biggest inner-city school in Sacramento, we are not immune from the challenges facing our students, their families, and our neighborhood. They sometimes get brought to the surface by the pressures of holidays, and that was certainly the case this week.

Most of our counselors, administrators, and school monitors have been busy the past few days dealing with dispute resolutions. We’ve had a number of fights, and lunch was cut short one day in an effort to head-off the potential of escalating violence.

On that particular day when things were tough school-wide, student behavior in one of my “double-block” classes was the worst it’s ever been (it had been moving in that direction during the previous days). In retrospect, I should have quickly given up on my lesson plan and moved the class into a game, but I kept on believing I could recover.

I was wrong.

The next day, students came into class to a new seating chart and my announcement of a “points system” (you can see a more detailed explanation of how this works at Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? and an even more detailed description in one of my books.

I told students why I was instituting it and how it would work, and also told them that any student who earns the full amount of points five days in a row would then be taken off of it and receive the points automatically. I said that I assumed most, if not all of them, would be off the system in a week.

You might be thinking, “Wait, you’re the intrinsic motivation guy. What are you doing with a points system?”

A reasonable question.

As I’ve said before in this blog and in my books, community organizers (and I) operate in the world “as it is,” not the world “as I would like it to be.” As long as extrinsic motivation is used in a very limited and temporary way, and there is a clear exit strategy, I think it’s fine to use it.

My students responded very, very positively to the change, and I’m sure in a few days we’ll be back to normal.

But I also want to mention one other element that I believe is a key to why it’s worked so well.

The same day I instituted the points system — the arm of discipline — during the twenty minutes of silent reading time that starts each class I had short private conversations with each student. In those conversations, I “touched” on each of my students’ individual self-interests (which I know because of the relationships I have built with them). I told one student that I had gotten a book I had known he wanted to read; another the positive things I planned to tell his mother at an upcoming parent conference; another that I would like him to start being the leader in his student small group, etc.

We teachers are human — it’s understandable that sometimes when students act so inappropriately, we want to come down on them like a ton of bricks.

I sure did.

But an “iron fist” won’t do the job of creating a community of responsible learners, though it might temporarily create a classroom of somewhat compliant bodies.

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December 5, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Here’s What I Do During My Favorite Time Of The School Week

Usually, during my lunchtime, I am either with students in my classroom (our cafeteria isn’t large enough to accommodate all our students at lunch time) or am meeting with colleagues. However, one day a week during lunch I do my favorite activity of the school week.

I walk around campus spotting students — either ones I have now or have had in the past — and they are usually with some of their friends. I go up to the group, point out that student, and say something like, “Did you know that there is no harder worker in my class than _______?” or “Did you know that there are few other students who help their classmates more than _______?” or some other comment singling out that particular student for something that they do especially well.

Those students, though they may feign embarrassment, love it.

In fact, it’s not unusual that one of their friends — who I don’t know — will say, “What about me?” I quickly respond, “If you were in my class, I’m sure I could say the same thing about you.”

I have, and continue to have, many students who face lots of challenges, and it’s safe to say that many don’t get the kind of positive feedback they deserve.

A little public acknowledgment can go a long way.

(A quick aside: Before I learned about the importance of a growth mindset, I used to go around saying “Did you know that __________ is a star?” That got an equally pleased response, but clearly targeted reinforcement of a particular behavior is the better way to go)

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December 3, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Great Story On “Continuous Improvement”

I’ve written a lot about Marvin Marshall, my favorite advocate of positive classroom management strategies. As I’ve written before, I’d strongly recommend you subscribe to his blog.

I’d encourage you to read his latest post, which includes this great story. Check out his post for his helpful commentary on it:

A woman having lunch at a small café was seated next to a family celebrating their son’s basketball game. Their conversation was so lively that the woman joined in. “You must have been on the winning team,” she said.

The kid grinned from ear to ear, “No, we lost by 20 points. The other team had a killer defense. We were only able to make one basket.”

“Did you make the basket?” she asked.

With his mouth filled with cake and ice cream, the boy shook his head, “No.”

His father reached across the table to give him a high five. His mother hugged him and said, “You were awesome.”

The woman at the next table rubbed her chin.

The boy looked at the confused woman and said, “At last week’s game, I took nine shots but they all fell short of the basket. This week I took eight shots and three of them hit the rim! Dad says I’m making progress.”

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