Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

August 15, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Importance Of Teacher & Student Autonomy

I’ve written a lot about the importance of student autonomy to help encourage intrinsic motivation (see The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students).

Of course, the same holds true for us teachers – for example, I’ve certainly heard enough stories from elementary teachers about the “Open Court Police” who ensure that all teachers are on the same page of that reading program each day.

Daniel Pink tweeted out a good article today from The World Economic Forum titled Autonomy could be the key to workplace happiness. It provides a good overview of research on the importance of worker autonomy, and it’s easy to replace “worker” with “student.”

Here’s an excerpt:


The article highlights the roles of goal-setting and choices in providing autonomy. So you might also be interested in:

The Best Posts & Articles About Providing Students With Choices

My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals

August 12, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study Shows Intervention Has Big Impact On “Achievement Gap” – Also Shows Shortcomings Of Ed Research


I often write about the importance of student/teacher relationships (see The Best Resources On The Importance Of Building Positive Relationships With Students) and plenty of research has documented its importance. One of the many steps I take to build them is having students complete a short-and-simple survey (you can download it at Answers To “What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?”) on the first day of school.

I don’t really pay much attention to what students write in the surveys for awhile since I’m preoccupied just trying to remember all their names in the first week or two of school, but after that I find them useful as excuses to initiate conversations with students who I’m beginning to feel might be experiencing a number of challenges. “Walk-and-Talks” are really my key “go-to” strategy for building relationships, and I learned that strategy from our principal, Jim Peterson (see his guest post, Guest Post: “Walk & Talks” Are Extremely Effective Way To Connect With Students – Here’s A “How-To” Guide).

Now, to the research I refer to in the headline of this post:

There’s been a fair amount of hullabaloo online about a new study from the American Enterprise Institute titled Creating Birds of a Feather: The Potential of Similarity to Connect Teachers and Students (Ed Week has a nice summary headlined Study: Class Getting-to-Know-You Exercise Can Help Close Achievement Gaps).

Basically, the researchers had teachers and students take a survey near the beginning of the school year and told each five items that they had in common with each other. It didn’t have any impact on how students seemed to see their teachers. But it appeared to have a substantial impact on how teachers related to their African-American and Latino students, and that resulted in a reduction in the “achievement gap” (let me know if you think I’m misinterpreting the results). As a result, the researchers created a free online survey tool that teachers could use with their students, and are touting it as low-cost way to reduce educational inequities.

That sounds good, you might say, so what’s the “problem with education research” I refer to in the headline of this post?

Well, according to the study, the teachers that did this  only had an average of 12.6 students each in their class. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that aware of many teachers who have that kind of class-size.

At the beginning of a school year, I, too, would be able to remember who I had what in common with almost immediately. Larger student numbers would make that challenging, and middle-and-high-school numbers would make it impossible.

I’m all for research that reinforces the importance of building student/teacher relationships. I just wish recommended interventions lived in the real world.

For example, it would be very useful to know what kind of impact this kind of intervention would have in the middle of a school year if a teacher was having problems with a particular class (see Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?). Could a survey like this help in that kind of situation?

What do you think – am I being too harsh?

I’m going to add this post to The Best Resources For Understanding How To Interpret Education Research.

August 11, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Deliberate Practice, The Olympics & Red Herrings


The Washington Post has tried to rain on everybody’s parade by discouraging people from believing that they can become Olympians through deliberate practice (see Why all the practice in the world can’t turn you into an Olympian).

It reviews an older study I’ve previously shared (see my post, Deliberate Practice & Red Herrings, for a more in-depth analysis) finding that genetics plays a key, if not the key, role in becoming an expert.

I do think you might find that previous post of mine useful, but here is what I think is the “money quote” from it:

It seems to me that deliberate practice debunkers often raise a red herring saying that advocates say that anybody can become an expert through deliberate practice.

I haven’t heard that…

What I have read and learned in research on the topic is that deliberate practice is the most important element in developing expertise that is within a person’s control.

So, please, if you are going to write or talk about deliberate practice, don’t do it in the context of debunking something that no one is saying…

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Learning About The 10,000 Hour Rule & Deliberate Practice.

August 9, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Video & Study Perfect For A Quick TOK Lesson On “The Problem With Slow Motion”

A new study has come out finding that we are more inclined to believe that people have acted intentionally after we see them in slow motion.

You can read about it in these two pieces:

This infamous Draymond Green clip shows how slow motion can bias referees is from The Washington Post.

The Problem With Slow Motion is from The New York Times.

As the Post article explains:

The researchers believe that slow motion makes it appear that a person has more time to think, plan and then act than they really do. Thus, slow-motion video could create the illusion that a person is acting intentionally when he or she is not.

“Seeing something in slow motion gives you the false impression that the actor had more time to act, so it feels more premeditated,” Caruso said. “When you see it in slow motion it just has this, like, air of inevitability.”

And the Post illustrates the point with this Draymond Green video from the NBA playoffs (it also has a video of a shooting that I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing to my class):

Since we’re in Northern California, many of my students will be familiar with this incident.

I plan on showing the video to my Theory Of Knowledge classes when we’re studying Perception, then ask them if they think it was intentional – why or why not. Then I’ll explain what the study found, and ask students to think and discuss what the reasons might be for the research finding. After a short discussion, I’ll tell them what the researchers said about it.

The purpose of the unit is to help students see how and when Perception can help and hinder our search for knowledge, and this is a perfect example.

August 9, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study Says Teacher-Student Relationship In Fifth Grade Sets Stage For Future Behavior

A new study has been released saying that having a positive relationship in the fifth-grade with a teacher can have a long-lasting effect on student behavior in future grades.

Positive teacher-student relationships boost good behavior in teenagers for up to 4 years is the headline of a Eureka Report summary of the Swiss study.

Here’s an excerpt:


Obviously, student-teacher relationships are important in all grades (see The Best Resources On The Importance Of Building Positive Relationships With Students). I do think it’s interesting, though, that the researchers emphasize fifth-grade.

When I was exploring entering the teacher profession, I did a very unofficial survey of about fifty people I knew, asking them what grade during their school career was most memorable and important to them. Fifth grade was the overwhelming response. Those results moved me to prepare to teach that level, though Burbank High School, where I continue to teach now, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – to teach classes of pre-literate Hmong refugees who had never been in school before. I’ve never regretted my decision.

I didn’t read the actual Swiss study – only the summary. But I do wonder how they ended up focusing on that age group. Could those relationships in other grades result in similar or even great long-term impacts?

It reminded me of the often-quoted finding that third-grade is the key one for reading ability. Other studies have found that there may not be anything really magical about that age for literacy (see Really Interesting Perspective On Study Claiming Third Grade is Pivotal for Readers).

August 6, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Video: “Reading books could help lengthen your life”

Earlier this week, I shared a New York Times story detailing the results of a new study on reading books (see Statistic Of The Day: Reading Helps You Live Longer).

Here’s a news segment on the same study, which could come in handy in a classroom lesson on the advantages of reading. If, for some reason, the YouTube video is blocked by your school district filter, you can view it directly on Newsy’s site (which also happens to have a short article on that study that’s more accessible than the Times’ piece).

I’m adding it to The Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them.

August 6, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: Response From David Yeager To My Question About SEL, Race & Class


As regular readers of this blog now, there is an on-going debate about balancing Social Emotional Learning interventions with ensuring that these practices don’t act as a replacement for needed economic, social and political policy changes (see The Best Resources Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough and, in particular, my Washington Post piece, The Manipulation of Social Emotional Learning, to learn more about this discussion).

David Yeager is a professor and who may be more aware of this question than just about any other researcher out there, and I have an enormous amount of respect for his work (see his contribution to my Ed Week column, Applying a Growth Mindset in the Classroom).

He is the co-author of an important recent study about supporting students coming from challenging backgrounds who are entering college. I wrote about it at Hopeful Study On Academic Success, But I Have A Question. You might want to take a moment to review that post.

Simply put, David and his co-authors’ study found that students benefited from reading about the problems that previous students experienced entering college and how they overcame them. It built off an earlier study whose conclusions I had used in my own classroom. That earlier study included helping students see the role of economic class in the challenges they might be facing, and I used that same element to incorporate a broader discussion with my students of the role of race and class in society.

That aspect seemed to me to be missing in this new study, so I posed this question to him:

Was there any mention and discussion of those class issues with students in this study as there was in the previous one? If not, why not?

David graciously took the time and responded to my question (I make a few observations afterwards):

David Yeager is an Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-chair of the Mindset Scholars Network(@MindsetScholars). Prior to beginning his career as a researcher, he was a middle school teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Dear Larry,

Thank you for your June 1st blog post that highlighted a research paper that I co-authored with Stanford professor Greg Walton and several other researchers titled, Teaching a Lay Theory Before College Narrows Achievement Gaps at Scale, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The Mindset Scholars Network also published a blog post and a brief summarizing the research.

My co-authors and I appreciate the conversation. We share your view that the work might prove useful to colleges around the country, particularly as they work to remove barriers that keep too many low-income and first-generation college students from graduating.

In your post, you asked whether the interventions in our paper discuss how students’ experiences might differ based on social class background. The answer is yes and no. Most of the interventions we were replicating in this paper were not designed to do this. They are designed to help students see commonalities in the challenges that arise in the transition to college—that it’s normal to struggle to earn good grades and make friends, and that these difficulties do not signal an overall lack of belonging or potential to succeed. One reason this is important especially for students from groups that are disadvantaged in college is because that disadvantage can make these challenges seem ambiguous.  They can seem like “Something only people like me experience” and a sign that “Maybe I can’t cut it in college.”

Nevertheless, one intervention we tested was newly developed for Experiment 3. It represented the college community as a place where students can build interdependent ties while sustaining ties with friends and family back home, something that we predicted might help first-generation college students in particular by creating a stronger sense of cultural ‘fit’ (see Stephens et al., 2012). This intervention sought to encourage students to see their background as an asset.  If you look at the online supplement for the PNAS paper, you see that the cultural fit condition actually did the best compared to control—although the finding is not statistically significant and would need to be replicated. Below I discuss how we are thinking about this result and the potential for future interventions.

Why were the PNAS studies designed this way? We began the studies that were just published in PNAS back in 2011. At the time, the field of mindset intervention research was in its infancy. There were three published studies with fewer than 35 students per study who had received growth mindset interventions. Similarly, the field of belonging intervention research consisted of one trial, published in 2011, with fewer than 50 students receiving the intervention.

Against that backdrop, I was asked by four urban charter school networks to create interventions for all of their outgoing seniors in the hopes of increasing their college persistence. The early data for this is “Study 1” in the recent PNAS paper (another paper will report the four-year outcomes for all of the charters who participated in the second cohort).

Around the same time my collaborator, Greg Walton, was approached by a highly selective college asking him to implement the social belonging intervention published in 2011 with the school’s entire incoming class (Study 3).  Soon after I was approached by a large public university that also wanted to implement a belonging intervention with its incoming freshman class to see if it would help increase retention and, eventually, graduation rates (Study 2).

These requests represented a significant increase in scale from the earlier research, but the effects were not a guarantee given the state of the evidence. Consequently, we had a simple goal for the three studies featured in the PNAS article: finding out whether these growth mindset and belonging interventions could be replicated successfully in other settings, and when delivered as preparation, prior to students’ entrance in college. To put it another way, our primary goal was not to develop novel treatments, but to adapt existing interventions so that they would have the best chance to succeed at scale. A secondary goal in Study 3 was to test a novel approach.

Although the social belonging and growth mindset interventions were designed to help people cope with difficulties that are common to all—like having a hard first calculus class, or having trouble making friends—group-relevant experiences—like racism, sexism, or discrimination based on social class—are also obviously important and critical to address. Since we began our studies (most notably in 2014) some research has been published that has sought to help students understand and succeed in light of group-specific experiences.

We think it’s possible and even likely that next-generation interventions can innovate on how to help people cope with group-specific experiences, and how to reduce the incidence of such experiences. We hope this will lead to even better outcomes than we reported in PNAS. Now that we’ve shown that past studies based on small samples can replicate when delivered in a way that can reach large samples, we are hopeful that more colleges and researchers will engage in experimentation.

One thing we’re cautious about, though, is the mindset of entering college first year students. We don’t know enough empirically about what it’s like to be told during the summer that your college sees you as different, or that your group membership might cause others to discriminate against you, and how to deliver those messages in a way that encourages students to see their differences as assets rather than liabilities. College partners are understandably cautious about this, too, because we are working at the scale of an entire entering class over multiple years. They and we want to avoid harm. Being risk averse is one thing that comes from working with “universal” interventions—that is, interventions given to a whole group of students.

We and other scholars in the field are working hard on questions of how to help students use their differences as strengths while balancing the desire to do no harm. Stay tuned for more projects coming out of the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), which is focused on improving college students’ sense of belonging and encouraging institutions to change their practices and policies in ways that convey to all students that they are valued, respected, and can excel.

Thank you again for your question and for covering our work with such thoughtfulness and nuance. I’d be happy to answer any follow-up questions you have.




My observations: Thanks to David for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.  It sounds like he and his colleagues are working hard to balance lots of challenges, and I’m looking forward to hearing the results of his future work!

August 5, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Great Piece On Setting Goals Like An Olympian

I’ve written a lot about how I use a goal-setting process with students (see The Best Posts On Students Setting Goals).

A key part of that is helping students understand the difference between “learning goals” and “performance goals” (see “Learning Goals” versus “Performance Goals”). A “learning goal” might be “I want to read books that have a higher-level vocabulary,” while a “performance goal” could be “I want to get an A in class.” Part of that discussion is showing students research that finds those who focus on learning goals actually “out-perform” those who emphasize performance goals. Every time I ask students why they think that is the case, they easily hit the nail on the head with reasons like “They will take shortcuts,’ etc.

This morning, Alexander Russo (his blog is a must-read for all educators, as I’ve said many times) shared an article appearing in New York Magazine titled Big Goals Can Backfire. Olympians Show Us What to Focus on Instead.

It’s a great article that can be used to reinforce and refine the importance of focusing on learning goals. The piece doesn’t use the terms “learning goals” and “performance goals.” However, I think its discussion of “focusing on the process” is equivalent to “learning goal.” The author compares that with “measurable outcome” goals and “big hairy audacious goals,” which I think are equivalent to “performance goals.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the piece:



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