Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

September 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

U.S. Dept. Of Ed Announces Not One, Not Two, But Three Studies Show NY Performance Pay Generally Makes Things Worse

'200th Strikeout!' photo (c) 2007, Eric Kilby - license:

Three strikes, yer out!

The Institute Of Education Sciences has announced that out of three approved studies of a New York performance pay program, one showed across the board negative effects on student achievement; another showed negative effects in some areas and no effect in others; and a third one showed no effect at all (thanks to Morgan Polikoff).

The first study was conducted by Roland Fryer, who has turned into Captain Ahab going after the Moby Dick of using pay to increase student achievement.

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea.

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September 29, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Research Studies Of The Week

'magnifying glass' photo (c) 2005, Tall Chris - license:
I often write about research studies from various fields and how they can be applied to the classroom. I write individual posts about ones that I think are especially significant, and will continue to do so. However, so many studies are published that it’s hard to keep up. So I’ve started writing a “round-up” of some of them each week or every other week as a regular feature:

Here’s an interesting “take” on incentives:

Before writing personal bonus checks to your employees this December, have a look at our paper — hot off the press! If you are hoping that a bonus would allow them to buy whatever they wish and as a result be happier at work and more productive, we have a better idea! Rather than giving your employees more personal bonuses, make a minor adjustment and offer them prosocial bonuses, a novel type of bonus to be spent on others.

Across three field experiments, we tested the efficacy of prosocial bonuses against the standard model of personal bonuses. We found that when companies gave their employees money to spend on charities or on their colleagues (as opposed to themselves), employees 1) reported increased job satisfaction and 2) performed notably better.

How Physical Fitness May Promote School Success is from The New York Times. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On How Exercise Helps Learning — Please Contribute Other Resources.

Think Twice, Speak Once: Bilinguals Process Both Languages Simultaneously is from Science Daily. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning The Advantages To Being Bilingual.

Helping Others Helps You Live Longer is from TIME.

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September 28, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Republican Strategy On Debt Ceiling Is Ridiculous, But Provides Perfect Classroom Lesson On “Compromise”

I learned about the importance of compromise in my nineteen year community organizing career prior to becoming a teacher, and I’ve shared a fair amount about it at The Best Posts & Articles About Compromise.

In fact, Republicans in the House could probably learn something from reading the articles collected there.

Ezra Klein writes a great blog at The Washington Post (except, however, when he’s publishing posts about education. There is something about schools that seems to make newspaper opinion writers lose perspective).

Today, he write an excellent piece that I’m adding to my Best list on compromise. It’s titled The GOP asks why Obama will negotiate with Putin and not with them. Here’s why, and here’s an excerpt:


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September 25, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study On Cash Rewards For Students Tries Really, Really, Really Hard To Make It Look Good

'Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank' photo (c) 2013, epSos .de - license:

Researcher Roland Fryer has been trying to prove for years — unsuccessfully — that cash incentives will result in higher student academic achievement. You can see my previous blog posts all his failures to show that this kind of strategy works. You might also want to read my Washington Post column Bribing students: Another ‘magical solution’ that doesn’t work.

Now, one of his and New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s pet projects, a cash rewards program in New York City, has issued a final evaluation that tries really, really — I mean really — hard to put lipstick on a pig. The Wall Street Journal has an article on it, and you read the entire report here.

Here’s my short summary of the mind-numbingly lengthy study:

After giving an extremely lengthy list of what giving cash clearly did not affect (including just about everything for elementary and middle school students, and almost everything for high school students), they claim that high school students who entered the program as academically “proficient” in ninth grade had an 8% higher graduation rate than the control group (those who entered ninth-grade as not academically proficient did not have a higher graduation rate). And though they really try hard to dodge it, it’s also pretty clear that positive impact only applied to girls.

In a number of academic areas, cash incentives were removed (it appears the program was redesigned at some point) and in at least some of those areas performance from the students in the program dipped even below those in the control group — surprise, surprise, that when extrinsic incentives were removed, motivation plummets. However, inexplicably, the researchers say they can’t say for sure that this is the reason for the dip. That’s pretty interesting, because in other parts of the report, they jump to conclusions that clearly have no evidence. For example, in one part of the report they attribute increased Internet use by students at home to computers purchased by families with incentive money students had earned, though they clearly don’t have a single shred of evidence that this is how families used the money.

When are these guys going to give up beating a dead horse?

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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 20, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Quote Of The Day: “Why Paying Kids to Do Homework Can Backfire”

Why Paying Kids to Do Homework Can Backfire is an article published today at TIME.

It doesn’t offer anything particularly new to longtime readers of this blog or my books, but it does provide a good summary of research.

Here’s an excerpt:


I’m adding this post to:

The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students

The Best Resources For Learning About Homework Issues

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September 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Another Study Shows The Benefits Of Reading For Pleasure

Thanks to Michelle Gunderson, I’ve learned about yet another study showing the importance of students reading for pleasure.

Here are some excerpts from a report on it appearing at Centre for Longitudinal Studies:


The research was conducted by Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown, who analysed the reading behaviour of approximately 6,000 young people being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. They looked at how often the teenagers read during childhood and their test results in maths, vocabulary and spelling at ages 5, 10 and 16….

Perhaps surprisingly, reading for pleasure was found to be more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education. The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree…..

Dr Sullivan notes that reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children’s vocabulary development, but the impact on spelling and maths was still significant. “It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores,” she said. “But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading.

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September 8, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Studies Highlight Blurry Line Between Nature & Nurture

'Blurry Canada Line - 20100824_048.jpg' photo (c) 2010, Roland Tanglao - license:

There’s recently been some pushback on the “10,000 Hour Rule” for developing expertise. I think Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Coyle respond well to critics saying that it downplays the role of genes.

An overly-long article in the Pacific Standard, The Social Life of Genes, highlights a number of recent studies which particularly reinforce some points made my Gladwell — that, yes, genes play a big role, but that people’s environment and how they choose to respond to that environment has a huge influence in if and which genes get activated.

Here are some excerpts:

Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live.

an individual’s social environment might exert a particularly powerful effect. Who you hung out with and how they behaved, in short, could dramatically affect which of your genes spoke up and which stayed quiet—and thus change who you were.

“You can’t change your genes. But if we’re even half right about all this, you can change the way your genes behave—which is almost the same thing. By adjusting your environment you can adjust your gene activity. That’s what we’re doing as we move through life. We’re constantly trying to hunt down that sweet spot between too much challenge and too little.”

Interesting stuff, and well worth integrating into my lessons on deliberate practice.

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September 5, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

These May Be Some Of The Most Important Passages About Self-Control That I’ve Ever Read

'Self-control (fruit of the Spirit)' photo (c) 2012, Sarah Joy - license:

It’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big believer is helping students develop self-control (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control) done in the context of helping students develop intrinsic motivation in a student-centered classroom. My posts, my practice, and my books reflect that perspective.

I’ve also been very critical of those who — in the name of “character education” — would twist the idea of using the idea of self-control into a harmful class discipline strategy (see my Washington Post column, “Why schools should not grade character traits.”

It’s this kind of misuse, I think, which generates over-the-top diatribes against teaching self-control like the one that appeared in The New Republic this week (American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How In defense of the wild child).

Fortunately, Sarah D. Sparks over at Education Week, as she is prone to do, has unearthed some new research and insightful analysis to bring important clarity to a controversial issue.

In her new post, Is Self-Regulation Lost in Translation?, Sarah shares the yet unpublished research of Joanne Wang Golan, who studied character education at a “no excuses school” that sounds like a KIPP or KIPP-like institution. Here’s an excerpt:

During months of observations, Golann found “self-control was the topic I heard most about: The teachers talked about self-control, the students talked about self-control.”

In practice, though, Golann found “self-control” was primarily taught through classroom discipline practices, involving many detailed rules and rapidly increasing sanctions for breaking them.

She recalled one 5th grade student, “Darren,” who explained his view of it this way: “Self-control is when you’re able to talk, when you know to talk at the appropriate time. And it’s important because you can get a really bad consequence, and I do, I really show self-control, because I don’t talk at all in class. When the teacher tells me to talk in class, I do, to answer a question, and otherwise I don’t talk at all in class.”

Overall, Golann found the school’s approach to teaching social-emotional skills led to orderly classrooms and students with good study and work habits associated with high self-regulation—but not the sort of autonomy, self-motivation, and goal-setting also associated with self-regulation and grit.

In other words, they taught the words, but not the music….

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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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September 3, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study: Sleep Boosts Production Of Myelin

A new study has come out suggesting that sleep boost the production of myelin, and that lack of sleep reduced it.

“So, what?” you might ask….

I wrote about myelin in a previous post titled Deliberate Practice, Myelin & The Brain.

Here’s an excerpt from that earlier post:

Myelin is white matter in the brain that forms layers that make nerve impulses faster and stronger (see the image at the top if this post), and which a number of researchers suggest increases learning. The amount of myelin and its density seems to increase through practice and makes what you are learning to do more automatic. The idea of deliberate practice comes in because we have to ensure that myelin forms to increase and strengthen the right impulses — if we keep on practicing something the wrong way, then we’ll make the wrong actions automatic. In ESL, this problem is referred to as a fossilized error. Deliberate practice means continuous reflection to see if what we are doing is correct.

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources For Helping Teens Learn About The Importance Of Sleep.

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August 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough

'Stress Reduction' photo (c) 2011, Eamon Curry - license:

Earlier today, I posted about a new study showing that social emotional learning isn’t enough — that poverty causes a lack of self-control and perseverance and it’s not the other way around.

Since that time, several other articles have come out on the same research, and I thought I’d collect them here:

I’ll start off with my piece, Social Emotional Learning Can Help, But More Research Shows It’s Not Enough.

How Financial Woes Change Your Brain (And Not for the Better) is from TIME.

Poverty strains cognitive abilities, opening door for bad decision-making, new study finds is from The Washington Post.

Poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks, say scientists is from The Guardian.

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir – review is from The Guardian, and is particularly interesting. It’s not really about the study, but it’s by the same researchers who elaborate on what they’ve found through much of their research.

Understanding the Cognitive Demands of Poverty on our Students is from Education Week (this is on a different, but similar, study).

Your Brain on Poverty: Why Poor People Seem to Make Bad Decisions is from The Atlantic. I think this quotation from it is particularly important:

As Eldar Shafir, the author of the Science study, told The Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger: “All the data shows it isn’t about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty. All the data suggests it is not the person, it’s the context they’re inhabiting.”

How Being Poor Makes You Poor is from The Pacific Standard.

Escaping The Cycle Of Scarcity is from The New York Times. It shares some interesting ideas on how to respond to this problem, but seems breathtakingly oblivious to the need for political action to get the its roots causes.

Teaching A Person To Fish, “Buying The Pond,” & Social Emotional Learning

Some Very Interesting Info On Self-Control Research

Must-Read Article About A Must-Read Study: “Can Upward Mobility Cost You Your Health?”

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August 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Social Emotional Learning Can Help, But More Research Shows It’s Not Enough

Obviously, I’m a big supporter of helping students develop intrinsic motivation and a great capacity for self-control and “grit.” In fact, I’ve written two books on how educators can do just that….

However, it’s not enough.

I’ve previously written a popular post titled New Research Shows Why Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Education Are Not Enough. It showed that:

…the chain of causality is circular, and poverty is itself responsible for the low self-control that perpetuates poverty….policies that help the poor begin to accumulate assets may be highly effective…

In other words, poor self-control doesn’t cause poverty — it’s the other way around.

Unfortunately, the research that I cited in that post — though thorough — was not very accessible and did not gain a lot of public attention.

Today, however, the results of a brand new study were announced reinforcing those findings were announced, and has received a lot of media attention:

In a series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick, low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests, saddled with a mental load that was the equivalent of losing an entire night’s sleep. Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that’s been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults.

The finding further undercuts the theory that poor people, through inherent weakness, are responsible for their own poverty – or that they ought to be able to lift themselves out of it with enough effort. This research suggests that the reality of poverty actually makes it harder to execute fundamental life skills. Being poor means, as the authors write, “coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.”

….The limited [cognitive] bandwidth created by poverty directly impacts the cognitive control and fluid intelligence that we need for all kinds of everyday tasks.

“When your bandwidth is loaded, in the case of the poor,” Shafir says, “you’re just more likely to not notice things, you’re more likely to not resist things you ought to resist, you’re more likely to forget things, you’re going to have less patience, less attention to devote to your children when they come back from school.”

Poor Choices: Financial Worries Can Impair One’s Ability to Make Sound Decisions is from Scientific American on the same research. Here’s an excerpt:

These new results also support other research on an overlapping area of study—an emerging field called self-control, says Kathleen Vohs, a consumer behavior expert at the University of Minnesota who published an accompanying commentary piece on the findings in the same issue of Science.* Self-control studies look at the finite ability of individuals to overcome urges and make decisions. They posit, in a similar vein, that when individuals are faced with many decisions that demand trade-offs—such as a scarcity of food, time or money—and do not have a chance to recover from the resulting brain drain, self-control can tank. That depletion, in turn, could lead to decision-making patterns that impede one’s ability to improve their lot in life, she says. “Because the poor must overcome more urges and make difficult decisions more often than others, they are more likely to overeat, overspend and enact other problematic behaviors,” she wrote.

Poor Concentration: Poverty Reduces Brainpower Needed for Navigating Other Areas of Life is a similar piece from Science Daily.

This research, and the earlier study,  makes sense to me, but certainly doesn’t negate the importance of doing whatever we can to support our students to develop these traits (though let’s not grade them, please).

But it does reemphasize the value of teachers, schools and families working together to push for the public policy changes in jobs, housing, childcare, etc.  to attack the root causes of the challenges faced by our students….

I’ll add this post to The Best Places To Learn What Impact A Teacher & Outside Factors Have On Student Achievement.


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August 21, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Study: Appearances Matter

'Judging a book by it's cover?' photo (c) 2011, Paul Swansen - license:

A new study has found that how people look — and not based on physical attractiveness – has a huge impact on how people are judged.

Granted, that’s no huge surprise, but I was surprised by the context of the research.

Researchers showed videos of performers in a musical competition. Some watched the videos without sound, some watched with sound, and some actually didn’t watch the video at all and just listened to the audio.

The only ones who guessed the winners correctly were the people who watched the video with no sound.

Here’s what the researcher said about the results:

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is indicative of superficial judgment,” Tsay says. “There is something about visual information that is better able to convey cues such as passion or involvement or creativity. These elements are very much a part of high-quality performance.”

The report goes on to say:

In fact, Tsay’s study is only the latest to show that people’s judgments on all manner of issues are shaped by what they see. We know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but marketers know we do anyway. Economists and political psychologists have found that voters can the winners of elections when they watch videos of the candidates — with the sound off.

It seems to me that this latest study can also related to aspects of classroom life. Check out these previous posts to see what I mean:

A Question On Teacher Attire

Is Teacher Handwriting Important?

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July 16, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Stop The Presses! Study Finds Student Prior Knowledge Is Important & Best Explored Through “Flipped Flipped Classroom” (not a typo)

'duh' photo (c) 2009, Sarah Deer - license:

The headline of this headline sounds satirical, and is meant that way, but it does actually describe the results of a new Stanford study. The research says that before students learn about something new, their prior knowledge should be activated and then videos should be shown — they really do call it a “flipped flipped classroom.”

The study’s twist is that they suggest student’s prior knowledge is best activated through the use of an ed tech platform, though I don’t see why that has to be the case.

Yes, I agree, as do many researchers, that some kind of “assisted discovery learning” works best for students (see Is This The Most Important Research Study Of The Year? Maybe). And I’m not the biggest fan of the flipped classroom idea.

I just get a little perplexed when some proponents of ed tech claim to discover “new” best learning practices that have been around for a long time….

Thanks to Greg Toppo for the link to the study.

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July 7, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Good Research On Using Graphic Organizers

I’m adding these two pieces of research to Not “The Best,” But “A List” Of Mindmapping, Flow Chart Tools, & Graphic Organizers:

Enhancing Learning Through the Use of Graphic Organizers:A Review of the Literature is an excellent recent review. Thanks to Bjørn Helge Græsli for the tip.

The National Center On Accessible Instructional Materials has an older review.

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July 3, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

More On The Research Showing Reading When Young Slows Alzheimer’s Later

Earlier today, I published a post about new research showing that reading as a child slows Alzheimer’s in old age.

Since that post, several major publications have come out with more detailed articles about the study, which makes it sound even more useful and interesting.. Here they are:

Here’s an article in Scientific American about the same study.

And here’s a Scientific American article
with even more information on the research.

Smithsonian Magazine also has an article.

And here’s one from USA Today.

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July 3, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Study: Reading As A Child Helps Slow Alzheimer’s Later

A study has just been published finding that early reading in childhood can slow the development of Alzheimer’s in old age. It found that reading later in life helps, too, it was able to independently confirm that reading earlier in life additionally helped. As a summary of the research said:

it’s never too late to start, but earlier is better

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning, which includes many other resources detailing reading’s effect on the brain.

Here’s an article in Scientific American about the same study.

And here’s a Scientific American article
with even more information on the research.

Smithsonian Magazine also has an article.

And here’s one from USA Today.

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July 2, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Surprising Study Only To People Who Have Never Worked In The Community: Low-Income People Care About Their Neighborhoods

'Community Art mural, Brighton, UK' photo (c) 2012, Jay Galvin - license:

Neighborhood Residents With Lowest Incomes Most Likely to Care About Their Communities is the title of an article summarizing a new research study:

“We hypothesized that individuals with higher incomes would have higher levels of community care and vigilance, but the opposite was true,” Yu said. “Residents with lower incomes were more likely to care about their communities than their higher-earning neighbors.”

Yu said he and his colleagues were somewhat surprised by the findings that lower-income residents cared more about their communities.

These guys — and others — have to get out more…

My students demonstrate this each year when we do one of my favorite lessons — they research (including doing walking tours) of our school’s neighborhood and the wealthiest neighborhood in Sacramento. Almost all of them end up writing a persuasive essay concluding that their neighborhood is better. You can read about it in one of my books and in this blog post, A Lesson Highlighting Community Assets — Not Deficits.

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