Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

June 3, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Short Summary I’ve Seen Of Daniel Pink’s Book, “Drive”

I’ve written quite a bit about Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, here on this blog (see My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students) and in my new book.

I recently saw what I think is the best short description and summary of the book’s key points. Check-out the post “What really motivates us?” at the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog.

April 12, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Good Short Interview With Daniel Pink

“The American School Board Journal” has published a nice short interview with Daniel Pink, author of the book, “Drive.”

For people familiar with his work, there’s probably nothing new in it. But it’s a nice introduction to the problems of rewards and incentives.

I’ll add this resource to My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students.

August 31, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

Exceptional Interview With Daniel Pink

I’ve just finished listening to an hour-and-twenty-minute interview/conversation between Daniel Pink (author of Drive) and Russ Roberts, host of a podcast titled EconTalk.

It’s really an exceptional conversation. Roberts is a gentle skeptic at times of Pink’s points, and it creates a situation where Pink talks about his research and perspective in a somewhat different way than I have heard him talk about it before — I’ve usually just read what he has written, or heard/read interviews from people who are in complete agreement. It was very helpful.

The last half hour of the interview is entirely devoted to incentives in education, but don’t just go to that part. I usually am not a fan of podcasts, but his one is worth listening through in its entirety.

I’m adding this post to My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students.

January 1, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Few Reflections On Daniel Pink’s New Book, “Drive”

Daniel Pink’s new book, “Drive:The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” just came out. I found it to be a very interesting “read,” though have to admit I was a little bit disappointed that — as far as practical applications to teaching — it didn’t have that much beyond what could be found in his must-see TED Talk (see My Thoughts On A Very Intriguing Video On Motivation & Incentives).

As I wrote in that post:

He cites a lot of research debunking the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards on motivation. This isn’t news to the many of us whom have read Alfie Kohn’s excellent book Punished By Rewards. However, he seems to provide a slightly more nuanced critique.

Pink basically says that extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking.  But he says research says that it will not work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity.

This analysis mirrors my own experience in the classroom.  In Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? I shared the challenges I faced last year in using extrinsic motivation to get students into a new pattern of behavior, and then moving them back toward intrinsic motivation. Using “points” was definitely effective in getting the class under control. They received them for being focused and doing their work.

However, I didn’t think students started doing their highest quality work until they were “weaned” off the point system and began to gain what Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Pink says that those are the three essential elements in generating higher-order thinking skills.

One thing I did learn from the book was that behavioral scientists define these two categories into “algorithmic” and “heuristic.”    Here is how he defines the difference on page 29:

An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.  That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.  A heuristic task is the opposite.  Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.  Working as a grocery checkout cleark is mostly algorithmic.  You do pretty much the same thing over and over in a certain way.  Creating an ad campaign is mostly heuristic.  You have to come up with something new.

I was struck by the similarity of algorithmic and heuristic to what Gladwell and others have framed as “puzzles” and “mysteries.”  I’ve written more about that at Is Figuring Out How To Make Schools Better A Puzzle Or A Mystery?

Another particularly useful part of the book — related to teaching — is a good review of Carol Dweck’s research and writing, though I think you can get the same information directly from her — see What Kind Of Feedback Should We Give Our Students?; The Difference Between Praise & Acknowledgment; and Reading Logs — Part Two (or “How Students Can Grow Their Brains”).

The nice thing about Pink’s book is that he shares a lot of neat research in an accessible way.  I was also impressed by his explanation of Edward Deci’s work on self-determination theory. I also use Deci’s research in my book that will be published in April, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work (Linworth Publishing).

You can read an interview with Pink at the Wall Street Journal, which also has published an excerpt from his book.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s reactions to the book. Please leave a comment…

October 31, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

SEL Weekly Update

I’ve recently begun this weekly post where I’ll be sharing resources I’m adding to The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources or other related “Best” lists:

Transforming Online Learning through Narrative and Student Agency is a useful study – not so much for the “online learning” part, but for the research it shares on student agency. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On Student Agency & How To Encourage It.

Daniel Pink and Anders Ericsson: The Secrets of Top Performers and What It Takes to Be Truly Great is a good conversation, particularly related to deliberate practice. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The 10,000 Hour Rule & Deliberate Practice.

What Great Listeners Actually Do is from the Harvard Business Review. I’m adding it to The Best Ideas To Help Students Become Better Listeners — Contribute More.

Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower is from BPS Digest. I’m adding it to Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

Scientists “Switch Off” Self-Control Using Brain Stimulation is from Scientific American. I’m adding it to the same list.

I’m adding this tweet to the same list, too:

Could Grit Thinking Drive Inequality? is from Inside Higher Ed. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The Importance Of “Grit”

4 Myths About School Bullying And The ‘Trump Effect’ is from NPR. I’m adding it to A Very, Very Beginning List Of The Best Resources On Bullying — Please Suggest More.

Why Student Reflection Should Never Be Skipped is from Middleweb and is by Kevin Hodgson. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On Student & Teacher Reflection.

Setting Higher Expectations: Motivating Middle Graders to Succeed is from AMLE. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

September 14, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Look Back: The Problem With “Bribing Students”


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

You might also be interested in A Look Back: Best Posts From 2007 To 2009.

I wrote this post in 2010 and, of course, since that time have written three books on helping students motivate themselves.  

The only problem with this post is that the link to the big study I cite is no longer active.  I’m confident that I was referring to one of these studies,  though.

You may have heard about the study that was just released about paying students for increased academic performance (see TIME Magazine’s article Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? and their slideshow Paying For Kids For Grades: Does It Really Work?)

I found this article to be very disturbing — disturbing enough, in fact, to decide to take the time to begin reading the entire 107 page study itself (it’s hard-going, though, and I haven’t completed it yet. I wanted to share my preliminary thoughts now since it’s being publicized so much). I was particularly disturbed by the study’s assertion that providing these kinds of financial incentives results in the same benefits that participating in a Head Start program or in a class with a smaller number of students does — “at lower cost” (page 7). I can only imagine how that analysis is going to be used by some “school reformers.”

It examined programs in three communities, and had very decidedly mixed results — my take, at least, is that in most places it didn’t work the way the study sponsors had hoped. In fact, in my reading of the study, it didn’t seem to me to work at all (I’ll elaborate on that perspective later in the post). I’d be interested in hearing what some trained social scientists might think after looking carefully at the study. I don’t pretend to have the academic background to fully understand the language of the entire study. However, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and I’d love to hear what others think, too.


As Daniel Pink and others have described and demonstrated much more ably than I can do here (see A Few Reflections On Daniel Pink’s New Book, “Drive”; On Rewards & Classroom Management; and New Study Shows That Paying Students For Higher Test Scores Doesn’t Work) extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking. But it doesn’t work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity. And, in fact, these incentives reduce intrinsic motivation over the long-term.

The study seems to reinforce that view. Paying students resulted in higher attendance and an increased number of days when they wore their school uniforms. Students passed more tests in the Accelerated Reader program (even though the study says students read more books in order to do so, I, and I’m sure others, know how easy it is for students to “game” those tests without completing the books). In addition, I think there are very few who would suggest that the AR program promotes any kind of higher-order thinking. In some locations, students who received payments increased their scores in state standardized reading comprehension tests. I’ve got to wonder, though, how accurate even those assessments are. In our school, we find that having students complete clozes (fill-in-the-blank) three times a year, along with timed reading with a teacher to measure fluency, are more accurate assessments of reading ability than standardized multiple choice tests.


One concern I have with this study is that it appears to me that it’s comparing apples and oranges.  This may be how these kinds of studies are supposed to be run, but it certain raises a caution flag about its results.  They provided $6 million for incentives to one group, and the control groups received….nothing. It’s similar to the critique made of studies funded by Accelerated Reading — they compare students using AR with students who are not doing any kind of expanded reading effort.

What could teachers and schools in that control group have done with that money?

How about some of the ways my colleagues and I spend our own money on students — and would love to use more money in the same way:

* Have students go on Amazon to choose books of their own which I then purchase for them.

* Purchase trail mix, graham crackers and peanut butter for students to help replenish their self-control (see “Self-Control As A Limited Energy Resource” In The Classroom)

* Buy multiple copies of books students want to use in a student-lead independent discussion group.

How about some of the ways our inner-city school prioritizes its resources — and would love to use more money in the same way:

* Stock all classrooms with their own library of high-interest books.

* Have a well-stocked school library and flexible librarian who is willing to host student-initiated book discussion groups

* Training teachers in effective, engaging literacy strategies, including free voluntary reading.

* Having counselors spend enormous amounts of time tracking down ways students can get needed eyeglasses, medical check-ups, and dental work done.

* Providing computers and home internet access to immigrant families to use for language development.

* Go on field trips to neighborhood libraries and other enriching places.

None of these efforts come with any of the dangers the extrinsic motivators do…

I wonder what effect those kinds of expanded efforts would have on student achievement, intrinsic motivation, and the development of students as life-long learners.


The study doesn’t give any thought to an exit strategy.

I can see, in an extreme situation, where incentives might be an effective intervention. In fact, I’ve written a lot about how I used it in a class that got out of control last year (seeHave You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?).

The difference, though, was that I used incentives to get students focused and, after six weeks, created an atmosphere where things became reversed — they wanted off the incentive program so they could demonstrate that they didn’t need it any more.

One would think that this kind of outcome would be desired by any kind of school-based incentive program.

I’m not pretending that the criticisms I’m making here would pass the muster of a peer-reviewed journal. They are my initial reactions — no more.

But, as I mentioned, the study was disturbing enough to me that I felt I needed to get something out there. I’ll be writing more about it once I can bring myself to finish reading the entire study, and I’m eager to hear other people’s reflections, too.


August 30, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Silence Can Be Golden – Sometimes


No one would characterize my classroom as a quiet one. However, there are times when I do ask for silence, particularly during independent reading time and when students are writing.

I explained my reasons at a previous post titled When & Why Is It Important To Have Silence In The Classroom? (that post also resulted in several good comments).

Today, Daniel Pink tweeted a good article from Lifehack on the subject titled Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think.

I think I’m finally going to get around to creating a short lesson to help students see the advantages of occasional silence.

Here’s an excerpt from the Lifehack article:


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

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