I often get asked about my reading habits by other teachers. Some want to know how I find the time to read–my answer includes bathrooms, lines at Walmart, and Instapaper–and others are curious about what I read. Recently, I spoke with a colleague about one of the most useful education books I’ve read in the last year: “Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges” by Larry Ferlazzo.
Those of you who peruse the interwebs may already be familiar with Larry and his award-winning resource-sharing blog. You may even remember that I mentioned Helping Students Motivate Themselves in a post about good education reads last summer. Now that I’ve had a chance to use some of his lesson ideas, I want to share a more in-depth review.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Ferlazzo focuses on several critical questions that teachers have been asking themselves since the dawn of time, like “How can you regain control of an out-of-control class?” and “What can you do to keep your students–and yourself–focused at the end of the year?”. For each question, he provides some relevant research data and some personal anecdotes, and then follows up with a lesson (or series of them) to address the issue. For some questions this means one lesson, but for others (and this is where he sets himself apart) Ferlazzo suggests a year-long series of repeated lessons to really make a concept stick with the students.
One example is his chapter entitled “How Can You Help Students See the Importance of Personal Responsibility?”. Here he provides several lessons that use current events and well-known people to make the point that successful individuals own up to their failures and don’t blame others. Students explore the way that they have felt in situations where they cast blame on someone else, or had that done to them. It’s a remarkably effective method of addressing an issue that would more often result in eye-rolling than real learning. Even more amazing is that he makes it work with high school students!
Later in that same chapter, Ferlazzo recommends an activity for building students’ self-esteem. They discuss the meaning of the word “value” and then identify their own personal values by choosing from a broad list. They write about why they find these things important–examples of these values include membership in a social group, religious values, and living in the moment–and how they have felt when they made choices that supported them. He suggests repeating this short writing activity at several points during the school year to both reinforce its importance and to allow students to track changes in their own motivation.
I find this sort of practical long-range lesson idea to be quite rare in the cookbook world of education books for teachers. He presents very easy lessons with very little preparation needed (the publisher’s website allows owners of the book to download his handouts) that have stimulated compelling discussions in my classroom. I highly recommend the book because you can do much of what he suggests without any major changes to your teaching style or lesson pacing.
Perhaps most importantly for me, Ferlazzo’s lessons from Helping Students Motivate Themselves develop metacognition and student awareness of the skills that they need to be successful in life. It’s hard to imagine a more important 21st Century Skill than that.
Anybody else read it and want to share your opinion? That’s what the comments are here for!