I was very excited to have the opportunity to read Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges by Larry Ferlazzo, a California teacher who writes the blog Classroom Q&A for Education Week. The book confirmed many of the strategies and tools I use in my classroom and emphasized the important roles that relationships and metacognition play in motivation and successful classrooms.
From the beginning Ferlazzo is clear that “This book is not designed as a road map; rather, it should serve as a compass to point us and our students in the right direction.” To point readers in the right direction, the book is set up in a format that is very easy to follow. Each section begins with a hypothetical question or statement you might typically hear from a teacher. For example:
I work so hard at trying to get these kids motivated. Some are, but so many aren’t. They just seem to want to get by—if that. I try to encourage them—I’m their biggest cheerleader! But it can get so tiring. I feel like I’m pushing a rope with some of my students. Why can’t they just want to achieve instead of having to be pushed into it?
Ferlazzo then offers background information and perspective that teachers can use to develop a better pedagogical understanding of the issues behind the statement. Readers will also find sample lesson plans and resources that can be used with students to help develop the skills necessary to work through the initial question or concern.
A whole-child point of view
As somebody whose educational philosophy has changed dramatically towards a focus on educating the whole child, not just the child as a test-taker, I was thrilled to see that Ferlazzo began with a section on classroom culture and followed up with a section on instruction.
Tips in the first section included how teachers can develop relationships with students, how to start off the year on the right foot, and how to deal with a disruptive student. Many of the suggestions were strategies that I’m already using in my classroom, but there were a few sections, like “How Do You Gain Control of An Out of Control Class,” where I would have liked to have read a little more information about how the strategy works.
The vast number of resources listed in every section and the extensive references section at the end of the book ensure that if readers want to continue to develop background knowledge about motivating students, there are plenty of opportunities to do so.
Good jumping-off places
The lessons and sample tools provided were very detailed, although they are probably better suited for students in the upper middle grades rather than my fourth graders. Even with the higher reading levels of the materials and the seemingly challenging concepts focusing on metacognition, thinking about how you are thinking, I found myself constantly saying, “Oh! That is a great idea! How could we make this work with our younger students?”
So in addition to giving me many opportunities to continue reading through websites and referenced books, Ferlazzo gave me a jumping off point for several important discussions I’ll be having in planning meetings with my teammates.
• Veteran teachers will find many opportunities for affirmation of current practices as well as new ideas to help students develop metacognitive strategies for learning and life skills.
• Beginning teachers in the upper middle grades will appreciate the concrete lesson examples that will help them maneuver through some of the trickiest times in the school year and school day.
• And anybody in education can use Helping Students Motivate Themselves as a go-to book when we’re looking for good ways to respond to that sad, familiar comment: “These kids just don’t want to learn!” Larry Ferlazzo can help us turn that into an action question: What can we do differently to help these kids be more enthusiastic about their learning?
Becky Bair teaches fourth grade in Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown Area School District. She is passionate about incorporating technology as one of many tools to help students view learning as an exciting, lifelong endeavor. She writes the blog Teach ‘N’ Life, blogs for the Voices for the Learning Revolution, serves as a Connected Coach for Powerful Learning Practice, and can be followed on Twitter @becky7274.