A How-to Book on Social Emotional Learning

Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond
By Larry Ferlazzo
(Routledge, 2015 – Learn more)

joanne bellReviewed by Joanne Bell

I first became aware of the author, Larry Ferlazzo, when browsing the blogs available on Education Week’s website. His advice was timely and to the point. But more importantly, his ideas were exactly what I was looking for with regard to motivating students at the middle school level.

building com of self motivated bellHis new book, Building a Community of Self- Motivated Learners, is written in this same succinct style. It is timely in that it is tapping into the Social Emotional Learning that is being promoted now, and he ties motivation to such skills as perseverance and self-control. His ideas also correlate to Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

It’s actually the third in his series of books on motivation, but if you think he has run out of ideas, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

What’s in the new book

The book’s purpose is to show that intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic, and he gives ideas and lesson plans to help attain it. Ferlazzo begins with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson: “Farmers and gardeners know you cannot make a plant grow… the plant grows itself. What you can do is provide the conditions for growth.”

These conditions for growth can be promoted through activities and lessons that encourage good relationships with both teachers and peers, as well as autonomy and competence. The activities are also shown to be relevant to a middle school child’s life beyond school. He then ties these to lessons on developing grit, goal setting and deliberate practice – all of which help students attain their goals.

Part of the goal setting lesson has the students think about what they would want people to say about them twenty years from now and why. Then, keeping in mind the big goal, they set smaller goals to help them reach it.

The focus of chapter 2 is classroom management. Ferlazzo gives short mini lessons on boredom, gratitude, and fighting and a longer lesson on the effects of poverty. In the one on boredom, he helps the students realize that by making their own connections or thinking of questions to ask pertaining to a topic being discussed, they can generate their own interest.

The chapter on reading and writing repeats the important qualities of autonomy, competence and relatedness by offering suggestions for motivating students in these areas. For example, a focus on student goals could lead to the children creating their own writing prompts, and using a version of literature circles could boost comprehension.

Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond is the subtitle of Ferlazzo’s book. The next two chapters talk about the transfer of knowledge from one class to another and how to help students want to live a healthy lifestyle. He offers many ideas that could assist teachers, from explicitly teaching how skills can transfer, to using simulations, to lessons about the importance of sleep and reducing stress.

The whole book is peppered with tons of helpful websites, references and technology ideas that I can’t wait to use in the coming school year. I would recommend this book for all teachers.

Joanne Bell is a middle school teacher at St. Joseph Elementary School in Missouri. She currently teaches social studies to sixth and seventh graders, but has spent most of her 32 years in the elementary grades.

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