Thursday, July 18, 2013

Larry Ferlazzo's 8 Great Ways Teachers Can Reach Students (With Commentary)

I read this article on the ASCD website. Read in full here:


1. Remember that authoritative beats authoritarian.

 "Being authoritarian means wielding power unilaterally to control someone, demanding obedience without giving any explanation for why one's orders are important. Being authoritative, on the other hand, means demonstrating control, but doing so relationally through listening and explaining."

Oh. So thaaaat's the difference. I thought it was simply that one held a ruler and the other didn't. Bummer.

I'm pretty sure I am only physically capable of being authoritative if not permissive. I'm 5 feet, 4 inches and barely 100 pounds soaking wet. Plus, mothers have started feeding their kids some kind of modified food because there is NO WAY that middle schoolers are naturally growing to be 6 feet tall. 

But I guess if I want "students more likely to respect [my] authority—and probably more eager to cooperate," I have to figure out a balance. The biggest thing working in my favor is that I've never been one to treat kids like kids and not the people that they are.

2. Believe that everyone can grow. (As long as they drink milk three times a day.) 

"Many teachers are familiar with Carol Dweck's distinction between a "growth" mind-set and a "fixed" one. When we have a growth mind-set, we believe that everyone has the inner power to grow and change. We see mistakes as opportunities to learn. Holding a fixed mind-set leads us to believe that people's traits—such as intelligence—are immutable. A mistake on the part of someone we believe is unintelligent seems to validate that belief."

I've always vowed to maintain a "growth" mindset when I become a future teacher. However, I'm only human and sometimes I passively think "fixed" mindset-esque thoughts. As much as I try to avoid it, particular stereotypes have managed to stick to me. An open mind, voracious reading appetite, and education haven't really combated all of my stereotypical beliefs as much as it's given me a sharper awareness of their existence. That's all I think anyone can ask for. Know that stereotypes and assumptions exist. Know that you have some of them deeply ingrained. Know what they are intimately. Know to be aware enough to stop them from coloring your actions. Walk into you classroom, look at your students, think of the assumptions that exist within you, then throw them bad boys out of the window and continue teaching. That's as close to a fool-proof method for maintaining a "growth" mind set as I can think of. You're welcome.

3. Understand that power isn't a finite pie. (This smells like Math. As an educator of The Incomparable English, I find Math mildly offensive. Alas, let's continue.)

"If I share the power I have, that doesn't mean I'll have less. In fact, the pie will get bigger as more possibilities are created for everyone."

What I think this is saying is that power is more than 100%. If I give a student half of my power and another student half of my power. That equals 100%, but I still have power? Huh?

"Giving students choices—about their homework, assignments, how they're grouped, and so on—leads to higher levels of student engagement and achievement (Sparks, 2010)."

Oh, that's all they're saying. Make student think they've got some power and autonomy in your classroom and you've got 'em in the palms of your hands. Muahahahaha!

The lazy part of my personality loves this way of reaching students. I mean, why should I do all of the work for your education. You gotta work for it, baby. I also think about myself as a student in situations like this. When was I most engaged, having fun, learning?  When the teacher wasn't a control freak and let me take ownership of my actions in the classroom. The lessons and assignments that made the most sense and were the most meaningful were the ones that made me work the hardest, where all of the details hadn't been handed to me on a silver plate. So, I'm all for power and responsibility not being a finite pie (whatever the heck that means) in the classroom.

Side note: I really do understand the "finite pie" analogy so please don't think I'm an idiot. =) I'm just messing. I did take AP Calculus in high school and it was the best decision of my young life as I did well enough to not have to take a Math class in college. Whoop whoop!

4. Give positive messages.

"Positive messages are essential to motivation. Subtle shifts in teacher language infuse positive messages throughout our interactions."

Positive messages. Spshitive messages.Who cares.

"Loss framed" messages (if you do this, then something bad will happen to you) don't have the persuasive advantage that they're often thought to have. "Positive framed messages" (if you do this, these good things will happen) are more effective (Dean, 2010).

Aw, but the "loss framed" messages sound more fun! You could be super creative with the punishments. "If you don't turn in your homework young man, I'll make sure I lose you at the Bronx Zoo tomorrow during our trip. You can make your new home among the seals or the giraffes. Your choice." What kid wouldn't tremble in their boots and bring in perfect homework the next day? But, I guess if I don't want them to fear me (or lose my job and get arrested), I'll practice my positivity. "Do your homework and I'll you 25 cents." . . . I'll keep practicing.

Say "yes." Avoidant instruction is language that emphasizes what people should not do ("Don't walk on the grass." "Don't chew gum"). Some researchers (British Psychological Society, 2010) believe that a more effective way to get a desired behavior is to emphasize what you want people to do.  

Huh. This is actually pretty freaking brilliant! Why didn't I ever think of this. I mean as a kind what were the things you wanted to do most in the world? The things mother and father dearests told you you couldn't do. It was absolute torture! I could have so much fun with this.

A Scenario:
"Ms. Hydara, can I use the bathroom?"
"Sure, you can Jimmy my boy. However, are you sure you want to go right this minute? Wouldn't you rather stay in our wonderful company where magical learning happens and minds are expanded and enriched. Where miracles happen and unicorns and rainbows exist. Where love for thy neighbor is real.
"I can wait, Ms. Hydara."
"Atta boy."

5. Apologize. (Heh?)

"Teachers are human, and we make plenty of mistakes. There is no reason why we shouldn't apologize when we do."

What! Not I, I say, not I. I am a goddess and ultimate perfection (for three days out of the year anyway).

This has always been a pet peeve of mine--adults not apologizing to someone younger even when they know they're wrong. It annoyed me as a child. It annoys me now as an adult watching other adults, especially in the classroom. So, I have no problem adhering to this suggestion.

6. Be flexible.

  • "Help them get started. Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik identified the Zeigarnik Effect: Once people start doing something, they tend to want to finish it (Dean, 2011). If we get a disengaged or anxious student started, that's half the battle.
  • Help postpone tempting distractions. Making a conscious decision to postpone giving in to temptation can reduce a desire that's getting in the way of a goal (Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2012).  
  • Acknowledge stress. As most of us know from experience, people tend to have less self-control when they're under stress (Szalavitz, 2012)."
 Don't have much to say about this one. I think they're all important points and should exist in the classroom. As a student, all three of these techniques worked on me so I think they'll be just as effective if utilized as a teacher.

7. Set the right climate.

Pink (2009) and other researchers have found that extrinsic rewards work in the short term for mechanical tasks that don't require much higher-order thinking, but they don't produce true motivation for work that requires higher-order thinking and creativity. However, everyone needs "baseline rewards"—conditions that provide adequate compensation for one's presence and effort.
At school, baseline rewards might include fair grading, a caring teacher, engaging lessons, and a clean classroom. If such needs aren't met, Pink (2009) notes, the student will focus on "the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. … You'll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You'll get very little motivation at all" (p. 35).

Not only is Pink an amazing artist (I absolutely LOVE her), but she's a smart pants psychologist as well. Dang, woman! ;)

I vow to try my hardest for none of my students to say the dreaded words, "that's not fair" in my classroom. Fairness is such an important concept to me that I would hate to play a part in making anyone feel as if they were treated unfairly.

8. Teach life lessons.

"My colleagues and I frontload our school year with what we call life-skills lessons.1  These simple, engaging activities help students see how it's in their short-term and long-term interest to try their best."

Hmmmm . . . could be interesting. I'll keep this in mind.

Come back for a visit after reading the article and tell me your own thoughts in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,