Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: A List of Articles for Educators to Read

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 12, 2018 17 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What is an important article or blog post, that is still freely available online, that you read and has had a big impact on your teaching?

We teachers tend to read a lot and, for all that reading, there are typically tons of other books and articles that we want to get to but just don’t have the time.

This series will explore what articles educators have read that they feel impacted their teaching. Maybe we’ll find good pieces for us to put on our priority reading list!

Today, Jessica Torres, Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, Robert Ward, Lisa Eickholdt and Kathy Dyer contribute their suggestions. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jessica, Kathleen and Robert on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Even though the question relates to articles, I’m going to make a video as my own suggestion. It’s Dan Pink’s Ted Talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation,” and you can read the transcript here. It helped me formulate my own approach to teaching and focusing on “creating the conditions” for students to motivate themselves instead of me trying to “motivate” them. You can read Dan’s past contributions to this column here and here.

Response From Jessica Torres

Jessica Torres is a first year elementary assistant principal at Brook Avenue Elementary school in Waco, Texas. She formerly served as an instructional coach and a public Montessori elementary teacher. Torres is a current doctoral student in Tarleton State’s Educational Leadership Program. She obtained her Masters in Educational Administration through Concordia University, and her Bachelor degree from Stephen F. Austin. Known widely as @owl_b_torresedu by her Twitter PLN, Mrs. Torres is a staunch supporter of public education, personalized professional development and connecting with others who are passionate about education and students:

Becoming an assistant/vice principal is a big leap for most individuals. You are moving from being one member of the group to leading the team. Often there are tasks assigned to you that you never realized required so much forethought, preparation or paperwork. When I became an assistant principal, I had already served as a member of the campus leadership team for two years prior, but still had no clue the level of responsibility or learning curve I would endure. The summer before my first year I came across a seasoned assistant principal by the name of Aaron Hogan (@aaron_hogan) from College Station, TX not far from where I worked in Waco. Aaron had recently written a blog post entitled, “Thriving as an Assistant Principal,” which I not only read but followed to a tee during my first year. That one blog post helped me to not only thrive but thoroughly enjoy my first year as an assistant principal and feel as if I was making a difference in the lives of the teachers and students I served. There were five key points that Hogan rendered on the blog:

1. Ask about the family.

People need to know that you genuinely care about them, not just as an educator but as a real person with a family. I was able to get to know my teachers and their families in a couple of different ways, including friending them on Facebook and having authentic conversations when I saw each person at the beginning of the day. I wanted to know what interests we had in common and what was different that I could learn. Education is in the human relationships, without a relationship there is nothing.

2. Ask about professional interests.

At the beginning of the year, I was assigned half of the teachers on campus to complete goal-setting as part of their evaluation. Setting both long and short term goals is essential to continual growth. It is crucial that administrators expose teachers to the opportunities that lie before them during their career.

3. Ask for input before making decisions.

The smartest person in the room is the room. Never be afraid or too egotistical to stop and ask for input, ideas, and thoughts before making a decision. Not every decision can be discussed, but for the most part, you are never alone in your actions.

4. Ask for critical feedback.

Critical feedback depends more on how you allow yourself to receive it, rather than the message that is being transmitted. If we are open to constructive criticism, questions, and just over all thoughts and ideas of others it will allow us to expand our perspectives and open our minds to alternative views.

5. As an instructional leader - walk the walk.

There’s nothing more important than modeling the way. It is imperative that we push ourselves to be the learners and leaders that we envision from each our students and teachers.

Aaron Hogan’s blog helped me start my career on the right path. I appreciate the insight and advice that he shared through his blog post, and continues to share with others who are interested in his story. These key points will continue to drive the work I do every day as I serve students and teachers.

Response From Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is a 3rd grade teacher in Farmingdale, NY. She previously taught 6th grade and kindergarten. Kathleen is one of the co-authors of the Two Writing Teachers and the co-director of the Long Island Writing Project. She blogs at Courage Doesn’t Always Roar:

I am a reader, constantly finding blog posts and articles to read to inspire my teaching and help me improve my craft. With so much information about teaching and learning at my fingertips, what stands out to me? What do I remember most? For me, the stories teachers tell of their time in the classroom resonates the most. One blog post, in particular, was so striking and so moving I have shared it with many other teachers in professional workshops I’ve facilitated about becoming a teacher blogger.

“Why Sharing is the Most Important Part of Workshop”, written by Lori Van Housen (in 2015) is the story of a scene from Lori’s sixth grade class. Lori writes about a student, named Josh, who faced academic and personal struggles. In her sharing circle, where writers read aloud what they’ve been working on in class, Josh shares a piece revealing his innermost feelings, and begins to cry in front of his peers, including the class bully, Joe. What happens next is something you would see in a movie- and you have to read the post to know what I mean!

Out of all the brilliantly written pieces out there from doctors in education, specialists and authors, this post is the most meaningful to me. As teachers in the classroom, when we reflect and put words to what we’ve seen and experienced, and when we share our writing with others, we take control of the narrative. We don’t rely on politicians and others to tell the stories of what is happening in our classrooms. We give voice to our work and how hard it is, how much we might doubt ourselves, how our students sometimes carry heavy burdens, but there is light that can come through in the darkest moments. Lori Van Housen’s blog post has reminded me of how we need to give our students voices, provide a safe community, and give them space to share. Her post also emphasizes for me the need for teachers to be vulnerable enough to tell the stories of the work we do, the mistakes we sometimes make, and the lessons we learn along the way.

Response From Robert Ward

Robert Ward is currently in his twenty-fifth year of teaching English at public middle schools in Los Angeles. In addition to his own blog, Robert’s articles are frequently featured in Edutopia, Education Week, ACSD, NCTE, the U.S. Dept. of Education’s “The Teacher’s Edition” newsletter, International Literacy Association, and other educational journals. Robert is also the author of three books for teachers and parents published by Rowman & Littlefield: The Firm, Fair, Fascinating Facilitator, The Teacher Tune-Up, and A Teacher’s Inside Advice to Parents. Interact with Robert on Twitter @RewardingEdu:

Sometimes the most impactful ideas that help reshape and improve your teaching come in small packages. That is how I feel about this little gem of an article written by Peg Grafwallner for Literacy and NCTE, the official blog of the National Council of Teachers of English. Struggling Reluctantly is Peg’s eloquent argument that when we refer to any student as “struggling,” we unintentionally place a negative connotation on that child’s capacity for improvement. She also cautions against calling students “reluctant” readers because what these kids really need from their teachers is inspiration and support, not labels.

As her article states, those pejorative terms come from a deficit model of thinking. “Reluctant” implies that some students may not even want to learn or achieve. “Struggling” assumes that even with desire, these students will never become the successes we want them to be but rather will continually languish according to some unachievable standard.

Of course, struggle is part of life and a key component of the growth process. But to brand anyone--especially children--as struggling somehow links the hardship with the people themselves. Instead, we must view challenges as a natural part of learning and evolving, not as a personal, permanent inadequacy.

Therefore, Peg encourages us to modify these terms to “developing” because we are all developing at something. We simply are not there yet. If you were labeled a struggling runner, the connotation would be that no matter how strategically and diligently you tried, no matter the small bursts of progress you made, your pain would never equal the payoff. This label could also become so engrained in you that it could actually define you. The same could be said of a reluctant chef. Why even sharpen your skills if cooking is presumed to always be a drag and a disaster?

Yet change those words to “developing,” and a whole new mindset is formed. “I am a developing runner.” “I am a developing chef.” “I am a developing reader.” “I am developing my math skills.” Suddenly, the connotation is skewed towards the positive and is heading for progress--all because the emphasis has been now placed on the process.

The larger implication of Peg’s article is that words matter and that intention is everything. Before reading this post, I thought that “struggling” was a much better way to describe a student than “low-performing.” And maybe it was. However, I will always be grateful to Peg Grafwallner for stretching my thinking in a more positive direction. The difference is profound, and I see its transformative effect on my students and their parents when I now speak of a student’s educational journey as in development, rather than debilitating.

The focus in my classroom is always on incremental improvement, even for the students who are advanced. After all, each of us is always in different stages of development--neither resting on our laurels nor stifled by our struggles.

Response From Lisa Eickholdt

Lisa Eickholdt (@LisaEickholdt) worked in various elementary schools as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, interventionist, and literacy coach for over 20 years. Today, Lisa is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Education at Georgia Gwinnett College and consults in classrooms nationwide. When she’s not hanging out with her family and friends, you can find her shopping for furniture or with her nose stuck in a book:

I teach an undergraduate level literacy assessment and instruction course each fall. One of the main goals I have for my young teachers is to help them understand how to create a literacy classroom where readers thrive. With this in mind, I launch the term by sharing the post ‘I’ve got Research. Yes, I do. I’ve got Research, How about you?’ by Donalyn Miller. This post is important because it familiarizes my students with some key reading research and important researchers we will study during the course. It also helps me introduce some of the essential literacy concepts we’ll cover throughout the term. We dive into Donalyn’s post by jotting down quotes that stand out to us and discussing them. Below are a few popular quotes and some of the essential literacy ideas they help me introduce.

Quote: Conducting meta-analysis of over 50 reading research studies, Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume--how much reading people do.

Literacy Concepts: Volume and Time

Miller’s post is about the power of independent reading. The idea that one of the best things teachers can do to help kids achieve in reading is to let them read is new to many of my young teachers. Of all the things I want my students to know about literacy, understanding they must plan their schedule around independent reading and allowing kids to read for long periods of uninterrupted time is top on my list.

Quote: Do we really need research proving that kids who read the most outperform kids who don’t read that much? Do we really need research proving that when readers are engaged with what they read they invest more effort in reading? Do we really need research proving that when kids have books in classrooms, libraries, and homes, they read more?

Literacy Concept: The Power of Books

This quote helps me introduce the importance of access to books. If we are going to provide students with large amounts of time to read in class each day, they are going to need lots and lots of books. Cuningham and Allington (2001) suggest teachers have 500-1500 books in their classroom libraries of various types and on a wide variety of topics. According to James Patterson, “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates to read. There are kids who love to read, and kids who haven’t found the right book yet.” One of the most important jobs a literacy teacher has is to match students to the right book; a book they can and want to read. When teachers stock their classrooms full of interesting texts, they ensure there is a book for every child that will help them fall in love with reading.

Quote: In the Reading Zone, Nancie Atwell reminds us, “A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.”

Literacy Concepts: Practitioners, Not Programs

Atwell’s quote conveys that there is no program, no magic bullet to teaching kids to read. There is only a knowledgeable practitioner; a teacher who has read the research and knows students learn to read by reading, who understands the power of a good book. A teacher who studies her students to discover their strengths and needs and teaches into them. When we help teachers realize they are the key to unlocking a lifetime of literacy for students by providing them with time to read, access to great books, and individualized instruction, we’re on our way to creating more classrooms where student readers thrive. That’s my goal. Thanks for the help, Donalyn!

Response From Kathy Dyer

Kathy Dyer is a Sr Professional Learning Specialist at NWEA. She designs and delivers professional learning, and coaches educators around the world. She is a regular contributor to the Teach. Learn. Grow. blog and edCircuit and has written for ASCD Express. Follow her on Twitter @kdyer13:

Because I read so much, impactful writing is something I encounter often. Narrowing this down to “an” article was a bit challenging. Three come from ASCD, and two are available without a membership.

The Perils and Promises of Praise" by Carol Dweck

This article has been around for a long time and still has an impact on me when I read and share it with others. When I first read this article, I was working on improving feedback I gave my students--basically, trying to understand and figure out how I could provide feedback that would have an impact (positive) on them and their learning. In this article Dweck talks about praise and its potential negative and positive impact, along with her ideas about fixed and growth mindset. A fact about the Stanford Binet test that was new to me in this article was that the test wasn’t intended to measure intelligence but to identify students for whom public school curriculum might not be enough. I do have to share that this article not only impacted my classroom, but it also impacted my home life.

“Lessons from Skateboarders” by Richard Sagor

This article is not readily accessible from ASCD but relates to the Dweck article. Sagor’s article came first and literally blew me away. One of the major ideas was that kids will practice (tirelessly) something that really interests them until they perfect it, such as a skateboard move. They practice until they hit their personal best or personal record. When my daughters ran track, this idea of a personal record (PR) was ever present. The coach helped them set PRs for practice and then PRs for a track meet -- always trying to improve by a few seconds. that’s when the realization hit me. When had I ever heard someone talk about a PR in science? Or social studies? When did I hear students say anything about their personal best in an academic subject? And what would it take for those types of conversations to occur? These two articles present a powerful combination of ideas for me to consider regardless of the age of the learner I am working with.

Learning to Love Assessment" by Carol Ann Tomlinson

This article introduced me to the idea of “informative assessment.” I’d been working with the ideas of formative assessment for probably nine years when I encountered this article. But just the phrase “informative assessment” pushed my thinking to a new level. I knew assessment wasn’t just about testing, grades, or something formal. I knew it needed to be integrated--during instruction. Or as Lorne Earl says, “assessment as learning.” I also knew that really using assessment as learning meant that it was for both learners and teachers. Both of us needed to use the results to get better and learn more.

What I appreciate about both the Dweck and Tomlinson articles linked here is that they lend themselves to pushing thinking. You and your colleagues may already know and do most of what is offered in these articles. For me it was about the wording--phrasing that was just slightly different than mine that advanced my thinking, raised questions, and challenged me. Besides that, they are great articles to dialogue with colleagues about.

Thanks to Jessica, Kathleen, Robert, Lisa and Kathy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder--you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And, if you missed any of the highlights from the first six years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Classroom Management Advice

Race & Gender Challenges

Implementing The Common Core

Best Ways To Begin The School Year

Best Ways To End The School Year

Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching English Language Learners

Student Assessment

Brain-Based Learning

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice For New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering The Teaching Profession

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships In Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.