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Student Motivation Thought Leader Interview – Larry Ferlazzo

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I've done several “Education Technology Thought Leader” interviews over the last few years, but found myself hesitant to label Larry Ferlazzo as such, and I am confident he would agree. Larry is a brilliant writer who has written extensively about student motivation, using technology to teach ESL, and other education topics. While he is well versed in using technology as a teaching tool, but he is first and foremost a passionate educator clearly focused on his students.

Hi Larry! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and share your insights, resources, and inspiring perspective with EmergingEdTech readers.

I’ve been paying attention to your work for years, but of course anyone with any passion for education and technology is likely to have come across your name! You’ve been repeatedly recognized through the Edublog awards, and you’ve been writing highly recommended books for years at a prodigious pace.

Let’s discuss your work and learn a little more about your inspirations, perspective, and upcoming endeavors …

  1. You’ve written a lot about student motivation. What was it about your teaching environment and your background that made student motivation a passion for you?

Prior to becoming a high school teacher, I had spent nineteen years working as a community organizer assisting low-and-moderate income people develop leadership and build political power to improve their communities. The only way to do that effectively is to develop relationships, learn people's hopes and dreams, and help them connect to others with similar aspirations to work together. I saw how much individuals were improving the quality of the lives through this process by developing their leadership abilities, their sense of power, and their belief in themselves as agents of change — in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and so on. I became a teacher because I thought it would be so much better to learn these qualities earlier in life. The key is self-interest, and the only way to identify it is through developing relationships.

  1. Congratulations on publishing your newest book, Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners. I love the juxtaposition of “community” and “self-motivated”, which seems like a contradiction but is not. You do a great job of regularly combining useful concepts in your writing, the lessons you share, and so on, interweaving techniques to create more meaningful lessons and learning experiences. So, how about an insight from the book that you think will motivate our readers to explore it!?

I don't think any of us can motivate another over the long-term. However, as Ken Robinson has said, we can “create the conditions” for self-motivation to flourish. Researchers have found four key elements that can contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation – autonomy, having some control over what you do and how you do it; competence, feeling like you have the skill to accomplish what you're being asked to do; relatedness, doing it helps you building and strengthen relationships with people with whom you want to be connected; and/or relevance, you need to feel like the task will help you achieve your goals or you're just plain interested in the topic.

I talk about these elements, as well as provide specific classroom examples, in this video:

  1. I’d love to hear a little more about your career evolution and what moved yout to pursue teaching and then to start blogging and developing such a strong online presence.

I shared a bit about my journey into teacher in my response to your first question. Developing my online presence began eleven years ago when I first became a teacher. My first class here at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento was a group of Hmong refugees who had never attended a school. Our school is deeply committed to students reading high-interest books of their own choice as a key to our literacy instruction. For pre-literate teenagers, however, it's difficult to do that outside of having a one-on-one tutor. But the Internet offers thousands of fiction and nonfiction stories that provide audio support for the text along with animation or other visual features, so I began to seek out and use online resources to supplement my classroom instruction. After awhile, I thought that other teachers might find the materials useful, and I began blogging about them. That then led to my writing about my other teaching experiences and ed policy thoughts.

  1. People seem to really appreciate your Best Website lists, and of course, your site is titled “Websites of the Day”. I sense a theme here! It’s an approach I am familiar with and espouse … people appreciate it when you share good resources, and the web is such an amazing platform for doing this. How important has sharing resources been to evolving and empowering your own personal growth and learning?

I've become a much better educator from learning about what others have done in the classroom and from the resources they have shared. Writing helps us all think, and my written descriptions and analyses about my own work – warts and all — has been a key reflective strategy.

  1. I’ve been inspired by a number of education technology focused books. Sal Khan’s One World Schoolhouse, and Sams and Bergmann’s Flip Your Class: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day are two such examples. I wish every teacher would read both of these, and I’m ready to add your wonderful books to my “must read” list! I love to ask those I interview about specific books and authors that have inspired them. What works do you wish every educator would read?

I'm a big fan of Drive by Daniel Pink. I also think any educator would benefit from reading one or both of Saul Alinsky's books on community organizing, Rules for Radicals and Reveille For Radicals.

  1. So, with all the time and energy you’ve devoted to education and leveraging technology to spread , I’d love to know … if you had just one recommendation to make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would that be?

Though I have mixed feelings about Doug Lemov's work, he recently made an important point about teachers' use of ed tech – it's fine for us to look at tech just as a tool to make our work easier. We can feel okay if it doesn't “transform” our work in the classroom.

  1. How about Administration? What are the most important recommendations would you like to drive home for administrators and leaders at other institutions regarding the integration of technology and education?

I'll stick with the same advice I shared in the previous question.

  1. The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be rather overwhelming – what specific uses of technology do you see emerging as the most meaningful and most promising for engaging students and impacting learning outcomes?

I've written ad nauseam about the benefits tech offers to English Language Learners. From the research I've read, it appears that students with special needs, too, can gain much from appropriate and strategic tech use. To tell you the truth, apart from the clear benefits I've seen that writing electronically can offer to reluctant writers (which can be very important), I haven't experienced tech as a huge game-changer in my mainstream classes.

  1. Any additional thoughts, observations, or future plans you would like share with EmergingEdTech readers?

Thanks for the great questions and the invitation to answer them!

Be sure to stop Larry's popular blog, larryferlazzo.edublogs.org, and learn more about his inspiring work.

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