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Larry Ferlazzo: Community Organizer Turned Teacher

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What stands out about Larry Ferlazzo's new book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies that Work, from others that describe strategies to engage high school ELLs are his suggestions for how to encourage such students to be leaders.

I expect that special contribution comes out of Ferlazzo's 20 years of experience as a community organizer. Now with six years under his belt as a social studies and English teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., where many of his students are ELLs, Ferlazzo has lots of ideas to share about how to build leadership among students. (See a slide show with highlights of the book here.)

He writes, for example, that teachers should make explicit the qualities of a good learner or leader. Good learners, he says, have intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, and a willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. He suggests that teachers have students choose one quality of a learner to work on in the next quarter of the school year, and hold a one-on-one conversation with each student about an action plan.

He suggests teaching a unit on leadership that also incorporates literacy activities. Students may draw from articles or folktales ideas about what makes a good leader. He describes a lesson in which students complete the phrase "I feel powerful when..."

Many of you are familiar with Ferlazzo's prolific tweeting and blogging on how to incorporate technology into lessons for ELLs and how to engage parents in school. This book gives a much deeper view of Ferlazzo's philosophy of how to connect with students and engage them.

I observed a couple of Ferlazzo's classes a few years ago. He's not a teacher with a noticeable charismatic style or a knack for entertaining students, such as the late Jaime Escalante. Rather he's been resourceful and energetic in figuring out what will move his students forward. His students seem to respect him in part because of the deep respect he shows them.

One can get a sense for his journey of becoming a teacher through his new book, available for $35 from Linworth Publishing Inc.

Update: Ferlazzo shared some ideas from community organizing that he applies to the classroom in an article, "Getting English-Language Learners to Thrive," published online today at Teacher Magazine.

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