Something has been making me itch this Spring as I research and plan curriculum for the 2015/2016 school year.  We spend so much time talking about the “what” of learning and it seems each year we promise to do more about the “how” of student engagement.  As long as there are children and teenagers we will probably struggle with why they don’t want to learn or wonder what is in the way of them understanding.  I recently re-read a Larry Ferlazzo blog entry that was dedicated to the research on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.  He believes, as do I, that the only way to really change learning is to help students become self-motivated.  Four qualities that can be developed to help our students are:  autonomy (choice), competence (consistent feedback), relatedness (flexibility with goals), and relevance (students writing about how they see the content as important to their lives).  In other words, we might want to stop saying students aren’t motivated and start engaging them in ways that lead to more self-motivation by focusing on the “process of learning.”

In “For the Love of Reading,” Daniel T. Willingham outlines the problems of rewards to reinforce external behavior:

​There are some other really good reminders in this article to remind us that while our short-term goals often speak to scores, our long-term goals are best when they speak about being able to read for a lifetime.

Of course we know that reading/writing are reciprocal processes, but they are often taught exclusive of each other.  This year, because we know it is sound practice and that the newer assessments have so much writing, we will be pushing you and your students for more writing instruction.  Not only is this part of my own teacher story because when I made the shift to focus on writing assessment to show reading progress, my scores began improving by as much as 7 – 9%, I believe it can impact your stories as well.  A recent Atlantic Monthly article articulates what happens when a school/teachers make this kind of discovery/commitment.


There is so much evidence of this problem of “translating thoughts into coherence,” and it is really what writing for the 21st Century is about.  I call it an act of problem solving.

Finally, teachers ask me all the time about technology in the classroom. Being a digital immigrant I have struggled.  However, I believe strongly in the use of blogs, programs for design projects, PowerPoint’s and other writing/speaking resources, and other interactive reading/writing programs to build literacy and extend thinking. But I have always believed there would be a danger if we, or our students, began to see technology as a solution that does not require critical thought.  The ease and speed with which they can obtain information is misleading; information is not knowledge and knowledge is not understanding.  Understanding is part of a larger cognitive process as we have been taught by Mr. Bloom in his taxonomy.  So I really believe that there is a place in the classroom for “thinking down the arm” because what is thought in the head is not the same as what is shown on the page as a demonstration of understanding.  It is negotiating this gap and closing it that writing can achieve.  Note taking is better the old-fashioned way as this excerpt suggests:


Perhaps you have felt the need to itch this same scratch? Request the full articles referenced above: aflaherty@conceptschools.org.  You may also want to check out the blog/resources of Mr. Ferlazzo, for great resources and ideas, as well: http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/