by Larry Ferlazzo
(Linworth Publishers, 2010)
Reviewed by Jose Vilson
Middle School Math Teacher/Coach (NY, NY)
Teacher Leaders Network
For the last three years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching English Language Learners, a group of students gaining ground in the national discussion about educational equity. While California high school teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s new book English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work pertains to a myriad of English-learning students from many backgrounds, the overwhelming majority of those labeled with ELL status in our public schools are students who speak Spanish and recently immigrated to the United States.
At one point in my own career, I wondered whether my pedagogy would work for these particular students, as I had no experience with this population during my training. Soon, I found that developing good interpersonal relationships with students, accompanying my math lessons with a dramatization or illustrations, and embedding forms of reflection helped students become better students (and better people).
I believe a book like Ferlazzo’s new guide would have expedited this learning. English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies that Work reads less like a stereotypical how-to handbook and more like a leadership/ socio-emotional guide to getting to know students, regardless of their background. From building character and finding oneself through stories to actual action and reflection (my favorite), Ferlazzo’s book is a really nice supplement to whichever curriculum you already have and a solid extension of the work he already does on his ELL resources website.
Chapter 1 immediately starts with building strong relationships with students, a critical piece of anyone's repertoire for getting students of different cultures to a learning place. As is Ferlazzo's habit throughout the book, he integrates research and technology into this chapter, discussing how he built a website, for instance, to collect resources students could use on their own.
The anecdotes that accompany his strategies prove an interesting case study for those who might want to follow in his footsteps. In Ch. 2, he walks the reader through a procedure for how to run a lesson on facts for a whole week, including standards, materials, and assessments for understanding. Every chapter follows a similar format, and thus provides lots of good and readily available materials for anyone who’d like to augment their pedagogy to include things like student leadership and metacognitive skills.
The one criticism I have about the book is that it doesn’t address cultural differences as much as one would hope, particularly with a topic like ELLs. I also see, however, that by not accentuating these differences, teachers who read the book don’t limit the potential of their students. That’s where Ferlazzo’s book can work for any teacher. If you’re stuck on how to become a better ELL teacher beyond the instruction, this book is for you.
Jose Vilson blogs about school and life at The Jose Vilson.