An Interview with Larry Ferlazzo

Larry Ferlazzo discusses his popular blog “Websites of the Day” For Teaching ELL, ESL &EFL.

Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net
Larry Ferlazzo

Larry Ferlazzo

Tara: I think of you as Larry the TEFL list maker. Your Websites of the Day blog for Teaching ELL, ESL &EFL is full of lists that make it easier to sort through the growing supply of educational resources and tools on the web. You haven’t always been involved in teaching English, though. Take us back to your days as a community planner in California and explain how you got into teaching high school to ELL’s.

Larry: I was a community organizer for nineteen years working with low and moderate income families, mostly in immigrant communities. We work on issues around citizenship, affordable housing, job creation, etc. But what really struck me was how people were using what they learned through organizing — self confidence, taking initiative, the ability to work with diverse people — and using it to dramatically transform their entire lives. They were learning these lessons in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if people learned these things earlier in life?” and decided to become a high school teacher.

Tara: I had a friend who spent so much time making lists we wondered if she ever had time to cross anything off. Your lists, on the other hand, save teachers and students so much time. How do you find time between teaching and family life to keep your website so current?

Larry: I only develop resources that I use in my own classroom or professional life, so there is a direct pay-off in my everyday teaching. I also have an incredibly supportive family, and help maintain my energy by playing basketball regularly. Despite my commitment to basketball, however, my skill level seems to have peaked at mediocre.

Over the years, I’ve also identified the best sources for the kind of material I and other teachers find useful (which I’ve also shared in various lists), so that reduces the time needed to develop the lists.

Tara: Where do you find inspiration for new lists and how do you determine what the teachers are looking for?

Larry: It’s all based on self-interest — what do I want to teach and what do I want to learn. I base what I blog about on what I’m doing in the classroom. I figure other teachers might be doing similar things, or want to do similar things.

Tara: Your blog is a good reminder that we are learners as well as teachers. In a previous interview you said, “Technology has its place but also has to be kept in its place.” In your opinion, what are “the best” ways for teachers to keep this in check?

Larry: I think we just need to look at what kind of “value-added” benefit doing a lesson with technology brings to student learning. If there isn’t any, just stick to traditional tools in the classroom (used in a communicative, engaging, and constructivist way). My book that’s coming out next year, “Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies That Work,” probably has about one-tenth of it (and maybe less) devoted to using technology.

Tara: What qualities are you looking for in the resources you recommend to teachers of ELL’s? In other words, how do you define “the best”.

Larry: The main criteria I use are:

1) Do they have the potential to bring a “value-added” benefit to student learning?

2) Can I figure out how to use it in a minute or less?

3) Can someone not fluent in English and/or computer use figure out how to use it in a minute or less (with some guidance)?

Tara: Your website has a list of your favourite posts. Do you have a personal fave?

Larry:I like the posts I write about my own teaching practice because they force me to reflect more on what I do and become a better teacher. Surprise, surprise, I happen to have posted “The Best Reflective Posts I’ve Written About My Teaching Practice — 2009″. I also like my annual lists of “The Best Fun Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too”.

Tara: Dare I say you’re a bit like the Oprah of EFL? Bloggers and developers in this field love it when they make one of your best of lists. Is there a people’s all time favourite list?

Larry: There’s no question that my annual posts highlighting “The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education” are by far the most popular ones.

Tara: Do you have a mentor or favourite list maker yourself?

Larry: My website has a list of my twenty favourite bloggers. I’ve also learned a lot from Kelly Young, who is a consultant to our school and others across the United States.

Tara: Right. You interviewed Kelly Young on your blog. He called you an everyman who has classes that go right and wrong just like the rest of us. Do you ever have second thoughts about the websites or tools you recommend after using them in class?

Larry: I’ve removed tools from lists because they’ve gone out of business, but other than that, no. I don’t put sites on a The Best list without giving them a try and testing them out fairly extensively first.

However, I’ve certainly used the tools in class and have had lessons go south on me on several occasions, but that has generally been due to either poor teaching on my part or because of technical problems with our school’s computers.

Tara: Well, it’s great to know that the sites have been tried and tested. Having direct feedback from reader comments is also helpful. Is there a list you wish you could make for teachers at this time, but can’t? (due to a lack of online resources, materials, or even an inefficiency of current technology)

Larry: I think there is a shortage of good online resources (that are designed for student self-access) that English Language Learners can use to strengthen their writing skills, and I hope that changes.

Tara: I hope so too! Thank you so much for all that you do for teachers, Larry. Your site is so easy to navigate, and I know I speak for many teachers when I say that it is rapidly forming into one of my favourite search engines.

Larry’s Blog
Larry’s Book

Check out these lists:
Reflective Posts 2009
“The Best Fun Sites you can Use for Learning, Too”
Larry’s 20 Favourite Blogs
The Best Web 2.0 Applications for Education-2009

Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net
November 2009 | Filed under Interviews
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials for the ELT industry.