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ELT Book Reviews


Transformative Professional Learning

A system to enhance teacher and student motivation

Margery B. Ginsberg

Corwin, 2011

Reviewed by :

To the Profile PageRobert J. Dickey

Keimyung University, Korea

Sometimes a book surprises. We always hope for a good surprise. Yeah, this is one.

Transformative Professional Development is Not about professional development activities. Well, sorta. Instead, the subtitle is the real focus: it is a System about teacher and student motivation. With a focus on the learners.

And chapter two is really, really good, going through her Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. That's Not your Mother's Motivation.

Ginsberg refers to "two layers" (p. 9) in instructional development, one for students, and one for teachers. In her design, the second derives from classroom efforts to improve the first. OK, that sorta sounds like reflective teaching. But wait. It's more.

Initial mechanics, don't be put off
It would be easy for some to dismiss the book after the first page in the preface. Lots of new-age pop-psychology terms float through. I almost just put the book away. But stay with it.

It gets good.

Chapter one explains the underlying concepts. Those who have read extensively on intrinsic motivation might be tempted to skip it, but I suggest you work it through, as it sets up the remainder of the book. And chapter two is really, really good, going through her Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. That's Not your mother's motivation. Nor is it a softer version, such as in de Andrés & Arnold's (2009) Seeds of confidence.

Chapters three through six explain, exemplify, and justify. Chapter six also introduces an approach to teacher portfolios based on the model. All are valuable. Chapter two, and the appendices, are the heart of the book.

The 4Rs - and more
No, it's not a bonus for the traditional "Readin', wRitin', and 'Rithmatik." Instead, Respectful, Relevant, Rigorous, and Results focused. These are Ginsberg's research-based underpinnings for intrinsic motivation of students and teachers alike. Those last two Rs might surprise some folks.

The professional learning community (PLC) structure demands and encourages professional collaborations between colleagues, and support from higher authorities. These inquiry teams work together to improve themselves individually and the school as a whole. With multiple teams on a single campus, energy flows in all directions - out to students, up to administration, and across the faculty. With collaboration comes support, and a willingness to accept the answers found.

Beyond ELT
Sometimes we teachers of language need to look across the hall at teachers of other subjects. Or simply review general pedagogy. Transformative Professional Learning is not about ELT, though it derives from studies of cultural and ethnic minorities in the US. While there are some challenges in that perspective for teachers of English in (largely) homogeneous ELT classrooms, Ginsberg urges us to look beyond obvious groupings, and look for those who are generally overlooked in any classroom.

While the framework is designed chiefly for primary/secondary school teachers, much of it can be used in post-secondary settings as well. The home-visits might be problematic for students living far from home. But the "funds of knowledge approach" suggests that insightful teachers will find other ways to learn more about their students than what they see in a classroom.

How it works
Culturally-responsive teaching builds on students strengths to create inclusive learning environments, align pedagogical practices to support intrinsic motivation, and engage teachers to examine their own instructional practices. High aims. The image from page 23 included at the bottom of this review provides a better overview than I can in the limited space here. The mnemonic I AM Competent (Inclusion, Attitude, Meaning, and Competence) is clever, but does this framework really work?

Ginsberg suggests we move from the too-frequent microanalysis of the classroom lesson to a more macroanalytic view. Multiple teaching methods. No "one size fits all" perspective. Really knowing well our students and their communities. Instead, Transformative Learning is based on evoking truly meaningful and relevant experiences to solicit learners' interest. Lesson plans that are explicitly motivational plans. And recognition that we, as teachers, can never "get it right" (p. 21).

Where does this take us?

The framework
An outline of a model orientation session to the motivational framework concludes the second chapter, with handouts for this session included in the appendices. If you read nothing else, check out pages 29-32 and the handouts to the orientation on pages 141-148. You will know you need to get this book.

Nuts and bolts
The rest of the book is "How to." Not to imply this is not important: there are valuable ideas within, shortcuts, things to avoid. What I mean is, a group of teachers operating under the basic framework could and should customize the remainder to fit local contexts, something Ginsberg promotes.

There are additional appendices, some of which have neat ways of looking at a colleague's lesson - the five minute visit, the Wows and Wonders (I wonder why he did that?). And a 10-month professional learning community plan (based on a US school year). And more.

Chapter six includes a number of worksheets and frameworks. Actually, the book is filled with outlines for "how to do" - there are perhaps nearly as many lines of bullets in units 3-6 as there are of prose. "Using data to improve student learning" (chapter 6) is very much oriented to collecting data, both from the classroom, and through teacher portfolios. Lots of cool tools.

Final notes
Lots to like here, even if you are resistant to talks on learner motivation. I like the bountiful exhibits, figures, and bullet-point lists, the index, the references, the wide margins on pages. This is a book designed for working teachers, those of us who read with a pen in hand.

As a teacher trainer, my model lesson plans always include a motivation box - "Why do they care?" I think far too many teachers take learner's intrinsic motivation for granted, or even completely disregard the issue. I'm pleased to review a book that places learner's intrinsic motivation at the forefront of both learner and teacher development.


de Andrés, V. & Arnold, J. (2009). Seeds of confidence: Self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom. Helbling Languages. Previously reviewed at


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Dear Robert J. Dickey,

I appreciate your thorough consideration of this book and your sense of humor. As I read your review I was compelled to look up the page numbers you mentioned to see exactly what spoke to you. Many thanks, Margery



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