December 10, 2021

Educator's Voice XIV - Leveraging Student Strengths through Project-Based Learning and Authentic Assessment

Source: NYSUT Research and Education Services
Educator's Voice XIV

In this issue …

We present classroom practices that illustrate the relevance of project- based learning and authentic assessment, through inquiry, hands-on and experiential learning, in both pre- and post-pandemic scenarios.

Across them, there is one conspicuous feature: student-centered projects that depart from a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead personalize the curriculum to offer student choice, bolstering individual agency and self- awareness. Another hallmark is the inclusion of real-world connections that take learning beyond the classroom walls, helping students to connect with something larger than their school community. In this volume, authors present an extraordinary range of techniques that include a unique multi-age, interdisciplinary summer program where collaboration is central; an I-Term project where students explore their “reason for being” by learning about career paths; a higher ed Design-A-School project that demonstrates how to apply reflective practices to improve a curriculum; a program that places student interests at the fore asking middle schoolers to explore their own curiosities through “passion projects;” and a fourth grade interdisciplinary inquiry project in which students embark upon a simulated fossil dig. These practices are as timely as they are foundational for anyone wishing to employ student-driven learning that promises to infuse deeper meaning in the curriculum while cultivating a passion for lifelong learning.

Dear Colleagues,

Our students come to us with multiple talents, gifts and abilities. Sometimes a one-size-fits-all curriculum is not the best way to inspire these aptitudes. Traditional textbooks and paper-and-pencil tests don’t always capture what students have truly learned, nor do they provide the critical experiences today’s students so urgently need to navigate an increasingly complex and changing world.

Project-based learning takes students beyond paper-and-pencil driven activities, while authentic assessment pushes past the walls of the classroom by incorporating broader experiences into the learning landscape. Rather than prescribing one path to understanding, it is imperative to provide more equitable experiences for students. In a project-based environment, learners are carefully guided toward the acquisition of new knowledge by exploring in their own ways and through deeper lenses, which can lead to more enduring and meaningful comprehension of the material under study. Through a project-based approach, students learn by doing, by making or creating, writing for a real purpose, or presenting for an authentic audience. These experiences bring a deeper purpose to the process and tend to “stick” while also providing points of departure for future learning endeavors.

We hope that the practices described in this volume will resonate with what you are already doing in the classroom and will help to uncover new insights into what is possible. We are thankful to our members for their willingness to share their expertise with all of you across the state.


Jolene DiBrango
Executive Vice President, NYSUT

Exploring Careers & Passions through the I-Term

by Lana Hower, Sarah Hugger Fiess, & Jennifer Muirhead

I-Term is an annual project undertaken by all students at Tech Valley High School, building in scope and complexity over a period of four years. This program offers students the opportunity to explore and experience career choices that align with their passions. Students explore how to combine their passions, talents and skills into an economically viable career that the world needs.

Lana Hower has master’s and bachelor’s degree from the New School for Social Research and an MPA from New York University. She joined Tech Valley High School in 2009 and has been president of Tech Valley High School Association since 2012. Hower previously worked at the University Heights High School in the Bronx where she taught English through project-based learning.

Sarah Hugger Fiess has served at Tech Valley HS since 2016 as the coordinator of School Outreach and Data Analysis. Feiss holds degrees from The College of New Jersey and Teachers College at Columbia University. Fiess taught

English, social studies, and gifted and talented programs; and currently serves as the affiliate director for New York Future Problem Solving.

Jennifer Muirhead is a visual arts teacher and I-Term business liaison at Tech Valley HS. A member of the Tech Valley High School Association, she has been teaching at Tech Valley since 2014. Muirhead works with a variety of business partners to set up enriching experiences for students during I-Term, project partnerships and senior projects. Muirhead holds a B.A. in Art History from SUNY Purchase and an M.A.T. in Art Education from Sage Graduate School.

One-Room Schoolhouse: A Multi-age, Project-Based Summer Program

by Monica Baker

“Ms. Baker, how long until summer school?” At Webutuck Central School District, it’s a question asked frequently throughout the regular school year — as early as September! For the past 17 years, students in this Hudson Valley district have attended a unique, multi-age, interdisciplinary, student-centered and theme-based summer school program.

Monica Baker is president of the New York State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and a National Board Certified ENL teacher in upstate New York. She is the executive vice president of the Webutuck TA, as well as an instructor with NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust. Baker is a passionate advocate for multilingual students and their families.

Project-Based Learning: A Call for Authenticity

by Amber Chandler

Educators are seeking answers about how to re-engage with students following the COVID-19- imposed remote learning, and project-based learning is a potential solution. Rather than just looking for gaps in learning, PBL allows educators to use practical strategies for assessment, personalizing education and addressing standards in a forward-moving manner. This author shares how to incorporate social and emotional learning into project- based activities, creating a blueprint for building back better.

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified Teacher, author of The Flexible ELA Classroom and The Flexible SEL Classroom for Routledge Eye on Education. Chandler teaches eighth grade ELA. She is the president of the Frontier Central Teachers Association, and a partner with the American Federation of Teachers’ Share My Lesson website. She is an adjunct professor at Canisius College for their Master’s in Differentiation program. In 2018, Chandler was named Educator of the Year by the Association of Middle Level Educators.

A Journey Toward Teaching and Learning through Inquiry

by Lydia Williams

While inquiry and project-based learning may not be novel concepts to the field of education, their presence in our post-pandemic society is no longer an option but rather a non-negotiable necessity. As questions and challenges continue to arise and we enter our second full academic year since the outbreak, adopting an inquiry- based perspective and pedagogical approach will offer the key to discovering solutions that lead to a brighter future for all.

Lydia Williams, Ed.D., is an elementary school educator of 16 years within high needs school districts in New York City and Long Island. Since 2018, Williams has worked as the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme coordinator in Hempstead, NY. She earned a doctorate in Learning and Teaching from Hofstra University and serves as an ambassador for Black Women PhDs, a digital network that supports Black women in all phases of their journey toward earning a doctoral degree and beyond. A native of South Jamaica, Queens, Williams is passionate about advancing the lives of children and families in Black and Brown communities though education, representation and equitable opportunities.

Learning to Use Reflective Practices with the Design-A-School Project

by Madeline Craig, Patricia N. Eckardt, Katelynn DeLuca, & Cynthia Eaton

Higher education students use course content to build and present ideas for a new school in response to the essential question: “How can we improve schools to better meet the needs of a diverse population of 21st century learners?”

Madeline Craig is an assistant professor of education and the Dual-Degree Program coordinator at Molloy College in New York. She holds an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an MFA from Adelphi University. Her research focuses on the use of instructional technology in higher education and K-12, project-based learning, improving students’ writing skills, and technology integration for teacher candidates and faculty.

Patricia N. Eckardt is an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in New York. She holds a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Learning and an MST from Fordham University. In 2012, she co-founded an independent early childhood through eighth-grade school grounded in project-based learning and interdisciplinary studies. Her areas of interest are literacy, cognition and dyslexia.

Katelynn DeLuca is a UUP member and an assistant professor of English composition at Farmingdale State College (SUNY) where she teaches freshman composition, technical writing and multimodal composition. She earned her Ph.D. in English/composition from St. John’s University and her master’s in English from Stony Brook University. DeLuca’s scholarship focuses on the intersections of class, identity, and the writing classroom, advocating for genuine representation of working-class culture within the academy and the prevention of erasure of working-class identities in the writing classroom.

Cynthia Eaton is a member of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College. She has a master’s degree in English/composition from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is a professor of English at Suffolk Community College. She teaches a humanities-based gender course as well as literature and writing courses that focus on logical argumentation and media literacy. Her approach is defined by a commitment to working with and helping others by balancing teaching, research, and college and community activism. Her research interests focus on composition, distance education and unionism.

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