How do we prepare the nation’s youth to think critically, engage in action research, cultivate innovative ideas, and become change agents in their communities? We do so by reimagining how literacy (traditional and digital) is taught in schools. We push the boundaries of what’s possible within the four domains (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) by embracing and acknowledging diverse student interests across the disciplines. We orient students to consider and study the impact of equity, social justice, and inclusion (ESJI) on topics ranging from food and fashion to sports and entertainment, from social media to social unrest. We address the current literacy crisis in marginalized communities by intriguing students with high interest topics and transformative pedagogies that inspire and motivate students. We can achieve all of this and more through project-based learning. And yet, when we observe “balanced literacy” models in districts and schools, PBL is often excluded from the balance.

How do we target the strongest predictors of student achievement? Research affirms that exposure to reading material and written responses are powerful determinants of literacy outcomes. What would happen if students engaged in a cycle of inquiry and investigation around topics of interest to them? What if the reading materials and written responses were discovered while researching an inspiring topic of interest? Is it possible for students to go deeper for conceptual knowledge as they read, analyze, discuss, write, collaborate, and process information in exciting, meaningful and digital ways? The latter sounds especially appealing for marginalized students who are too often excluded, misrepresented, and underrepresented in mainstream curriculum.    

Rote learning and rigid pacing plans do not produce independent learners and thinkers, neither do they cultivate curiosity and ingenuity. We must envision classrooms as dynamic spaces that transcend artificial constraints. What are these artificial constraints? Time – we have 180 school days, which is plenty of time to engage students in at least one cycle of PBL. Money – it doesn’t cost anything to conduct research on the Internet and motivate young minds to engage in PBL, especially around culturally relevant topics that appeal to students. How/Implementation – where this is ambition and action, there is a way. Management – collaborate with your colleagues, give students more autonomy, and assign groups/teams to work together on a PBL project – reduce the burden of controlling every aspect of student learning. Assessment – Reimagine how you grade and assess student learning, give room to grow and blossom. We need to invite learners to create, invent, explore, and problem solve the complex challenges of an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

This website is filled with practical strategies and steps for how to use PBL (+1 Pedagogy in particular) as a literacy tool. Imagine the possibilities of student learning outcomes if the universe was our limit. Imagine students beating statistical odds against their success. Imagine students researching, analyzing and writing about hip hop, anime, hot cheetos, candy, food, Jordans, video games, Tik Tok, Instagram, memes, climate change, Disneyland, theme parks, Avengers, Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime, movies, cell phones, ice cream, Covid, cars, princesses, friendship, pets, buying a car, buying a house, finances and debt, interest rates, stock market, colleges, careers, and the list goes on forever – any topic, in any discipline. This is how you reimagine and advance literacy in the classroom. Join me in maximizing the potential of our youth – join me in normalizing PBL for all students in all schools – join me in fostering a literate generation of youth who are excited, engaged, and empowered to learn and thrive.

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