Given the chance to brainstorm a new project for her eighth grade English class, veteran teacher Michelle Devine was eager to cover areas that were challenges or often overlooked: a non-fiction novel rather than fiction, contemporary rather than classic, assignments stressing skills that could use extra work and time — identifying the central idea or theme of a piece, citing evidence, building vocabulary.

The project could cover global learning through a subject on another continent. It could build speaking skills through a final group presentation rather than a paper-and-pencil test.

The ambitions behind the lesson went further: Devine created the goals, assignments, and exams in collaboration with two other teachers from other school districts also seeking to upgrade student work and understanding (continued)…

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