Education Grad Co-Authors Book To Aid Teachers, Students

Method Aims To Improve Classroom Connections

December 14, 2022
A headshot of GSOE grad Kelley Miller
Kelley Miller

Touro’s Graduate School of Education alumni Kelley Miller recently co-authored a book, The Project Habit, along with Michael McDowell, which is meant to help students and teachers engage better in meaningful collaboration. 

We asked her a few questions about the book and what it can offer fellow teachers and here’s what she said: 

Can you explain what “The Project Habit” entails generally and, more specifically, what PBL is and how it applies to teaching?

Project Based Learning, or PBL, is a pedagogy that enables students to learn through real-world, practical application. For example, rather than shaping class time around chapter two of a textbook, PBL begins and ends by asking, “How do we apply this in the world around us? To whom or for whom could we present our learning? And how do we collaborate to make this even better?”

At its best, PBL teaches content that is relevant, engaging, and collaborative. However, decades of practice and research confirm that sometimes there’s a catch: teachers and students can get so caught up in their project that they bypass the fundamentals of what students need to learn in their grade level or content. Yes, we want classrooms centered around real-world application. But we also need to ensure that students grow more proficient in state standards each year.  In other words, we can’t get so fixated on a flashy presentation that we overlook students’ ability to read, write, and think mathematically.

The Project Habit is written for both seasoned practitioners and those who are new to PBL. We wrote it because overhauling unit plans to “fit” PBL can become overwhelming and lead to burnout.  In our book, we propose a set of habits that are based on research about how students learn best. These habits can be developed one at a time, or integrated together, so that developing PBL units becomes more doable for teachers.

How was this book made possible through what you learned with the IL program at Touro?

My passion about this topic was kindled during my experience in the Innovative Learning program at Touro. I developed my capstone around the question, “To what extent can students learn grade level standards through a PBL pedagogy?” The question arose from my own frustration as a teacher; my students and I loved PBL, but I worried they weren’t leaving my language arts classroom with much growth as readers and writers. My time in the IL program gave me the opportunity to put both PBL and common core standards under the microscope with my own students. My co-author, Michael McDowell, wrote a book around that time titled Rigorous PBL by Design. I shared how his work influenced my research and my capstone, and we have been working together ever since.

How has the landscape of teaching (for teachers) changed in the last 10-15 years and are you hoping a book like this can help retain teachers and attract more to the profession?

I feel like ten years ago, we kept talking about how the landscape of teaching and learning had changed so dramatically. Now, a decade later, it’s changed even moreso. Students of all ages have nearly unlimited access to information; there’s very little they can’t simply look up on their own. So, our work as teachers is to help students think critically about the information they encounter and make sense of it. Surface level learning is widely available, but helping learners to make deep connections and apply their knowledge is the real work for teachers. We make it a point in our book to press the importance of surface, deep, and transfer (applicable) learning.

Something else we have seen in recent years is students’ insistence on answering the question, “But why does this matter?” I hope our book will help frame practical ways for teachers to incorporate meaningful learning experiences in ways that are straightforward and manageable.