The Sweet Spot at AASL: Designing Common Core research projects at the high-school level

Don’t miss “Thinking and Writing Critically about Historical Fiction: A Common Core Approach” on Friday, November 15 at 3:15 PM in Marriott A. Marie Rossi, librarian extraordinaire, and 10th grade English teachers Theresa Lewis and Rosemarie Rizzo will deconstruct their cross-disciplinary genre study and research project at Ballston Spa School District. Download their presentation (PDF).

  • Learn insightful methods for designing your own cross-disciplinary team-taught projects.
  • See practical examples of how NoodleTools scaffolds the Common Core, and builds in support for cross-disciplinary collaboration and team-based research.

A Critical Analysis of Historical Accuracy in Fiction: A Cross-Disciplinary Investigation of Historical Fiction (with help from NoodleTools)

Marie Rossi, Theresa Lewis, and Rosemarie Rizzo
Ballston Spa School District, Ballston Spa, NY

Overview of the project scope, and fit to the Common Core:

We crafted an essential question to students about a literary work: Does the author of your historical novel accurately depict the historical time period in which it is set?

The question required the student to both analyze a historical novel, and carry out library research about a specific historical period. The students evaluated the accuracy and authenticity of their historical novel using multiple sources of information about the historical period (CC9-10WH/SS/S/TS8). The student research paper served as a critique of the historical accuracy and credibility of their novel, in which they addressed the question and demonstrated evidence of understanding the subject of investigation (CC9-10WH/SS/S/TS7).

Teaching sessions were booked in both the classroom and the library based on purpose and convenience. During co-teaching sessions, students were taught to select a richly-realized and appropriate historical novel and were coached through the process of researching a particular period in history, evaluating the claims and arguments they identified (CC9-10RH/SS6), and deciding whether the reasoning was valid and the supporting evidence was relevant and sufficient (CC9-10RH/SS8) in each informational text. They practiced analyzing literary themes, character development and conventions (CC9-10RH/SS4) in order to situate literary criticism within this historical critique.

This unit can be delivered in 15 days of direct instruction, thus meeting the Common Core definition of a mid-range sustained research project (CC9-10WH/SS/S/TS7). Depending on the nature of the investigation, students may require access to additional relevant electronic resources and needs-specific instructional support from both the teacher(s) and librarian.

How did NoodleTools support the historical fiction project? (CC9-10WH/SS/S/TS6)

NoodleTools enabled us to co-plan and develop a unique teaching unit. Students were then able to use the NoodleTools platform to collaborate at multiple points in the research process. Some of the NoodleTools features that supported the student learning experience were as follows:

  • To Do List
    • Students type in the nightly assignments and due dates and they are visible when they work in NoodleTools.
  • Drop box feature
    • Teacher/MLS can monitor the progress of students during the research process, thereby ensuring students’ understanding of both the research process and subject matter.
  • Note taking
    • Use of direct quotation field in note taking captures the author’s words, a proactive approach to both plagiarism and accurate quoting later
    • Paraphrase field encourages students to read closely (CC9-10WH/SS/S/TS8) and analyze what the text says explicitly as well as to draw inferences from the text (CC9-10RH/SS5)
  • Works cited feature/In-text citation feature (CC9-10RH/SS1)
    • Students often call these features “magic.” They are huge time-savers for teachers, as well, leaving more time for everyone to research, analysis, and reflection.

How does your project support your efforts to prepare high school students for life after graduation?

We intentionally designed this unit to meet both the Common Core State Standards and the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner requirements. The reading and study of the historical novel and analysis of the novel’s depiction of the historical time period will develop college and career ready skills identified in the ELA Common Core State Standards. In or cooperative plan, we delineated (in blue) specific standards that address college and career readiness. These are listed after each activity in the cooperative plan of instruction.

Source: New York State Education Department. (2011, January). New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English language arts and literacy. Retrieved from

About the educators:

Marie Rossi has worked for the Ballston Spa School District as a Library Media Specialist for 24 years in a number of the District’s schools. She is currently a teaching librarian at the District’s High School.

Theresa Lewis, an English teacher for over 20 years, has spent most of her tenure teaching a wide variety of traditional E.L.A. courses at Ballston Spa High School. In the fall of 2012 she began teaching at the District’s Early College High School in Malta, New York. There, as part of a trans-disciplinary team, she collaborates in a problem-based learning environment.

Rosemarie Rizzo was an English teacher for over 30 years. Since retiring in 2012, she has continued to work collaboratively with fellow educators, presenting at both State and National levels.

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