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Inspiring Excellence Part 1: Overview

The Inspiring Excellence Series is a set of six videos that document a learning expedition—an extended interdisciplinary study—involving second-grade students in Jenna Gampel’s class at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, MA, investigating the topic of snakes. The videos celebrate a powerful confluence of exciting original research that includes fieldwork and experts, artistic skill and critique, and sharp Common Core literacy practices in reading for and writing with evidence. The quality of the resulting work is remarkable.

This video series accompanies the book Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work That Matters.


- [Woman] What were you wondering about us makes nose? Does it have a nose?

- [Boy] You don’t see it.

- No, but it has like a pit.

- Yeah, a heat pit.

- [Narrator] Creating works of excellence starts with inspiring students.

- Welcome to the second grade expedition celebration. Today, we are celebrating months of hard work, and are premiering our e-book, Slithering Snake Stories.

- [Narrator] High quality reading, writing, and speaking, happen when kids feel passion and purpose for their studies. In second grade, at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts, students research snakes for their study called, Don’t be Scared: the Truth About Snakes.

- Look at her tail, what did you notice about her tail? Isaac.

- It’s round and short.

- [Narrator] When student learning results in high quality products, there’s a deeper level of effort and engagement. In prior years, studies of snakes culminated in books, posters, and a music video viewed by over 40,000 people. ♪ Snakes are born this way ♪

- This year we decided to create an audio e-book called, Slithering Snake Stories. Each student authored their own page in the book, featuring a unique snake. They’re a narrative, non-fiction story full of scientific facts with a scientifically accurate illustrations of the snake.

- Critique after critique, finally our snakes began to look scientifically accurate!

- I believe that creating beautiful and complex work is the most powerful thing you can do with students. It transforms their sense of who they are, as scholars, and as people. It’s what inspires them to take on challenge. Challenge like the common core or beyond. It’s what motivates them to dig deep and create something of value.

- [Narrator] As an El Sistema school, Conservatory Lab has an active music program for all students. The class was able to record music to accompany their stories.

- [Child] In the spring, a mother coral snake laid her eggs and left them.

- [Narrator] They conducted field work at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to learn about snakes and their survival adaptations. But the deepest work that the class did, was learning how scientists and non-fiction authors study their subjects and share their findings in ways that engage and inform their audience. Students learn to read and write with evidence to create works of beauty and quality. We’ve highlighted their journey in a series of short linked videos. Building Motivation and Skill through Whole-Class Research, Building Motivation and Skill through Independent Research, Using Models and Critiques to Create Works of Quality, Reading to Get Ready to Write, and Writing and Speaking with Power.

- The babies will probably hunt right away. Boa constrictor goes to sleep with his eyes open in the Brazilian rainforest.

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