Ms. Switzer describes her approach as “project-based learning,” a phrase that is often invoked in progressive schools, which prioritize allowing students to follow their interests over direct instruction. Now, 14 years after retiring, Ms. Switzer is helping schools around the city, in a variety of neighborhoods, do what she did at P.S. 234.

In addition to traditional public schools, Ms. Switzer works with Success Academy, the charter school network whose mostly black and Hispanic students regularly best their peers at wealthier schools on the state standardized tests. Success Academy students do four- to six-week studies Ms. Switzer has helped design on topics like the Arctic, birds, the subway system, and the American Revolution. Adaptations of some of these units are available through the new online Success Academy Education Institute, where the network has posted its elementary school literacy curriculum.