Social and Emotional Learning Applications Through PBL

Through project-based learning (PBL) and the use of real-world performance tasks tied to social challenges, students have the opportunity to apply competencies associated with social and emotional learning. In a previous blog post, I shared five aspects of the PBL process and how it encourages deeper learning and the application of 21st-century skills and workforce readiness. These aspects are closely aligned with the five core competencies for SEL; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Let’s examine the PBL process from an SEL vantage point:

Planning: This is the first part of the PBL process. This is the time to determine the task to be completed including the goal, the role of the students, and the audience that they will be addressing with their project(s) and solution. This is a great opportunity to incorporate social awareness and responsible decision making through the task development process. Topics selected should provide students with the chance to take diverse perspectives while respecting others. These ideas can be reinforced as students analyze the situations and use ethical responsibility as part of the problem solving, evaluating, and reflecting processes.

Grouping and Collaboration: The process of PBL strongly encourages students to be working in groups. Through the group process, educators have the opportunity for students to work on their self-awareness. To be a successful member of the group they will need to gain self-confidence and understanding of their strengths. Self-management and relationship skills will be applied to all aspects of the group processes as all members of the group work to build their trust and their relationship through communication, respect, and teamwork. The more the group gets along the more they will support each other.

Research Question Development and the Research: Based upon the task provided, teachers will need to decide whether to provide driving questions, support the development of the questions, or have students collaboratively create the questions. It will be important for the students to understand why the questions were selected and how they contribute to the task, the audience, and the product. The students will need to work collaboratively to conduct the research. If possible, and to promote their organizational skills, the research should be split with all members having some responsibility. This strategy will require students to bring knowledge back to the group for sharing. The experience will promote active listening of the findings. Students will need to find common ground as they explore various solutions with the possibility of opposing perspectives on how to move forward.

Ongoing Formative Assessment: As the students work through all parts of the task, it will be important for teachers to continually evaluate student application of core competencies. Self-reflection for the students will be important as they continually evaluate their work, research, and products. Based upon the students, this could also be an excellent time to incorporate peer reflection to help students understand how to communicate their perspectives and perhaps identify personal and group goals throughout the processes.

Product Creation: The products created will reinforce student understanding of social awareness and responsible decision-making based on the needs of the audience and potentially the community. Students will need to understand that the first version of a product is often the first draft. To succeed, they will need to reflect upon what has been created and the potential challenges to make the products better. They will need to be self-motivated and to work together as a team, understanding that by collaborating their opportunity for success is greatly enhanced.

Given the strong evidence that social and emotional learning can contribute to academic success, it’s important that SEL skills are reinforced in the classroom. The PBL process provides opportunities for educators to incorporate SEL competencies in their curriculum. Through the use of real-world performance tasks tied to social challenges, students have the opportunity to apply the five key SEL competencies and become more successful in school. These experiences will serve students well as they enter the world beyond school and deal with a variety of people and situations.


About the Author:

Dr. David L. Reese serves as Chief Academic Officer for Defined Learning. During the past twenty years, Dr. Reese has served K-12 students as a science teacher, Curriculum Specialist, and Central Office Administrator. He has taught Masters and Doctoral courses in all areas of curriculum and professional development leadership. His work focuses on providing students with engaging, relevant learning opportunities designed to encourage students to apply content from a local, national and international perspective.


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