Using PBL to Support an Inclusive Classroom Community

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an engaging method of teaching that prepares students for life beyond the classroom. In our current social climate, it is more important than ever for students to investigate their own personal and social identities. Inquiry and reflection are the heartbeat of PBL. Through this process, teachers can promote student independence, growth and collaboration. 

I encourage educators to integrate and layer questions around identity to further engage students in the tasks and product development. Identity is a cornerstone of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Knowing who you are in relation to your community is important and valuable work that will help build the foundation of an inclusive community. Students’ identity and real world experience will affect how students engage with a PBL task individually and as a classroom community.

How can we give students the language to talk about their identity? 

Learning for Justice provides a Framework for Anti-bias Education. The framework includes Social Justice Standards which serve as a roadmap for anti-bias education and are divided into 4 categories: identity, diversity, justice and action. Each category has its own set of  Anchor Standards; below are the Anchor Standards for the identity category:

  1. Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.
  2. Students will develop language and historical and cultural knowledge that affirm and accurately describe their membership in multiple identity groups.
  3.  Students will recognize that people’s multiple identities interact and create unique and complex individuals.
  4. Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.
  5. Students will recognize traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate their own identity in multiple spaces.

These identity standards can be integrated into Project Based Learning tasks and will help students build a positive sense of self, expand their social awareness in an effort to create a more open-minded and inclusive community — one that celebrates diversity. 

There is a lot to unpack in these identity standards, so in this post I am going to focus on standards 1 and 4 and how they connect to Project Based Learning. 

Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Project based learning can help students think critically about their own identity and intersectionality. One of the gold standards of PBL is voice and choice. We want projects to be meaningful for students. If a student is learning about different holidays, being an online store owner or dietician, how can they view this role through the lens of their own race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion and ability. As educators we can encourage students to choose a product that is meaningful to them - something that helps them develop a positive social identity. For example if they are designing merchandise for an online store, the product will mirror parts of their identity and impact others who belong to that social group, their audience. 

Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.

Building in these identity standards allows teachers to build a classroom community where all students are valued. Project Based Learning encourages students to share and present their ideas to their peers. The public product is a great opportunity for students to share aspects of their identity. For the Defined Learning task Holidays, students are asked to present about a family holiday. This is a great opportunity to engage students in conversation around religions and non-religious world views. As students present and share their holiday traditions, the class discussion can focus on religion through the lens of understanding, awareness and tolerance. The goal of these shares should be to inform students about the many religious and non-religious identities.

Weaving these identity standards into Project Based Learning will allow students to further reflect on their own identity and create windows into someone else’s experience.


About the Author: 

Page Syvertsen is a first grade teacher in Chicago and part-time content writer for Defined Learning. She has taught K-3 students in both a private and public school setting. Currently, Page serves on the STEAM Team and is passionate about integrating STEAM in her classroom. She is committed to ABAR education and uses the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Framework.

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