This story appeared in the November 2017 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine. Click here for link.
Emotions have a profound impact on our memory and our learning. In his book, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen asserts, “mind and emotions are not separate; emotions, thinking and learning are all linked”.
The project aimed to give students an opportunity to develop their social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, such as empathy, self-awareness and social awareness.
According to the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, it is essential that schools promote SEL as a way of increasing both academic engagement and improving mental health.
When students discovered that they would be partnered with a resident to interview, there were mixed emotions – predominantly, excitement and fear.
According to Jensen, “for most students, excitement is halfway between something that’s fun and something that’s scary”.
Some students said that an enjoyable part of this project was simply the sense of fun and connection they experienced as a class on the bus rides to the centre, or a cuppa with their interview partner.
For others, the uncertainty of the situation was confronting: “Once we arrived at the centre, I felt scared and terrified,” one student reflected.
After a quick emotional “check in” with me, this particular student overcame her fear and proceeded to interview her partner.
Psychologist Ellen Langer says an advantage of PBL projects is that they “allow students the autonomy to control their learning and often expose students to ambiguity”.
As I observed the 22 interviews taking place, I felt a sense of pride and heightened emotional investment.
I thought, a lot could go wrong here! What if the students who can be a handful in the classroom suddenly act out here?
Then, I reminded myself that a PBL project, especially one in the public eye, requires a teacher to take risks and, just like the students, accept ambiguity.
Students were empowered by this project because they got to share in the creation of a professional product, which we gifted to the centre and to our school.
Importantly, they were given autonomy to develop SEL skills in a safe environment, the result being a more emotionally and academically engaged class.
One student loved “being able to speak with so many kind people and learn about their past, which is now solidified in a book for more people to learn”.
Through the collaborative process of this PBL project, and the explicit requirement for students to use SEL skills, the sense of belonging in our class was enhanced, and the students weren’t the only ones who benefited.