PBL is Rooted in SEL | Tara Quigley | 6 Min Read

The primary reason I began to transition my Humanities classes to a Project-Based Learning program was to improve student engagement. I was struggling to keep my students motivated and working hard on the tasks at hand. With the implementation of a PBL classroom, students had more agency and purpose, leading to an increase in intrinsic motivation and engagement. What I didn’t realize until later was the important role SEL played in making my students much more successful. 

Shortly after I attended PBL World and began using PBL and Guided-Inquiry in my classes, I attended a workshop on the relationship between neuroscience and education. I read books such as Make it Stick, How We Learn, and Neuroteach, as well as designing, in collaboration with Six Seconds, two OESIS PD Pathways on Social Emotional Learning. I was surprised to discover, during all of this research, that student engagement (or Hot Cognition, as Six Seconds calls it) is a fundamental piece of the SEL equation and an integral part of making learning stick.  Having previously thought that SEL only concerned the “soft skills,” such as self-regulation and conflict-resolution we worked on in our advisory program, I had missed all of the important aspects of relationships, engagement, intrinsic motivation, and self-management that are foundational pieces of effective PBL work. Why is SEL an integral part of a PBL classroom in which competencies are scaffolded and explicit? Let’s take a look. 

Six Seconds talks about the importance of the Emotional Quotient (EQ), and scaffolds this concept into three different segments, identifying them as EQ for You, EQ Relationships, and EQ Classrooms. The work they have done which is most relevant to classrooms, and specifically the PBL classroom is, of course, EQ Classrooms. One of the most interesting ideas I have come across over the past few years is that a brain that is bored is a brain that is stressed. This has many implications for our work in the classroom, and gets at the concept of Hot Cognition that Anabel Jensen of Six Seconds talks about: “a highly activated brain state where optimal learning can occur.” By using practices such as those described in the document link above, “educators can improve retention and strengthen students’ ability to process information — and make learning a more positive experience for everyone involved.” We want our students to be fully present and engaged…

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Tara Quigley

Tara Quigley began her teaching career in 1991 and has been at Princeton Day School for 23 years. She currently teaches sixth grade Humanities, serves as Director of Miss Fine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and is the Middle School Technology Coordinator. She works for OESIS as the Director of Program Alignment, working with schools to build mission-aligned culture and program. Having begun her career as a Middle-School science teacher, Tara has always been interested in incorporating inquiry, questioning, and exploration in her classroom. She has also taught early-childhood science, fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade Humanities at Princeton Day School. In order to spark more engagement and intrinsic motivation in her classes, Tara began using Design Thinking, PBL, and inquiry in her Humanities classes to encourage student agency and allow for differentiation with Competency-Based Learning for feedback and assessment. Having seen great success with this approach, Tara frequently shares her process and experiences with her colleagues at PDS, national conferences, and peer schools. In 2014, Tara was appointed to the position of Director of Miss Fine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in which she has worked to educate and empower teachers to try new pedagogical practices and strategies, including: design thinking, PBL, Guided Inquiry Research, Visible Thinking Protocols, and teaching towards mastery of skills and competencies. In 2016, Tara was recognized as an OESIS Network Leader. And in 2020 she received the Intrepid Innovator Award.