The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Applying Problem Solving Skills

I’ve been writing about the different problem solving skills that my students have been learning in math most of this week. But today I have been thinking about a different kind of problem solving: social problems. My students are young children, still learning how to navigate this crazy world of ours. Many have gone to school with each other for several years, but others have only been a part of this peer group for a few months. Regardless of the length of time they have been together, though, they are still learning how to interact with one another appropriately. As their teacher, it is my responsibility to teach them not just the “three r’s” of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, and not just those things along with science, social studies, and health, but also how to interact.

One of their biggest challenges is learning how to respond to problems of different degrees of severity. Our building uses a tool with the students called “Stop, Walk, Talk, Fix It” that helps with many of the problems they encounter on a daily basis. The goal is for all of the children in our school to this method a s positive, healthy way to avoid serious conflicts through self-empowerment. But sometimes a student will come to me with a problem that, from my perspective and experience is not really that big of a deal.

For example, imagine two students are sitting at their desk. One student is loosely holding a piece of paper. Another, thinking it is for them, takes it and uses it. The first student comes to me to report that the second took his paper from him. I immediately investigate and call the other student over. It turns out that the second thought the first was handing her the paper. Whether or not this was actually the case is, for the purpose of this example, immaterial. The only piece of information that are relevant are what  was said, what was done, and how it was perceived by whom.

In reality, this event is very much in the category of Not a Big Deal. The first student can easily get a new piece of paper. But I have many students who come to me with this kind of problem. Rather than solving it for them, though, first I guide them through the steps to figure out what kind of problem it is. Then I guide them through steps to resolve it in a way that is safe, fair, and acceptable to all parties. My hope is that my students will learn how to accept the things that are Not a Big Deal and focus their energy on changing Big Deal issues. It is an ongoing process, but I think we are getting closer to this goal!

[NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this post! With a bajillion things to do after school today, I didn’t get home until very late!]


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