Problem Solving is a Requirement for Children’s Real Learning!

Problem solving = real learning.
Problem solving. Discovery. Expressing ideas. Exploring. Constructing knowledge.

Young children, even very young children, need consistent opportunities to wrestle with age-appropriate challenges, conundrums, complications, obstacles, issues and “big fat botherations.”

Why?

BEWARE: Obvious answer ahead… because life is full of problems (always has been ~ always will be) and resisting them, complaining about them, or running away from them is just no way to live.

What kinds of problems do children need to solve?
Empathy cannot be forced or taught, but it can be evoked.
Does making kids share make them generous?

SHARING & INCLUDING, for starters:  Kids don’t always want to share. They don’t always want to include others, either… BUT kids do always want others to share with them, and they do always want to be included. How do we, their teachers, put those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites together?

ANSWER: We enable children to discover their own solutions by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking, together, in fresh ways (with fresh perspectives) about old familiar problems.

If we’re going to really succeed at supporting our students in resolving their own challenges, then we must view our role from a big-picture point of view, rather than attempting to implement immediate ‘fixes’ or behavior modifications. Kids need help with honestly exploring their own and others’ feelings about challenging situations that are oh-so-familiar.  Children need gentle *guidance (where to look, but not what to see) in order to understand that all kids in their group feel pretty much the same when it comes to sharing.   (*Guidance is best achieved with the right kinds of questions that invite kids, within peer group discussions, to safely express themselves and listen to each other, in a non-judgmental setting.)

The more kids learn and experience how much they genuinely share feelings and understanding, related to a variety of situations, the less alone/shy/isolated they’ll feel, and the stronger will be their sense of belonging to, and being part of, the group. Sharing is easier in that kind of environment. And if not sharing, then shared understanding about why “it’s just too hard to share that last cookie with someone else.” 

Sharing isn't always possible
Sharing isn’t always possible, but understanding each other is a big help.
Communication is key for real problem solving to occur.
Communication is key to problem solving for children.
Collaboration is an essential problem solving tool.

 

Ask Useful QUESTIONS. Really IMPORTANT.

There’s a world of difference between useful questions and useless questions.

What’s the difference? Useful questions help to focus attention on intended goals. Useless questions focus on the pain required to achieve those intended goals.

The illustration at the top of this article pretty clearly demonstrates how a useful question leads attention towards focusing on the long view for achieving intended goals. Focusing on the long view helps to keep attention away from immediate downsides and discomforts. When we help our students develop and maintain focus on the long view, we’re helping them to build growth mindset.

An unhelpful or even downright useless question focuses attention on short-term gains. And short term gains rarely, if ever, develop growth mindset.

Ask the right questions to get the right results.
USEFUL questions can help maintain attention on the long view for growth mindset.
It’s not just what we ask, but also HOW we ask …

When we ask one of these questions that we hope will help to develop growth mindset, let’s always remember that wordless communication has a significant effect. Can we ask useful questions with genuine respect? Can we ask useful questions with authentic openness to whatever answers the students have, so that openings are created for honest, 2-way discussions?

Whenever our students feel genuinely heard, like all human beings, they’re much more likely to also listen. (Maybe not right away, but if they get used to being heard -genuinely, with respect and undivided attention- they’ll be more open to genuinely, with respect and undivided attention, listening to others.)

IF & WHEN we ask useful questions with a true sense of positive expectation for the wisdom of our students, they will pick up on it. (Because, as you know and experience every day, we’re all picking up on each other’s unspoken signals, feelings and judgments, pretty much all the time. Right?!!)


A few more examples of USEFUL questions to help grow students’ growth mindset …
  • What do you think you might be missing?
  • What are some ways you could look at this in completely different ways?
  • Are you on the right track, but just missing a few pieces?
  • Would brainstorming with someone else help?
  • What do you think would hurt more: Giving up   OR    Making the extra effort to train your brain to eventually get it?

Conversation Starters to Grow GROWTH MINDSET

Sometimes kids (little ones and big ones) have resistance to our direct efforts to grow their growth mindset. That’s when questions that are actually conversation starters, can help.

Conversation implies all kinds of POSITIVES:     √ Respect for students’ perspective and problem solving abilities    √ Interest in what they think and feel and deal with     √ Engagement with their values, their priorities     √ Trust in students’ intentions     √ Listening, really listening

Listening is most important

When kids receive quality attention, on a regular basis, to express themselves – especially with regard to their challenges – they get to directly experience that they matter. When they feel that all-important sense of mattering, then the effort it takes to overcome challenges is much more likely to matter, too.

Of course, listening to endless, random complaints and whining doesn’t have much value for anyone.

Complain - meh! Problem solve - YEAH!
Complaining is very different from intentional problem solving.

But respectful conversations that start with respectful questions … now that’s a different story.  Try it, and let us know how it goes. We’d LOVE to hear your experiences.

 

Growth Mindset and the MAGIC WORD

Most teachers and parents understand that when we step in and solve children’s problems we’re not doing them any favors. Not really. Not in the long run. But when kids’ frustration builds and they get close to quitting, sometimes it just feels easier to get everyone (including us) past obstacles and into solution territory.

Rather than solving kids’ problems, if we’re truly committed to preparing them for a lifetime of challenges (problem-solving opportunities), we should commit to helping them build growth mindsets.

There are many ways to encourage growth mindset. Unfortunately, there are also many ways to discourage growth mindset.

To make sure we are doing all the right things to encourage perseverance in our students, our children, and even ourselves – let’s get clear on what growth mindset is.  According to psychologist, Carol Dweck who popularized the term in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people [of any and all ages] with growth mindset …

“… believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

How do we nurture kids’ perseverance? Well, we could follow Yoda’s approach by being really good examples – which, of course, is never a bad idea. Check out this video:

Yoda's instruction to Luke Skywalker, interpreted through the lens of GROWTH MINDSET.
Yoda’s instruction to Luke Skywalker, with a contemporary interpretation. (Thanks to Linda Lewis)
We should definitely avoid these common mistakes
  1. Praising effort alone: “Great effort” has become the consolation prize for children who aren’t actually learning. In other words, “Great effort” translates to “ineffective effort,” which sends the totally wrong message.
  2. “Try harder” is more empty feedback.
  3. “You can do anything” does not magically make it so. Students need knowledge, skills, strategies, and resources to solve their problems.
  4. “You’re so intelligent” and “You’re so smart” are actually counter-productive messages. (Many teachers have known this for decades, and instead use more specific statements: “You really stuck with that math problem until you figured it out. Wow.”)
  5. Scolding and shaming for not persevering and learning effectively. OUCH.

Excerpted from Edutopia article by Carol Dweck

So … what’s so magic about the word “YET” when seeking to nurture growth mindset?

It’s not just what we say … it’s how we say it.

“Yet,” when spoken with genuine respect for effort, can lighten the crushing effects of accumulated frustration. Acknowledgement of effort – when it’s REAL, rather than empty, consolation prize praise – helps to keep minds + attitudes open for learning new strategies.

Hard work is still ahead. “YET” provides a ray of hopeful sunshine to keep on keeping on.

Being "seen" when making an honest effort helps to neutralize frustration.
“YET” is a magic word, but only if we say it with genuine acknowledgement of observed effort.