Posted in Education, Teaching

Getting Students to Solve Their Own Problems

In school, whenever I couldn’t do something, I asked the teacher for help.  “I don’t know what to do,” I would often say to my teachers.  They would then help and give me the answer.  So, naturally, I learned to lean on my teachers for guidance.  I rarely solved my own problems because of this.  My teachers were my helpers and problem solvers.  Even in college, I asked for help around every turn.  While asking for assistance isn’t a fault, it can quickly become one if that is your method of accomplishing tasks.  As an adult, it took me many years to learn how to solve problems on my own.  Only in the past ten years have I tried to figure things out on my own.  I wish I hadn’t learned how to lean on others for help.  I wish I had learned to solve my own problems, growing up.

So, as a teacher, I’ve worked very hard to foster a culture of self-help in the classroom.  I want the students to learn how to solve problems for themselves.  I want them to figure things out first before I jump in and help guide them.  Now, of course we know that some problems can’t be solved alone without help.  But, instead of having the students seek help from us right away, we’ve taken a different approach.  We have a rule in the sixth grade classroom, you must ask two peers for help regarding a question before you can ask the teacher.  This way, they start to learn how to solve their own problems first.  Then, if they encounter an issue that they can’t figure out on their own, they learn to use their peers as resources.  Not only do the students learn to become creative problem solvers, but they also grow together as a community of learners.  They learn to help and seek help from others.  They become the resources in the room instead of the teacher.  This method has helped tremendously over the past few years.  The seventh grade team reported to us last year that the students we had in sixth grade, were much more self-reliant than ever before.  They could solve problems on their own instead of immediately asking the teacher for help.  It’s working!

This year, is no exception.  Though it takes time to build this type of culture in the classroom, we have already seen the benefits in three short weeks.  It’s awesome.  Today, for example, students were solving their own problems in STEM class.  The students are using the website CodeCombat to learn computer coding.  It’s an amazing resource.  The boys are really enjoying it.  It’s engaging and fun for them.  They’re also learning a lot too.  Today, we began STEM class with CodeCombat time.  They spent about 15 minutes on the website.  As my co-teacher and I walked around the classroom, monitoring the progress of our students, we saw them working independently, asking each other for help when necessary.  When a student did have a challenging question that his peers couldn’t answer, he did seek help from us.  As I had him explain the problem to me, I tried to figure out what the issue was.  I had him reread the hints section again.  As he did this, he realized the mistake he was making and solved his own problem.  I did nothing more than have him take another look at the help resource on the website.  I didn’t give him an answer.  I wanted him to figure it out, and he did.  Later in the period, another student asked for help while I was working with someone else.  By the time I got to him, he had already solved his own problem.  Amazing!  The boys are figuring things out because they want to be successful.

Clearly, our method to promote self-help, the formation of problem solving skills, and build community within the classroom is working.  The students are learning to solve their own problems or ask their peers for guidance.  My co-teacher and I take a backseat during work periods.  It’s great.  We observe and occasionally ask the students questions.  We have created a student-centered classroom.  It’s so much more fun than having to drive the class with teacher talk constantly.  As the students learn to solve their own problems, they grow and develop as learners and thinkers.  I’m confident that my students will go onto do great things to change the world and make it a better place because they are always looking to solve problems and find answers.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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