As a teacher we are in the unique position to see students really start to become themselves. This can be both a blessing and a curse as it is fascinating to see them develop as individuals, but it can be very trying on your patience and nerves to see them struggle there way through awkward or difficult situations.
The thing is, problem solving is problem solving. The same set of skills that will help a student solve a difficult, multi-step math problem will also help them to work their way through a hard situation with a peer or family member.
Unfortunately, most students are not born problem solvers and need some help along the way, but with a few simple ideas practiced in a concrete and meaningful way, they will be set for life!
Model Problem Solving
In my opinion, modeling problem solving can be the single most important strategy. It is absolutely vital for students to see how adults work through problems in a healthy way. Don't be afraid to point out when you are having a tough time with something and how you are playing on helping to make it better.
When a student comes to you with a problem gather all of the students involved and lead them in working it out. So many times social situations arise from a misunderstanding, and by modeling how to talk it out with your students they will gain a valuable life skill.
Break It Apart
I don't know about you, but even as an adult sometimes I encounter a problem that just seems unsurmountable. I mean, I would rather hide under the covers and eat chocolate than have to deal with it kind of problem. Unfortunately this is life, and it is important for us to learn how to break a problem down into pieces that can be dealt with.
Showing a student how to think about a situation and break it down into easy to do parts can be a real game changer. Perseverance is a major key in problem solving, and it is a ton easier to stick with smaller parts of a problem, academic or otherwise, than it is with a huge problem.
Show Your Thinking
We all make mistakes and face issues on a daily basis. Instead of trying to cover up your mistakes embrace them and treat them as a teachable moment. When you encounter a problem in the classroom talk about how it could be the end of the world. I like to really play this one up, I mean, we are kind of actors right? Then have a "light bulb moment" in which you realize that you can conquer this problem and talk out the steps you take to work your way through it.
It may seem silly, but it makes a big impact.
This one is a little trickier to help students with, but it again, is an important life skill. (Is that a pattern?) Especially in social situations it is vital to recognize patterns that you see in others or yourself for that matter.
When you are able to recognize these patterns you can adjust your own behavior to cope with or overcome the patterns. For example, if every day your students play tag at recess, but every day someone gets hurt because of tagging too hard you can help students identify the situation in which the problem is happening and brainstorm solutions for the problem.
Write It Out
I am a HUGE fan of lists. I use lists in every single area of my life. Basically I don't know what to do without a list, and I have always shared this strategy with students. By listing the steps you need to solve a problem you demystify the process and put it into such a concrete form that it almost always makes it instantly more manageable.
What strategies do you use to help students problem solve? Let me know in the comments below!
Want to Know More?
These books (affiliate links) have really helped me to think about problem solving in a different way.