I was asked to spend two days in an elementary school observing teachers and students practicing problem solving. I observed and conferenced with the instructional coach and administration focusing on ways to support continued problem solving in instruction.
In a faculty meeting at the end of my visit I presented the following guidelines for use in coaching individual teaches and grade level or vertical teams:
When selecting problems for students consider….
What do I want the students to do or experience from their work with the problem?
What do I want happening inside their heads?
Does the problem need to be modified to increase the odds of producing the desired student actions?
I showed the TED video by Dan Meyer: Math Class Needs a Makeover to illustrate what makes good problems for students to tackle. (If you haven’t seen this, take a look.)
What facilitation on my part as a teacher will increase the likelihood of getting the student action I want?
Should students work individually, in pairs or groups? (I observed that many teachers had students in pairs seeking to increase dialogue , however they often had each student supplied with their own manipulatives and doing individual recording which decreased the need for discussion.)
What might I need to pre-teach or review before starting the problem?
What scaffolding may some students need to engage in the problem solving thinking?
Should I have additional background information available but not provide it until the students ask?
As students work what will I want to be observing or asking to identify if the problem is producing the desired student actions?
When students get stuck, what will be the right “feedforward” that increases their perseverance without decreasing problem solving effort?
How do I know when to “wait” or “walkway” in my facilitation?
Debriefing: What did I learn observing the students? This is an important assessment opportunity for teachers. If students are bringing previous learning into their work, it is likely that they have grasped those concepts. Often misconceptions become obvious during problem solving. As students debrief their work with the teacher and each other, it is powerful to explore all the possible approaches and solutions. Students and teachers often gain insights from hearing the thinking of others.
Next problem: Considering what I learned about students in this activity, what do I want to look for in my next problem?
How do I build problem solving confidence and perseverance?
How do I stretch and challenge each student?