The Reflective Educator

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Let them solve the problem

Arts week poster

When I came in this morning to school, the poster in the photo above had fallen down. I noticed it, and thought to myself, "I should fix that." I went and dropped off my stuff, and when I came back to the poster, one of our students was standing there staring at the poster. He said to me, "It looks like the poster came undone here," and he pointed to a spot on the back of the poster. "I’m going to fix it," he said.

"Do you need any help?" I responded.

"Nah, I can do it. Thanks anyway," he said.

Later that morning, the student said "It’s a bit crooked, but it’s up." "It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit crooked," I replied, "The most important thing is that it’s up."

I could have stepped in and solved this problem for my student, but then he wouldn’t have learned how to solve it himself. "Be less helpful," says Dan Meyer of the math class, but of course the same is true all over the place in education. The objective isn’t to show students how to solve problems, our objective is for students to learn how to solve problems. Sometimes our role is to stand back and let students solve problems for themselves. Will they always come back with the "perfect" solution? Probably not, but they will have learned more in the process.

Update: 

Sign fallen down again

So it turns out the solution the student tried didn’t work. When I talked to him, he pointed out the flaw in his solution, and suggested a solution. In other words, the problem he solved gave him feedback directly as to whether or not his solution worked.

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