Skill building, structured, routine and direct instruction are the foundation of the instruction I provide. My students flourish in structure, in the routine and the predictable. They excel because of the strong focus on student skills and consistent presence of tools to enable them to compensate for their weaknesses. I spend everyday establishing routines, making my class predictable, working on student skills, building academic skills and teaching/training them to use technology to enhance their learning, help them compensate for their weaknesses and access to information. I am excited for the moment when my students are ready to put down the books and start applying all of these skills to a project.
I came up with a project I knew they would love. I gave a detailed expectation, the project requirements, shared the grading rubric and I taught them how to use app I wanted them to use to produce the final product with (we even practiced using it). I was certain that they would be able to independently make a great final product and finish feeling very successful about what they had created!
I handed out the iPads and sat in the front of the room ready to watch and relish in my teacher glory the awesomeness that I had set up for them to experience and feel about themselves.
One hand went up. Then another. The questions started. One after another, after another. How could this be? I gave them all the tools. I had prepared them. By the time the bell rang I slumped into my chair exhausted, defeated and wondering what the heck just happened!
As I drove home that day I couldn’t help but think about that lesson what had gone so not the way I had expected. How, what I thought was perfectly prepared lesson, a lesson I thought would empower them, enable them to be independent …how could it not have gone perfectly? Then it hit me. The one thing….the one part I had failed to remember. The part I had forgotten was that no matter how much I planned. No matter how much I structured, organized, added visuals to things…it is still new. This project had nothing to do with the project and everything to do with problem-solving. This project wasn’t about creating a product but instead was about practicing and applying problem solving skills…this project was about them taking their problem solving skills to a whole new level!
So I decided it was time to take a new approach.
The next morning I talked to the other teachers on my team. I worked through with them the behaviors and skills I wanted my students to be using. We thought and talked and worked through what the next level of problem solving would be.
As the class started that day I began it sharing with my students my thoughts and feeling about how I felt yesterday went. I told them the problem I was faced with. I shared with them what I learned. Then I told them how proud I was of them and their problem solving skills. I told them they were doing such a great job, they were ready for the next level of problem solving.
By the time the project was over my once basic problem solvers had practiced and began to master this new level of problem solving. By the time the project was over I had learned two things about problem-solving. One, within the very routine and structured classroom I run, I will forever include lessons throughout the year that intentionally put them in a position to test and stretch their problem solving skills. Two, that the ability to problem solve…the ability to communicate what their problem is and articulate what they need with others is by far the most important, powerful and empowering skill I can teach my students!