Two Problem-Solving Approaches

Regularly instituting these two approaches in your classroom will build your students' problem-solving skills and create a more congenial classroom atmosphere.

The more regularly you use the ABCDE and Quick Thinking approaches described below, the more independent your students will become at solving their problems. These practices, if instituted regularly, can improve classroom climate and teach students skills that will benefit them inside and outside of school.

The ABCDE Approach

The ABCDE approach, developed by William Kreidler, can be used as a regular method for addressing issues in the classroom. Try it as a weekly part of your schedule. Or, if you have community meetings already in place, use it to structure your meeting. If you implement it regularly, then your students can rely on it as a time to address their concerns. When issues arise in the classroom, remind the children that their problems can be brought up and considered during the regular meeting.

Ask the class to brainstorm a list of problems and then guide them through a process of choosing one to focus on. You may want to guide them to choose a problem that seems to involve the most people. Explain that if there is not time to talk about all of the issues, then the others will be discussed during the next meeting.

Then address the problem as follows:

Ask, What's the problem? Give the students a chance to talk about the problem and how it affects them.

Brainstorm solution. The guidelines for brainstorming are: Set a time limit of several minutes (3-5 minutes). Encourage the group to share lots of ideas. Record them on a chart or the white board. Don't discuss or judge any idea. The ideas don't need to be "realistic," sometimes even a "silly" idea has a germ of wisdom that can lead to a creative solution.

Choose one. Discuss the ideas. Talk about the consequences of trying out various ideas. Ask: Which have the best chance of working to solve the problem?

Do it! The only way you'll know for sure if it's a good idea is to try it. Set a time limit. It should be long enough to give the idea a good trial, short enough to limit the damage if the idea doesn't work.

Evaluate. When the time limit is up, which is usually in a few days or a week, meet to discuss how effective the idea was in addressing the problem. In some cases, you may need to explore the idea and change it a little to make it fully effective. In other cases, you may decide to go back to the list of possible solutions and try another one. If the idea worked, congratulations! Now you can move on other issues.


Quick Thinking: Standing Up Against Unfairness

Describe a problematic situation (like the ones below) to the class. Give the students, working in pairs, a minute or two to come up with an idea for addressing it the situation. When the time is up, the pairs share their idea with the group. The aim is to generate lots of ideas and get people thinking, not necessarily to come up with the "best" approach.

Explain that the students will generate ideas for stopping people from treating each other unfairly. Here are some possible situations that you might suggest for "quick thinking":

  • A group of boys is playing kickball. A girl asks to play and is told, "No! Girls aren't any good at basketball!
  • A boy is being teased because his hair is long. Other kids are teasing him saying, "He looks like a girl."
  • Two girls are close friends and the other kids start to teases them, saying, "You're gay."
  • A boy, who likes to read during recess and participates a lot in class, is teased by others who say, "He's a nerd!"
  • A new girl, who just emigrated from another country, brings lunch from home that is different from everyone else's lunch. The other kids tease her saying, "Ick! She's eats disgusting food!"

Afterwards, evaluate the workshop as a class. Ask students: What's one thing you learned in today's workshop? It's not easy to stop people when they're treating others unfairly. Can you see yourself using some of the ideas you came up with in "Quick Thinking"?



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Amy Martin is a teacher in the New York City public schools.