Thursday, September 25, 2008

Problem Solving

I've long been advocating for more problem-solving, cross-cultural communications and team work in the English/language arts classroom. Nancy Atwell put it beautifully: "Problems make the best curriculum." She echoes Dewey, Freire and Montessori here in recognizing that experience is the best teacher. As best I can in the context of the Juvenile Detention Home (security is always a factor of course), I try to build team problem solving and an awareness of (mis)communication and culture into my lessons.

Just a few days ago, I posed what seems like it should have been a simple enough problem: the kids were to line up in order from youngest to oldest--silently. They could not speak during the game; of course this forced them to cooperate and communicate in a variety of other ways. A breakthrough occurred in at least two units where it dawned on one student that they could use my whiteboard. The leading students wrote their birthdays up and other students soon caught on, allowing them to all line up in order, without having ever said a word. When we debriefed, I praised the use of alternative strategies and resources. I will continue to advocate for such goals being viewed as a valid aspect of any Language Arts/English classroom. Problem solving is critical to any aspect of life, and if communicating clearly and effectively isn't a "language art", I don't know what is.

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