This is first in a series of blogs about how our baby-bathwater/forest-trees mentalities are making us crazy.
One of the ways students will be asked to demonstrate mastery of common core standards is to “think critically (and creatively) to solve problems. This has caused me to look at how textbooks and other resources are teaching problem solving. In one 4th grade textbook I was reviewing, in every lesson a different problem solving method was presented, but the problem solving strategies were only for those students who “were still having trouble” solving the problems intuitively.
How we solve problems and answer questions is not a mystery. We solve problems using the scientific method:
Step 1: We ask a question.
Step 2: We research what is already known about the topic.
Step 3: We develop a hypothesis.
Step 4: We test the hypothesis.
Step 5: We evaluate the results.
This is the method we should be teaching and modeling for all students.
The most important step in the process, the most neglected step in classrooms, is the second step. Deep knowledge in a topic is a great time saver because it allows us to eliminate all the incorrect answers to our question. Deep knowledge helps us to more accurately interpret what we see.
With the scientific method in mind, let’s start by getting rid of KWL charts. (If you are not familiar with KWL Charts, they are charts created by a teacher prior to teaching a topic with input from students. The letters stand for K-What we know. W-What we want to know. L-What we learned. The K and W portions of the chart are completed before any lessons on the topic. The L is completed following the lesson.) I have several issues with KWL charts, but I will limit my comments to how it is the antithesis of the scientific method and problem solving.
Using the scientific method, the order of discussion should be What do we want to learn? A question (or questions) should then be posed to and by students during a discussion facilitated by the teacher.
Next students should be presented a series of lessons on the topic. The lessons will provide a deeper knowledge of the subject matter. The teacher would then facilitate a collaborative session in which students share and record what they Know. Facts can be judged to be relevant or not relevant to answering the posed question.
Finally, students should present, orally or in written form, sharing what they have Learned (citing evidence of course) in answer to the initial question.
Let’s keep problem solving uniform. We can start by eliminating KWL charts and replacing them with rigorous WKL charts.