No big deal or is it?

problem solution

*graphic courtesy of

My task this week has been to develop a problem solution page for students with social language impairments. As I tried to boil down what was necessary and what was just clutter, an image began to form in my mind. What is it that we want to help our kids learn when they are going from crisis to melt down throughout the day? This cycle exhausts parents, teachers and the little (and not so little) people involved, leaving everyone tired, frustrated and a bit cranky. If we are constantly in fight or flight mode, we aren’t really available for learning anything new.

I thought back to the days of when one of my children was caught in this cycle. I couldn’t reason with him in the moment (tried, failed, learned), but as I started to see patterns in his behaviors, I knew I could start a conversation prior to or well after an event. While it didn’t cure the emotional outbursts, being able to identify what a problem is or isn’t was a place to start. Then we figured out who can help me with a problem. The ultimate answer to this question is the child, but this takes a lot of practice to have that awareness when the going gets tough. Next, we figured out what I can do (or what I can control). This is hard work! And the last part, which isn’t really the last part, is figuring out a solution.

To this practical experience, I added a visual thermometer to help kids decide if the problem is BIG, medium or small. It was also important to add some emotional language to talk about how the child feels, both before and after a problem. Giving language to feelings is a powerful tool for all of us! Is it going to be like magic pixie dust and work the first time? Nope. But to quote the wonderful Dory, “Just keep swimming.” Repetition is our friend!

Click here for the  link to my problem/solution forms on TPT

Now you don’t have to use my format, get creative and make something that works for you!!  Beyond using these for individual students, here are some other suggestions:

  • making a problem/solution cookbook for a classroom to collaborate on problem solving/solutions with their peers. It helps to know that everyone has problems they struggle with and sharing this information might spark some great solutions for everyone!
  • You can also connect the idea of problem solving to the world around us. An example would be to use it for Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week to talk about what problems he experienced and what his solutions were.
  • You can also extend this form to talk about characters in literature and how they handled problems/solutions (think CORE!!).

2 thoughts on “No big deal or is it?

  1. I agree that using visuals helps the problem solving process. You also make a good point about how to extend the process into the curriculum. When talking about the “size of the problem”, my students have great difficulties as (from their perspective) most problems are a #5 (“what could be worse than not being able to play on the computer” asked an 8-year-old recently)!

    • Daria, I heard a great quote I use: “Life is lived in the five, six and sevens, not the ones or the tens” We have really terrible moments and really incredible moments, but most life is in the middle. Visual thermometers really help in talking about the size of problems, and in that 8 year old’s mind, it really felt like a big deal!!

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