Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Problem-Centered Classrooms: Creating Lifelong Learners

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Problem-Centered Classrooms: Creating Lifelong Learners

Article excerpt

A successful problem-centered program needs to focus on problem-solving and planning strategies more systematically and intensively than is typically the case in most classrooms. Ms. Casey and Mr. Tucker provide some guidelines.

ASK YOURSELF which has had more impact on your adult life -- the learning strategies you acquired or the facts you learned. The answer may well be that both have had an equal impact. Yet within our schools comparatively little class time is given over to the development of learning strategies. Gaining information is important during schooling, but learning how to learn should have equal weight. A major goal of teaching children should be to help them begin their role as lifelong learners.

School is the place where children need to learn the methodology of being effective learners. The learning habits they acquire during their school years will stay with them for good- or bad. We propose that an effective learner is a creative problem solver who is able to harness that creativity through organizational and planning skills. Below we will expand on this definition of an effective learner, and then we'll discuss how teachers can help their students to develop these characteristics through a problem-centered classroom.

Effective Learners

First, let us look at the characteristics of creative problem solvers.

1. Problem-solving students are constantly curious and questioning. "Where does the moon go during the day?"

2. They enjoy figuring things out. "How big is the guinea pig going to grow? Let's measure it each day."

3. They seek out challenges. "How can we make this typewriter work without a ribbon?"

4. They are persistent, often working for long hours on projects.

5. They are resourceful and flexible in the way they approach tasks.

6. They are independent learners--not always running to the teacher.

7. They feel confident about themselves as learners and are risk-takers.

Now, let' s consider what makes an effective planner.

1. Effective planners think things through; they figure out what they need to do before they act.

2. They organize their materials in a systematic way, gathering what they need in order to work on their project -- and they find appropriate work sites.

3. They are systematic in the way they approach different parts of the task.

In addition to being oriented toward problem solving and being organized, effective learners share one additional trait: they are willing to fail. They don't accept failure, but they are comfortable with it and have learned that the road to success is often paved with failures.

What do schools usually teach us about failure? Throughout their education, many schoolchildren learn to feel that they are "stupid" if they don't get the answer right the very first time. Some teachers try to insulate their students against failure by intervening before failure occurs. While we believe that children should not experience excessive frustration from failure, we also believe that children need to be exposed to the wonderful thrill that comes only when one has tried and tried and then finally succeeded. We must help children reframe their errors so that they recognize them as a necessary part of problem solving and not as a reflection of personal shortcomings.

The Teacher's Role

How can teachers help their students become effective learners?(1) Our research suggests that a successful problem-centered program needs to focus on problem-solving and planning strategies more systematically and intensively than is typically the case in most classrooms.(2) We believe that the key at any grade level is to focus on planning and problem solving at least once a day so that these strategies enter into the students' repertoires and become automatic.(3)

Teachers can approach problem solving with their students in a wide variety of ways. …

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