Academic journal article Education

"Ideal" Problem Solving Using a Collaborative Effort for Special Needs and At-Risk Students

Academic journal article Education

"Ideal" Problem Solving Using a Collaborative Effort for Special Needs and At-Risk Students

Article excerpt

Each year millions of school children arrive at our schools with academic and personal needs that challenge the resources and ingenuity of dedicated educators (Bear, Minke, & Thomas, 1997; Brophy, 1996; Gilliand & James, 1998). Research exploring the psychosocial and academic needs of today's students finds that increasing numbers of school children present problematic concerns interfering with their learning (Brophy, 1996). Today's schools are, therefore, faced with the demanding task of finding effective solutions to problems that have diverse and complex foundations making them resistant to change (Coleman, 1996). If these students are to be successful, it is critical that efficacious methods to ameliorate concerns be applied systematically in our schools.

Educational professionals need an understanding of practical methodologies for problem solving that effectively focus knowledge and intervention skills to benefit the child (Sugai & Tindall, 1993). As a problem-solver, educators can make informed decisions, that increase their efficacy and the success of children, rather than ones that are ineffective, or whose outcomes cannot be determined.

Problem Solving Approach

An effective framework by which educators may work collaboratively is within a systematic foundation of problem solving. The Problem Solving Approach has been used in several states as a basis for planning and decision-making for special needs youth (Shinn & Bamonto, 1998). Thomas & Grimes (1995) note that it "... is distinguished by its purpose: to improve student performance and enhance educational success in a demonstrable manner. Problem solving is a systematic process that includes the assessment of children and their environments, identification of needs, development and implementation of supports to meet needs, and the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes. This orientation permits any theoretical approach in the design of interventions, but uses improved student performance and educational functioning as a criterion for measuring success." (pg. 5) Problem solving is a potent integrating force complementing efforts to make interventions more effective (Murphy & Duncan, 1997), and draws upon expertise of special education, general education, support staff, and parents to offer sensible solutions to child needs.

Principles of Problem Solving

There are several principles through which the Problem Solving Approach functions, and are different than traditional methods. As Shinn & Bamonto (1998) state, "... problem solving is explicitly tied to a needs-based service delivery system rather than a "medical" or organically-based disability model" (pg. 24). As they explain, child problem models expend a great deal of energy and resources to determine deficiencies within the child so that we can "fix" them by providing "labels" that correspond to a "program". The inherent limitations regarding effectiveness of such an approach is well documented (Reschly and Ysseldyke, 1995). Some of the most apparent differences between a Problem Solving Approach (PSA) and a traditional Child Problem approach for dealing with student concerns are noted below.

1. The problem solving approach views child concerns in the context of performance relative to expectations of the general education classroom. Problems are defined within the day-to-day context of classroom demands rather than searching for diagnoses and labels within the child that "cause" the problem. "Problems" are defined by the nature and degree of discrepancy between a child's current functioning and where we expect them to be. Problems are situational and consider how environmental demands shape and maintain child concerns. As such, contextualization of child concerns becomes a central focus of intervention efforts.

2. Assessment within a problem solving model is functional and dynamic--assisting in the definition of concerns, development of interventions, and evaluation of intervention outcomes. …

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