Problem-Solving Conferences That Worked

Question: Think of an instance in which you used a teacher-child problem-solving conference. Why did you choose that strategy?

A: Edward often clowned around during work times, keeping everyone from getting work done. When logical consequences didn’t help, I decided to try a problem-solving conference. I thought this might be effective because Edward could get defensive at times, and in this conference I could begin by naming the positive aspects of his humor.

I told him I noticed how he had a great sense of humor and a good memory for jokes, and how people liked to be around him because he could get them laughing. This helped him let down his guard and get into a productive problem-solving frame of mind.

We then talked about how telling jokes was not a problem, but doing it during work times was. By the end of the conference, Edward agreed to try to limit his joke telling to recess, lunch, after school, and designated Morning Meeting times. He clowned around less during work times, and he and the classmates around him were able to get more work done.

Marty Kennedy teaches first grade at University School of Nashville in Tennessee.

A: I had a student who dawdled whenever math started. I suspected the problem was that she didn’t like minute math, always our first math activity, in which students have a minute and a half to do thirty simple computations. I realized that a problem-solving conference, with its structure for probing the causes of a problem, could help me confirm this and understand why she didn’t like minute math.

Sure enough, when I posed some “Could it be” questions, the student said she didn’t like minute math because she was “too slow,” that she couldn’t do all the problems in one and a half minutes.

So we agreed that she would do half the problems. As her confidence grew, she started doing a few more on her own. Eventually she did thirty computations like the rest of the class.

Maggie West teaches third grade at Federal Street Elementary School in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

A: David was a fifth grader who struggled with academics and had developed a tough guy exterior to save face. He wasn’t getting his work done, and his facial expressions and body language said “I don’t care about school. This is stupid.”

I believe children like David critically need personal connections with caring adults, and I realized that a problem-solving conference would help me build that kind of connection with him. I had seen David playing football and knew what a different person he was on the field. I began the conference by noting how in football he was energetic in every play, intense in every huddle, cooperative through and through. That made him receptive enough to talk about how to transfer that sort of enthusiasm to school.

There were many challenges to overcome on that front. But one agreement we made was that David would come to school early so he could get extra help on assignments without classmates seeing. I also partnered David up with a college mentor to help him with homework. The mentor was himself a football player, so there was the larger benefit that he could help David see that in order to play football, one had to do well in school.

David needed many other supports, but the one-on-one attention he got in the problem-solving conference was an important first step.

Sheree Nolley is a literacy coach and multicultural coordinator at Kensington Avenue School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Tags: Challenging Behaviors

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