Solution Fluency by Definition
Solution fluency is the ability to think creatively to solve problems in real time by clearly defining the problem, designing an appropriate solution, applying the solution then evaluating the process and the outcome.
According to 21st Century Fluency Project, there are 6 essential steps in creativity and problem solving-known as the Six D’s:
Define the problem, because you need to know exactly what you are doing before you start doing anything.
Discover the history of the problem which provides context.
Dream. Envision a future with the problem solved.
Design your solution in stages through gap analysis from Define to Dream.
Deliver the goods. Complete and publish your solution.
Debrief and foster ownership, by getting involved in the evaluation of the problem-solving process.
Solution Fluency in the Classroom
I am so intrigued by this essential and complicated fluency. By definition, a fluency is something that is so mastered, it is fluent—smooth, done with ease, and done as if subconscious. Solution fluency in Kindergarten, at this point, I feel is almost non-existent. We continually work on problem-solving, but it’s as if that’s a far as we get. There is practically zero application from one problem to a similar one. Yes, kindergarten is a young age and for that I will be a little easy on them. I don’t want to overlook my classroom examples though. I will try to throw in a positive example too.
One of my kindergartners found an extra marker lid in her cubby. A moment later, a child sitting at her table announced that he lost his lid to his marker. The girl asked me what to do with the lid. I said, “talk to the people at your table, it sounds like you can figure it out.” The boy without a lid said to the girl, “Hey, I don’t have a lid.” The girl with the extra lid said, “Miss Duty, can I throw my lid away? I can’t find a marker without a lid in my cubby.”
These two kids somewhat discovered the problem at hand, yet could not dream of a possible future with the problem solved. Their thinking did not take them far—there was no thinking. What I have noticed is that these kids require so much affirmation and are so dependent, that their own personal thinking is not up to their full potential. I have found similar scenarios everyday. In fact, while talking with another teacher (a fourth grade teacher), we discovered we could record 50 examples a day of lack of problem-solving skills.
I spent some time explaining to the Lower School teachers the 21st century fluencies and how they apply to us. I made an effort to have conversations with teachers across the school on Solution Fluency. My conversation with the fourth grade teachers struck me most. While my days in kindergarten are filled with problems like the aforementioned “marker lid” example, I found it very interesting that even in fourth grade, these situations are still occurring.
I know that Solution Fluency connected to 21st Century Learning involves higher-levels of thinking and even goes as far as technology-use. However, my concern is with basic common-sense. A question/concern I have heard now repeatedly in the Lower School is: My students can’t solve problems or do any thinking…I don’t want technology to be another resource or chance for them to skip the thinking process. How can we keep technology as a useful tool, but not let it take place of thinking, especially when these kids show very little problem-solving/higher-level thinking skills as is?
Many teachers came to me with examples of lack of problem solving. I would like to share a quick list, rather than diving into each one.
-A fourth grader received a poster to complete her project. She noticed that her poster had a mark on it. She asked what she should do. The teacher asked, “What do you think you could do to make it work?” The child could not come up with a solution. The teacher was shocked that after turning the poster around in different ways and staring at for several minutes that the child could not think to use the back of the poster, or even try to erase or wipe-off the mark.
-Two 1st graders were sharing the loft as a listening center. One child put on a headset and the other child wanted to listen to the story too. When asked what the children could do to solve the problem, one girls suggested that they take off the headphones at the end of every page and then switch. The teacher asked, “Do you think you will hear the whole story that way or just every other page?” The girls did not have a clue how to think of an alternative solution.
-A fourth grade teacher purposely prints extra spelling lists, important notes for the week, etc and posts them on the wall at the front of the room. She has done this since the first week of school. A boy-in the 2nd week of November-said that he can’t find his spelling list and grows upset and confused. The teacher said, “Well, what can you do about it?” The boy grew frustrated and couldn’t think of a solution. She reminded him to “look around the room for clues, like we always do”. The boy did not figure out that the extra lists on the board were available until someone directed him there. Apparently, that was the fourth kid in one month with the same problem.
I want to emphasize that these are not examples from the same kids over and over. If I listed all the examples of poor solution fluency, you would need a whole day or two to read them. My point: Solution Fluency is essential. What can we do to improve on this? In our last e21 meeting, I recall teachers commenting on 9th graders inability to find solutions in simply logging into email and other various simple computer skills.
Third grade partners were in the hall working on math. I heard them getting frustrated (they were doing story problems). I stopped to ask them how it was going. They said, “We don’t like this! We can’t figure out how to solve this problem and we usually get more help.” The kids went on to explain that it is much easier when teachers guide them through problems and that third grade is much harder because they didn’t get as much help. I was pleased to hear that at least one of the 3rd grade teachers is allowing these kids time to think for themselves. (example of the math problem they were on: There are two things that together equal 6 legs at the zoo. Figure out what the two things could be.–something to that effect)
I have found that these kids need affirmation. Affirmation for turning their paper in the right spot, affirmation in that the child wrote in his/her agenda correctly, affirmation that he walked in the hall nicely, or affirmation that he cleaned up his own mess. These kids are so dependent on others, that I believe Solution Fluency will be our biggest challenge. I don’t think it is impossible, but I think it will be difficult to completely let go and let kids do the discovery, dreaming, and designing of solutions. My concern has become how the students’ home lives are connected to their ability at school. Many parents are so caught up in wanting their child to be successful that they are doing a disservice by doing too much for them. Other parents are busy and find it easier to just do it for them rather than allow a teaching moment.
These kids need to grow independence. While I know in the middle and upper school there will be a different response to this fluency, I felt strongly about pointing out the serious need for solution fluency. I am very anxious to hear how other e21 members will address this fluency. I am simply addressing it as it came to me in my environment, the Lower School.
Researching this fluency has been an enlightening eye-opener for me. I will say that now this is on my mind, I am doing my best to allow for opportunities in my classroom to witness this fluency in action. In kindergarten, it takes patience. These five and six year olds need time to process the fact that there is a problem and that they are capable of finding their own solution. A positive example of good problem-solving in the classroom would be from the second week of November. We were on the playground when some of my students smelled smoke. The girls couldn’t see any smoke and really wanted me, the teacher, to tell them where it was coming from. I said, “I don’t see the smoke either. Do you think I know where it is coming from?” The girls figured out that I didn’t know either and rather quickly, one girls shouted, “Let’s go to the top of the playground toy and see if we can see it from up high!” I was elated that someone in my class would have dreamed of the possibility and designed a potential solution, and so quickly! She delivered the goods by sharing it with her friends and leading the way to the top! After they looked around the skyline for smoke, the girls unknowingly debriefed the situation—they evaluated that they were not high enough to see the smoke or that there were too many buildings in the way.
Solution Fluency at Heritage Hall
How the teachers in the Lower School feel about Solution Fluency and how the teachers facilitate healthy problem-solving methods will most certainly affect how these kids enter the more “independent world” of middle school. Let alone, their ability to survive and thrive in the Upper School with the ability to use the Six D’s, and better yet, leave Heritage Hall with the confidence and fluency in finding creative solutions in the real world. We want these kids to leave Heritage Hall and be marketable, employable, and good citizens—we can’t expect much out of these kids if they are still dependent, desiring affirmation in all that they do, or struggling with dreaming a possible solution to a problem. It all starts in the Lower School! How these kids see and attack problems at school and at home as young kids will definitely shape their experience and future designs of problem solving.
There is a lot of teaching and learning to do as teachers. How can we help facilitate and encourage Solution Fluency without doing too much? We have to allow kids to discover and dream up creative possibilities on their own. How will Heritage Hall going 1:1 affect the students’ acquisition of the fluencies?
Solution Fluency Resources