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Elena Sobilo

February 1, 2017
Critical Analysis

In her book Children Solving Problems, Stephanie Thornton states, Problem-solving is

at the heart of intelligence. The ability to identify a goal, work out how to achieve it, and carry

out that plan is the essence of every intelligent activity (126). In this book, Thornton discusses

the developmental stages of a childs problem-solving ability and what research shows to help

children strengthen their problem-solving skills. Looking at chapters five and six, Thornton

explains, Far from being helpless to influence development, social interactions play a critical

role in the childs progress (124). Thornton lists that a there are a few important areas

relating to social interactions that children need in order to be able to reach their full problem-

solving potential: the social context/culture of where s/he is learning; genuine social interactions,

where the child works to co-construct knowledge with whomever s/he is problem-solving with;

the purpose or goal of the problem; and confidence in his/her own abilities to solve difficult

problems in the world around him/her.

Children fundamentally learn by observing others and also find great joy in interacting

with others, no matter how trivial or significant the task. These observations help children

determine the rules of the society and the culture. Thornton explains, A key part of becoming a

mature problem-solver is learning the shared assumptions and meanings of our culture learning

what is regarded as a good solution to a problem and what is not (94). This understanding of

the social context surrounding the problems sets a foundation for social interactions to expand.

Teachers and parents should recognize Joining in and working collaboratively with

someone else makes a powerful contribution to how a childs skills develop (94). This idea of

collaborative work is seen in many modern elementary school classrooms today, whether in
partner work or small groups. In both of my previous pre-practicum placements

(private/Catholic and suburban), group instruction and solving were stressed. This was not the

case in my elementary school (private/Catholic). Students were expected to finish their work

independently, especially in math. I remember completing many timed addition and subtraction

worksheets in class, with little discussion between students for ways to solve more complicated

problems. Partner work was not really emphasized until high school math. Working through

problems helps develop problem-solving skills and social skills. Children need to practice

working together to achieve a common goal, and how to interact to reach the goal effectively.

This collaboration also allows for numerous feedback opportunities from partners, group

members, the classroom teacher, and parents. Collaborations with support, from peers or

teachers, within the zone of proximal development help students create connections to new

knowledge and more efficient and effective strategies to use in the future. This support within

the limits that are within a childs reach of understanding is known as scaffolding.

In order for a child to attempt to solve a problem, s/he needs to know the purpose or goal.

Where the goal or purpose is unknown, there is less motivation for the child to solve the problem

(105). Thornton believes that knowing the purpose of a task helps with more than just a childs

motivation. She explains that the appropriate skill comes to mind as [children] recognize

what the goal is: it is stored in the context of that purpose and associated with solving problems

of that type and is an important factor in their success (109, 105). I believe that having the

purpose of why students are taught certain subjects in schools is an idea gaining a lot of attention

in the teaching community. Many teachers are searching for ways for the curriculum standards

to become relevant to student lives. This is one way to bring problems into the social context

of the students lives.


The last major element of effective problem-solving Thornton mentions is confidence.

The powerful impact that confidence, or the lack of it, can have on a childs problem-solving

and the difficulty of improving a childs self-confidence in helpful ways pose a problem for

teacher and parent, and, I believe, for the student as well (113). I believe that confidence can be

the most empowering or limiting characteristic for anyone. Thornton suggests that perhaps the

best we can dois to bias our reactions inthe most-positive feedback possible to combat

children loosing confidence (113). As a student who continues to struggle with my own

confidence in school, I feel like this suggestion does not do enough to support the student. I

think that not enough parents and teachers realize how damaging critical comments can be for

young children. Thorntons suggestion to be more positive is helpful, but only successful if the

positive feedback starts from an early age and is consistent at home and at school. I believe that

as I continue to study teaching as a practice, I would want to find ways to help build self-

confidence of students, rather than providing the most-positive feedback possible. That solution

was not effective for me, and will not be effective for all of my future students.

Looking forward to having my own classroom, I will adopt Thorntons mindset of

learning through social interactions. I was taught that math was a subject that had one way to

solve a problem that had one solution. I think that gave me a limited view on the subject of math

and made me focus on getting the procedure correct than developing a problem-solving strategy

based off my own ideas. I think that including interaction will help students see the many

possibilities of solving mathematical problems, but also problems in their everyday lives. I want

to create a classroom environment where my students know why we are doing what we are doing

and are enabled to be confident in their own abilities. I also believe that Thorntons idea of
interaction helps affirm that the students working together as one unit are stronger than working

alone, and that is an idea that needs to be celebrated.