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Teaching our students problem solving skills

This Term, we’ve implemented something new in Junior School – problem solving with ‘POOCH’.  As you’ve seen in earlier newsletters, Years 2, 3 and 4 have been on excursions to the Shoalhaven Zoo and Trees Adventure Park. The Trees Adventure part of these excursions has been focused around encouraging students to try new things, solve problems on their own and achieve something that they may have thought was too hard.

I’ve been working through a structured decision making procedure with each Year group that went on the excursions to help them deal with the challenges of the Trees courses as a practice, with a view to these skills being applicable to other facets of life.  We talked through the model with Year 3 students, for example, and how it could help them in their approach to taking NAPLAN.

You may have heard students coming home talking about using “Pooch”.  The POOCH approach gives students five steps to help structure their decision making.

Problem – Your feelings are clues about the problem. What is the actual problem in the situation?

Options – What are the different things you could do to solve this? Don’t make judgements about the choices at the moment.

Outcomes – What would the consequences of each of your options be? There may be positives and negatives for each choice, or the option might not actually solve the problem.

Choices – Now that you have weighed up your different options, which one has the best outcomes for you? NOW you choose.

Happened next – Evaluate what actually happened and whether it solved the problem. Did you predict the consequences effectively? Or would a different choice have been better? What have you learned from this experience?

For example, let’s imagine you’re a student who forgot to bring your lunch. You’re hungry, grumpy and embarrassed, and you need to eat. There are several ways to handle this problem (that I can think of).

  1. Sit down and cry
  2. Ask your teacher for help
  3. Ask a friend to share their lunch with you
  4. Go to the canteen with the money you had brought to buy hot chips at the shop after school

Options 2, 3 and 4 will all solve the problem (get you food), but one may be more embarrassing than the other, get you in trouble, or mean you have to miss out on something you were looking forward to. The benefit of going through a process like this is that you’re not locked into one choice only and can work out ways to mitigate the negative consequences.

Many kids often act out the first option they think of – in this example to cry – but this doesn’t always solve the problem or have positive consequences. The more practice you have using this model, the better you become at generating possible options.

While we can work as hard as possible at school to teach our students these strategies, the fact is that the bulk of their decisions will be made outside of school or in social groups away from the influence of a teacher.

I’d encourage you to talk about this process with your children, model your own internal decision making process, and prompt them to use it when relevant. The temptation is to solve their problems for them, especially when they are minor, but then they don’t learn how to handle things on their own. It’s the practice of using this process in  making minor, less complex decisions whenever possible that can build the foundations for the skills to be used in harder, more difficult situations.