Use Group Meetings to Problem-Solve

Use Group Meetings to Problem-Solve

Do you problems that might best be solved by involving the whole class? Perhaps children are saying unkind things, using materials inappropriately, tattling, or rejecting certain children? Consider bringing the issues to a class meeting. Children at all ages are more likely to understand and adhere to rules, procedures and decisions that they have had a part in creating. Class meetings give children a sense of power over their lives and they develop a learning community. Class meetings also provide an opportunity to model and teach the problem solving process and other social skills that you want children to use on their own.
            The advantage to class meetings lies in the opportunity to have children participate in a modified form of democracy, learning to listen to others, and to think about meeting the needs of the whole group rather than just individuals. DeVries and Zan have written extensively on these benefits, such as When Children Make Rules and Moral Classroom, Moral Children.
 
            Group Problem-Solving Strategies. When conflicts or behavior problems arise, class meetings can help the entire class use problem solving steps:
  1. Stating the problem so everyone can understand
  2. Asking for suggestions for solutions 
  3. Evaluating possible choices 
  4. Deciding on the best choice and implementing the strategy 
  5.  Following up to make sure the decision is working
 Here’s an example of a problem-solving meeting in a 1st grade classroom from a wonderful article on democratic classrooms by Rightmyer.
Problem Solving in a Whole-Class Meeting
Routine
In Practice
1.  A child experiencing a problem writes it on the agenda for discussion at a class meeting.
Joshua writes “Blocks – Joshua” on the agenda
2. At class meeting, the teacher asks a class member to bring the agenda to the group.
“Hope, would you please bring the agenda to the rug?”
3. The teacher reads the first problem on the agenda.
“It says here “Blocks-Joshua.” Joshua, will you please explain what the problem is?
4. The student who listed the item explains why it is a problem for him or her.
“Well, yesterday I had blocks for my cleanup job, and when I went in there, every block was on the floor and there was no one left to help me. I had to put all the blocks back by myself.”
5. If needed, the teacher helps the child clarify the problem and make it explicit for the other children.
“Why is that a problem, Joshua”
“It’s a problem because I had to do it by myself”
“What’s the problem with that?”
“Because it’s too much work for one person. I didn’t even play in blocks!”
“So you don’t like it when you have to put away someone else’s blocks all by yourself, is that it?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
6. The children suggest solutions to the problem.
“We should have four people clean up blocks.”
“The people who play in blocks should clean them up.”
“The people who play in blocks should clean them up for five minutes, and then one person should do the rest of the job.”
“The people who play in blocks should clean them up for four minutes and then two people should finish the job.”
“We should close blocks for a week.”
“We should have two people clean up blocks.”
7. The person with the problem chooses one of the solutions. If none is acceptable, that person invents one.
“What do you think we should do, Joshua?”
“I think we should clean up our own spot for five minutes, and then four people do blocks.”

8. The teacher repeats the solution to check for accuracy and writes it in the solutions book. The solution is tried for a week.
Written in the Book of Solutions: “January 30. At clean up time, first clean up your own spot for five minutes, then do your assigned job.”
            A few words of caution are in order. For this problem solving process to work, you must be able to set aside blame for the problem and focus on positive changes to prevent future issues. Check out this helpful article on class meetings by Gartrell. This process can easily turn into a mean-spirited, negative, and humiliating experience if you spend time on accusations or resort to group punishments (“No playground time today because clean-up took too long”).  Move quickly past who-did-what statements and focus instead on what changes can be made. You might also need to be firm about not allowing children to accuse each other, use insults, or make disparaging comments of any kind. Set up these guidelines before any discussion begins and remind children as necessary to follow them. If children are still negative and upset, it might be better to stop the process and use the problem solving process alone with the individuals involved. Some topics may be too intense for the group to handle. Here’s another wonderful article from Discipline Without Stress that gives more details on how to run class meetings.
            Are you using group meetings for problem solving? Share with us in the comments how you’ve made them successful!

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