Steps to Help Students Solve Mathematical Problems

    1. Get the student's attention.
    2. Establish a rapport with the student.
    3. Establish what the student is thinking. Look at what the student has done. Ask the student what they have done. Ask them to show you what they have done. Use a heuristic to step through what has been done. Careful not to jump to any conclusions before you understand where the student is in their thinking. Many times students will solve their own problems when you ask questions to find what students are thinking. Give them the opportunity and pleasure to do as much as possible on their own.
    4. Focus on the problem and the strategy to solve the problem. If you must focus on the answer then say, "What do you think about that answer?" "Can you tell how your answer makes sense for the problem?" "That answer doesn’t look right." Vs. You got that one wrong.
    5. When you are fairly confident you know there is a problem and what it is refrain from telling the student what the solution is immediately. The long - range goal is to enable students to solve their own problems. Therefore, think about how you can ask a question that the student might have asked to help solve the problem on his or her own. Or model how you would solve the problem by stepping through a problem solving heuristic. For example if the student does not understand the directions. Say, "Let me see. What do the directions say?" Then read the directions aloud for you. Act like you really do not know and are reading them as a strategy to understand how to solve the problem.
    6. Use self - talk. Talk out loud about the strategies you are using to solve the problem. Example: Say, "Let me read the problem." Then read the problem out loud. Use paper to jot down ideas about the problem or use manipulatives or objects to represent ideas.
    7. If vocabulary isn't known decide how to find out what the words mean.
    8. Restate the problem in your own words or act it out with manipulatives or drama.
    9. Use the student’s ideas whenever possible. If the student has started using a strategy to solve the problem then you should stick with that strategy until it works or the student suggests that it won't work. Avoid saying here try this way, when this way is different than what the student is doing. The way you understand, may not be the way the student can understand and most likely the student will not use your ideas after you leave or after they complete the assignment. If the strategy the student has chosen does not work then you must find a counter example and let the student discover that the strategy doesn't always work. The student must decide to try a different strategy before you introduce it.
    10. Use wait - time after you ask a question and after the student responds. If you are asking the student to think about a new idea use plenty of wait time. It is not unusual to wait 15 - 30 seconds. You need to look at the student and see if they are thinking or confused. Do not allow a lot of time for students to be embarrassed. If you are listening to the student and watching their expressions you will know the difference.
    11. Don’t stop when the student has solved the problem. Ask them if they can do another problem. Or, ask if they can think of another type of problem for which they can use the strategy. If they can’t make up a problem to give to them. Don’t be afraid to give them a problem that will not work.
    12. Ask them to describe what strategy they will use to solve future problems.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©