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Problematic Situation

The Problematic Situation is a general learning strategy that can be modified for reading instruction. In this strategy, the teacher confronts students with an important problem. Solving this problem promotes engaged learning in the forms of research, information organization, and lively classroom discussion. The problems that are best suited for prompting student exchange are those that are close to students' personal experiences or those that draw clear opposing ("pro" and "con") responses.

This strategy is applied to reading by using a selected text as a starting point for stating the problem and/or outlining its possible solutions.

Steps to a Problematic Situation:

  1. Select a text document that states an important problem or that offers a one-sided (dare we say "controversial") solution to an important problem.

  2. Divide students into groups and distribute copies of the selected document.

  3. Ask the groups to produce a list of potential solutions to the problem. Suggest role-playing—assuming the role of a public official or key decision-maker—as a device for framing possible solutions. Stress that all solutions must be based on evidence within the text document or outside research.

  4. Provide time for students to conduct research on the topic.

  5. Encourage debate within the groups about the merits of each solution. Have each group commit to a "best solution" for the problem.

  6. Ask the groups to share their findings with the class. Note any trends (e.g., agreement on specific solutions, any radically divergent solutions, etc.).

  7. Allow the student groups to discuss/debate the range of solutions, defending their positions with evidence and seeking to persuade other students to agree with their conclusions.

Learn More:

  • Gaskins, I. W., & Guthrie, J. T. (1994). "Integrating science, reading, and writing: Goals, teacher development, and assessment." Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 1039-1056.

  • Problematic Situation


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