Probletunities!

We are back from Winter Break and full swing into the wonderful world of 3rd grade!

We are also… tired. But isn’t everyone?

That tiredness though, and the adjustment period back into school routines, means that we (teachers and students alike) might bump into a few more dilemmas throughout our days.

It happens! It is part of being human, and because we try to be thoughtful humans we have decided to teach INTO it! (Key word being try!)

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Our first piece of teaching into it (besides the typical reviewing of our classroom contract etc.) is to read one of our recent favorite books aloud: What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. You may have stumbled upon other fantastic work these two have created—our personal favorite being What Do You Do With an Idea?—but if we told you all about that book, we would be avoiding talking about problems! No, no problems we will not avoid you. In fact, with this read aloud, problems is exactly what we discussed this week in 3rd grade.

Full disclosure: During this read aloud, the students did the “me too” sign for pretty much the entire book. If you don’t have a silent signal to represent “me too”, it would be very useful to have for such a relatable read aloud like this one!

By the end of the read aloud, we brainstormed a problem we’d had in the past, and what opportunity was hidden inside the problem. Of course, after the fact, it is much easier to pinpoint what the positive part of a problem might be, but this is also what made this prompt a decent entry point for the rest of the activity.

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We then introduced our new classroom word: PROBLETUNITY! (Not our finest, but it worked for them!) We used an in-school example that was relevant to them: Their incredible music teacher had to let them know that 3rd graders are no longer going to be able to participate in the school musical because there are simply too many students, so they will have to wait until 4th grade. This was disappointing for more than a few students in our class, so we used this moment to think of it as a probletunity! We thought out how the new policy means when they are in 4th grade they will have the opportunity to really shine and have more of the stage to themselves, along with other ideas following that positive thinking path.What-Do-You-Do-With-a-Problem-1.jpg

We then had some reflection time on our own with two prompts: “What is a probletunity you’ve had at school recently?” and , “What was a probletunity you’ve had recently at home?”

We haven’t journaled in a while, and honestly it was just nice to give them private time and space with their thoughts and feelings. Some students got really into it, while for others it was a little bit challenging and they got stuck staying, “I don’t have problems.” So they required some encouragement.

When we all came back together to share, many students were excited to share the ways in which they were reframing their problems as opportunities.

  • One child talked about how she lives in an apartment, so when she fights with her family her only alone time is leaving the apartment. But then she is happy to have fresh air, and in the future she will know how to live with other people.
  • Another child talked about how she had to apologize to her brother the other day and he wouldn’t accept her apology. She talked about how she had to think again and come up with a more genuine apology even though she was very upset (she admitted the first time she didn’t say what she was sorry for!). We also added on and coached her through how it is a phenomenal life skill to be able to think of words you need to say when you have strong emotions, and she is already becoming very skilled at that!
  • Another child shared that his brother kept stealing his favorite pen, but when he finally talked to his brother about it, it turned out his brother didn’t realize it was a big deal or think of it as stealing—talking to his brother gave them both some clarity.

We loved the ideas our students came up with, the space it gave us for reflection, the normalizing of ‘dilemmas’ and ‘problems’ coming up in life, and the practice in reframing those moments into what they really are (most times): probletunities!

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We wrapped up by asking for a catch phrase-type way to say probletunity in the classroom and perhaps a hand signal to go with it. We had suggestions endless excited suggestions. We had one to do the clapping sign in American Sign Language (“Because you can see that you should celebrate instead of being mad”), we had a disco dancing suggestion, flexing muscles (“to work through the problem”), and some hilarious hip shaking (“Stay loose!” Oh, the things 3rd graders say).

We’ll keep you posted on what we decide, and how this term evolves in our little community.

For now, we’re eager to remind them that all sorts of things are opportunities-—from that math problem they are stuck on, to the conversation that they come to us with that they really need to have with their friend. We will cheer them on to see it as a probletunity.

In writing this, we’re just realizing how much they might start to despise this word, but we are excited for the shared vocabulary, and the fun and pushing through rough patches that may come with it!

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What is Teach Pluralism? First and foremost we are educators, and we love what we do! We are constantly trying to push ourselves, our students, and conversations about education to be as socially just as possible. Find us at Teach Pluralism, and on Twitter @teachpluralism.

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