Those of you who have read my stuff or know of the work that I’ve done with kids over the years, know I can be a bit “decoding obsessed.” This is primarily because I have witnessed the legions of struggling decoders (usually dyslexics) who find school to be extremely challenging as a result of their ongoing decoding and reading fluency issues.
Other Side of Coin
There is another side of the coin, though, and these are kids who have trouble with problems solving, which is a whole other branch of the tree. My observation is that when these kids have a novel problems to solve (classic example would be mathematic word problems), they lack an effective internal voice to guide them and say, “Hmm, let me think about it,” to weigh and consider how to approach a solution to the problem or way to answer a question.
Take young Angel, age 9, who is a pretty good problem solver. For example, when you put puzzle pieces down to make something he doesn’t rush in to the task or throw his hands up too quickly stating “I can’t do this.” No, Angel, looks it over, considers, weighs options, and says to himself, “Hmm, let me think about it,” and then proceeds ahead, one small part or step at a time.
In contrast, is Anna, who is same age and grade as Angel. Anna is fragile when it comes to problem-solving. Anxiety kicks in almost immediately when asked to solve a novel problem. The slightest difficulty and she wants to bolt from the task. There is little to no internal voice (or at least one that she hears) guiding her to evaluate and problem solve.
Anna’s difficulty also affects her reading comprehension. While she can answer fairly straight-forward factual type of questions, when it comes to questions that involve reading between the lines (inferences) or forming conclusions, she shrugs quickly, stating “I don’t know.”
ADHD style kids also have great difficulty with this problems solving component of school, as their overly impulsive nature does not easily lend itself to problems solving.
There is no immediate fix or simple solution to this issue. However, in the hands of a good teacher (tutor), that person can encourage the problem-solving voice with a lot of guided practice. By asking good questions that help steer the child toward problem solving, the child improves over time. They learn to work through challenges.
If your child is not oriented toward utilizing the “Hmm, let me see voice,” encourage it along. When the child immediately says, “I don’t know,” nudge a little. You might say, “Look. I know you are not sure, but how about if you think about it a bit and then take a guess. There may not be an exact right or wrong answer.”