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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: First Grade Problem Solvers


Research Summary

The Question
What happens when I teach and practice problem solving skills in my first grade classroom?

  • How do students think they should solve interpersonal problems?
  • How do students actually solve interpersonal problems?
  • Do they demonstrate any of the skills that they learned in class?
  • Which teacher problem solving skills are effective for me and my students?

The frequency of physical violence and aggression that I observed in my classroom motivated me to investigate interpersonal problem solving skills that I could teach my students. Three problems solving skills I used were:

  • The Peace Path – This strategy guides children through the steps of problem solving while they physically walk on footprints on a path.
  • Decisions with a Partner – This is a process that helps two students make a decision in a fair way.
  • Modeling – The way I solve problems as the teacher serves as an example of acceptable problem solving in the classroom.


  • Student interviews: Students were interviewed once in January and once in March about problem solving. An aid administered the interviews using a tape recorder.
  • Socio-gram: The information gathered from the interviews about which students the class likes to or does not like to work with was represented visually with a socio-gram.
  • Videos: The six students that I focused on were videotaped working with partners that I assigned and partners that they identified as students they like to work with.
  • Teacher Journal: From October through March I recorded my reflections in a weekly journal. I documented the incidents in my classroom that stood out to me as related to problem solving.

Student Interviews:

  • Students used and applied the problem-solving skills that were practiced in authentic settings in the classroom.


  • Students were more willing to work with a greater number of students as the year progressed.
  • The aggressive students in my class were not undesirable to work with and were actually among the most popular to work with.


  • Students problem-solved better when they were able to determine who they worked with.

Teacher Journal:

  • I saw greater success when I created a stable environment with clearly defined roles.
  • I saw greater success when I anticipated student needs, gave special attention, took time for bonding and positive reinforcement.
  • The class was able to calm down after an outburst when I kept a calm, firm demeanor in handling aggressive student behavior.
  • Students were able to recover after aggressive or disruptive behavior when I redefined their identity through positive identity statements, ‘think alouds’ about what their feelings might be and reinterpretations of their actions.


  • Character education should not be based on a program or curriculum but on staff development regarding social-emotional needs of students at each age group.
  • Choice time, free play time or recess is an important environment for social learning and identity development.
  • Teachers should learn student preferences for who they think they’ll work well with.
  • Mentoring for new teachers should promote:

    – ways to prevent outbursts by building good classroom community
    – reflection on finding their calm, firm demeanor
    – education on positive identity development

Katie Peterson
E-mail Katie

Research Focus:
Problem Solving

TNLI Affiliate:

Wendell Smith Elementary School
744 E. 103rd Street
Chicago, IL 60628

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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