It’s time to encourage independent problem-solving

An image showing a man that is lost in the woods

Source: © Drawn Ideas/Ikon Images

Let’s help students to find their own way on their learning journeys

Catching the tail end of radio programmes seems to be my forte of late. Sometimes I catch enough to be able to find the programme online and listen again, as happened recently with footballer Ian Wright’s Desert Island Discs (if you haven’t heard his emotional words about his inspirational teacher yet, or have only heard about them – have a listen, it’s worth it). However, something that still eludes me is a Sunday afternoon Radio 4 programme about Japanese schools and learning pits. I’ve even asked #edutwitter for help, unfortunately to no avail.

Trying to find that elusive programme led me to further reading on James Nottingham’s Learning challenge, helicopter parenting and Carol Dweck’s definition of growth mindset. All three are familiar terms in education, but where they led me was new territory: nameless paints – and echoed the little I had heard of that mysterious radio programme.

Nameless paints were designed by Yusuke Imai and Ayami Moteki for primary schools in Japan. The paint tubes are not labelled with the colour names, but with coloured dots. The primary tubes are labelled with a single coloured dot for the colour, but to identify other colours, students need to know which primary colours make it. In essence, paints that promote problem-solving.

Just like the Learning challenge and growth mindset, these paints are encouraging students to work through confusion and frustration to find a solution to a problem. This approach to learning and problem-solving applies alike to primary students finding their paint colour of choice and secondary school science students making mistakes and learning from them in a chromatography experiment. In fact, it applies to all of us. And it’s in total contrast to helicopter parenting, and teaching.

Rather than hovering over children and students, challenging them and letting them fail leads to stronger, more resilient pupils who are able to problem-solve. Let’s fight the urge to rescue students at the first sign of a hurdle – let’s guide them through the learning pit. Now, can someone please guide me through my own personal learning pit to find that Radio 4 programme? Though, actually, if you do know the programme I’m seeking, please just tell me.