Documented Problem Solving

This material was originally developed within the Pedagogy in Action Portal
Initial Publication Date: September 27, 2010

Developed by Linda Wilson, The University of Texas at Arlington, with help from Amber Casolari, Riverside City College; Katie Townsend-Merino, Palomar College; and Todd Easton, University of Portland

What is Documented Problem Solving (or Solution)?

hand with pencil

Documented problem solving is an active learning assessment technique that "... prompts students to keep track of the steps they take in solving a problem ..." and then to write down or document the steps they follow (Angelo & Cross, 1993: p. 222). This approach:

  • Increases student awareness of their problem-solving strategies invoking metacognition. awareness of one's own learning processFor more information, see the Metacognition module.
  • Promotes the development of students' problem-solving skills.
  • Provides formative assessment for instructors regarding student mistakes and missed steps.
  • Allows instructors to provide detailed feedback to students.
  • Integrates well with a variety of pedagogical practices.
  • Adapts easily to a variety of academic disciplines.

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Why Teach with Documented Problem Solving?

Documented problem solving is a teaching and learning technique that generates metacognition.awareness of one's own learning process This causes students to shift their focus from merely getting the correct answer to the thought process or steps they use in order to find the answer. As students' think about their learning and their problem-solving awareness increases, they begin to transition from the "steps used to solve a problem" to the application of analytical and critical thinking skills. Documented problem solving also helps to identify missteps in students' thinking, and thus provides valuable feedback for students and instructors. The feedback is more informative than what can be gleaned from typical multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. The approach is easy to implement in a number of academic disciplines.

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How to Teach with Documented Problem Solving

Documented problem solving is a very flexible teaching and learning strategy that can be tailored to fit a particular course or specific course content. It works especially well with topics that require analysis, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Instructors can easily transform assignments they currently use to work with this approach. It can be structured so that it requires minimal effort on the part of the instructor even in large classes. In order for students to benefit from the technique, an instructor must explain the value of the approach to students, model the approach for students, and provide feedback to students about their solution process.

Learn more about how to use Documented Problem Solving

Examples of Teaching with Documented Problem Solving

Within this module are:

  • Examples of documented problem solving including questions, student solutions, instructor responses, and rubrics used with this technique.
  • Handouts about Documented problem solving that have been created for students, which can be downloaded and easily edited to fit a variety of courses.

More examples of teaching with Documented Problem Solving


The references page includes sources specifically related to documented problem solving plus sources focused on student learning in general.

References related to Documented Problem Solving

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