What is Documented Problem Solving

Documented problem solving is a teaching and learning technique that requires students to write down, step-by-step, the thought process they follow when answering a question or solving a problem.

man thinking

Documented Problem Solving is a Flexible Teaching and Learning Tool

As originally described by Angelo & Cross , 1993, documented problem solving is a classroom assessment technique that assists instructors in understanding student problem-solving strategies. It is a flexible tool that can be applied to a variety of disciplines and has been successful used in Law (Hess, 1999); Linguistics (Angelo & Cross, 1993); Precalculus (Keller, 2009); Astronomy (Durisen and Pilachowski, 2004); English, Math, and Writing (Carnegie Foundation, 2007) and Economics (see the example below).

Documented problem solving can be adapted to multiple learning situations including work that is completed during class or outside of class, large projects or small assignments, and work done individually or in groups. It can be tailored to various class sizes, types of instruction, and course difficulty, and it can be used in conjunction with other teaching pedagogies such as cooperative learning and context-rich problems.

What Documented Problem Solving Looks Like

Documented problem solving is always composed of three parts - the question, the student's answer, and the instructor's feedback.

For example, in an economics class, students worked in small groups to answer the following question:

Assume that a country's current production possibilities curve is represented by PPF1in the graph. Also assume that the country has just finished fighting a war on their home territory. Draw the production possibilities curve (or frontier) that would likely exist immediately following the war and label it PPF2.

Group 1 answer: Our group thought about and discussed what effects a war could have on a country.

Group 2 answer: First we analyzed the situation. After a war, a country produces less output because

What Makes Documented Problem Solving Different From Other Teaching Techniques?

Documented problem solving:

Allows instructors to view students' thought processes

Documented problem solving asks students to write down each step they use in order to solve a problem. Because the student's thought process becomes visible, documented problem solving helps to identify "missteps" or "breakdowns" that occur in the problem-solving process.

Permits instructors to see students' misunderstandings that might otherwise be missed

Look at the graphs drawn by the two groups above. They look the same. Interestingly, the flawed process used by Group 2 still resulted in the correct graph, and the misunderstanding might have gone undetected except for the use of documented problem solving.

Focuses on the process rather than the product (or the correct answer)

In the example above, the instructor did not deduct points for the flawed documented problem solution. Rather, it was used as an opportunity to correct the students' misunderstanding and reteach the concept.

Encourages students to become more aware of their problem solving strategies

As the groups above wrote down the steps used to solve the problem, they indicated that they started with information they already knew and combined it with information from the lecture or text. When students pause and think about their solution process this evokes metacognition.awareness of one's own learning process

Promotes the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills

As students focus on the process they are using to solve a problem, they frequently mention that they refer to their notes, the text or what they already know.By starting with a given set of information, it seems they are then able to expand on that knowledge and begin the analytical and critical thinking processes.