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By far the most important skill students need for future success is the ability to solve complex and challenging problems. This sentiment is shared by practically every educator we’ve asked across the globe. The truth, however, is that one needs critical thinking skills to be the best problem-solver they can be, and for our students it’s most important of all.
A critical thinker-as-problem-solver requires an unconscious approach to tackling any problem of any scale. But is there such a method, and if so, can it be easily taught to our students in a way that provides them with such skills not only for their school years, but their entire lives?
The answer to these questions is yes and yes, it’s called Solution Fluency.
Solution Fluency and Critical Thinking
With Solution Fluency you have a powerful tool to give to your students. It’s a process that will serve them well in school and in life. Solution Fluency’s whole process is defined by the 6 Ds—Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Debrief. Watch the short video below to learn more about these.
To recap, here is the essence of each stage of Solution Fluency:
- DEFINE: We must decide exactly what needs to be solved, and give proper context to the problem.
- DISCOVER: This is researching and gathering, and analyzing knowledge about the problem.
- DREAM: Here we open up the heart and mind to the possibilities of a solution the way we want it.
- DESIGN: This is the workshopping phase. Here the actual mechanics of your solution begin to take shape.
- DELIVER: This involves the action for completing the product(Produce),and presenting the proposed solution(Publish).
- DEBRIEF: The reflection stage is where you look at the ways you succeeded, and ways you could improve your approach in future situations.
In his 2009 book The Overflowing Brain, Torkel Klingberg demonstrated that if a child learns a structured problem-solving process and develops the capacity to use it fluently, they gain a 10% increase in IQ and sustain this throughout their life (Klingberg, Torkel, 2009).
If our intent for students is to help them to become college and career ready, it makes sense to cultivate these processes to a level of excellence in our schools.
That's what Solution Fluency is—an essential system for building great problem-solving prowess while fostering exceptional critical thinking capacity. In fact, the real power of Solution Fluency is that it’s a process derived from the world outside of school, and from our experience in industry applications where it has been utilized most effectively. We’ve come to refer to it as “what to do when you don’t know what to do.”
Just another reason why it's so important to our students—they'll be solving problems that haven't even been invented yet. The children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and will face challenges we can't imagine using every ounce of critical thinking capacity they have to guide them.
As such, they need a process they can internalize for solving problems that really matter, and that builds those thinking abilities every time you use it.
That's what Solution Fluency is—an essential system for building great problem-solving prowess while fostering exceptional critical thinking capacity.
Since it provides skills that matter for life and success, Solution Fluency is being used in schools all over the world. One look at the case studies of our work with schools like Penrhos College, Newport Gardens, and the prestigious GEMS Dubai American Academy are enough to convince anyone that not only is Solution Fluency a process that truly works, but students absolutely love using it as much as teachers love teaching with it.
That’s because a person can work through virtually any problem imaginable with a process like Solution Fluency. It doesn't matter if you're writing a grocery list, building a house, or redesigning the universe.
Through school, college and career, and beyond, critical thinking and problem-solving are life skills. Adopting a process for problem-solving like Solution Fluency provides an empowerment that prevents us from being paralyzed by the problem, by fear, by doubt, and by uncertainty.
With it as an ingrained ability, we face problems without hesitation and work to provide the most productive solution possible to whatever challenges await us. Ultimately, this is why it's a skill everyone needs, especially the modern learners we are cultivating today to shape the future.
Guiding Questions for Each Stage
Understanding how to use Solution Fluency in a classroom or any other setting we encounter problems in means asking guiding questions at every phase. Suggestions for each phase are listed below. These will also help further clarify the essence of each stage.
Define: What are the details of the challenge we face? What do we want to overcome specifically? What do we want to solve?
Discover: What do I need to know and what do I need to be able to do? Why do we need this to happen? Why hasn’t it been done previously? If it has, why wasn’t it successful? What can we change?
Dream: What do we truly want to create? How will it function? What will it look like? What’s our best-case scenario for the end goal?
Design: What does it look like “on paper”? How will we create and implement it? What are the steps we must take? What are the milestones and guidelines we will set for ourselves? How will we ensure everything is being done right and on time? How will we deal with problems?
Deliver: How do we bring this idea into functional reality? How do we practically apply what we’ve done? How will we present this to people? How will we know it’s working?
Debrief: What were the results of our efforts? How did we succeed or fall short of accomplishing our goal? What went well, and what didn’t? How can we improve our efforts and outcome in the future? How can we apply what we’ve done to similar problems?
Tips for Using Solution Fluency
- Don't think too far ahead. It's easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the reasons why there is a problem. Focus on defining the problem in the moment.
- Revisit the stages. As mentioned before, Solution Fluency is a cyclical process. It's perfectly normal to go back to previous stages, reconsidering and revising what you know as new knowledge is gained.
- Be patient. Even though it's a simple system, it can still take time to develop a solution to more challenging problems. Enjoy the journey, because it's one you're meant to learn with.
Teaching Critical Thinking Through Solution Fluency
It’s our wish that with Solution Fluency every young learner builds confidence, and the capacity to face any problem with courage, integrity and compassion. However, many of the educators we speak to who are excited about Solution Fluency are also unsure of how it looks at work in a classroom.
The questions are obvious: How do we as teachers fully understand, instruct and assess Solution Fluency with our learners?
In response, we came up with the ultimate guide to mastering Solution Fluency, right from understanding to assessment and beyond, and called it The Solution Fluency Companion. Years in the making, this resource is a culmination of all the essentials, packed with invaluable tips and versatile tools designed to help you utilize, communicate, and facilitate the 6Ds of Solution Fluency in your classroom environments within the context of the required curriculum.
It’s everything you need to make Solution Fluency the go-to process for critical thinking and problem-solving your learners will use for the rest of their lives.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 10, 2019, updated Nov 11, 2021