The University Record, December 12, 1994

Children’s literature a powerful problem-solving tool

By Randy Frank
U-M-Dearborn

Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom, an inspector for the Detroit Police Department and a U-M-Dearborn student, didn’t realize the power of children’s literature until she started using it on the job.

“If you talk about a problem through children’s literature,” Garcia-Lindstrom says, “the kids will look to you, police officer or teacher, for the solution. The entire process can be a very powerful tool, and by using books no one gets hurt.”

Picture books encourage children to talk about problems, including problems of abuse or domestic violence, according to education Prof. Raymond Kettel, who developed a three-step problem-solving model using children’s literature. With each step, children are asked various questions to help them solve the problem.

After a teacher reads a story aloud that allows multiple solutions for a problem, children work through model questions and, ultimately, formulate various solutions or responses to the problem, Kettel explains.

In developing the model, he recorded the responses of third- and fourth-grade students from the Detroit area, Battle Creek and West Virginia.

These students had “definite ideas on how they perceived problems,” Kettel wrote in an article published in Think, a journal for teachers.

“They felt that a problem was something you have to figure out, something you have to do that you don’t know how to do, or something that goes wrong,” Kettel wrote. “A problem for one was not necessarily a problem for another.”

In a recent campus lecture, Kettel and Garcia-Lindstrom demonstrated the model using Anthony Browne’s The Piggy Book. After reading a section of the story aloud, Kettel solicited re-sponses of what the problem was and who had the problem. He then asked about assumptions based on the story and on what the participants already knew.

According to Kettel, making assumptions and drawing inferences about the problem are initially difficult tasks for children to achieve—but possible with a teacher’s guidance. Next, students decide “what they would like to have happen,” or the goal in solving the problem.

After identifying a solution, and considering various factors such as its cost, time and feasibility, students can write a summary of how to implement the solution or they can act out a solution.

In her police work, Garcia-Lindstrom discovered that when children discuss a book or video with a teacher or trusted adult, they feel more free to talk openly about problems.

“If children are asked to tell their problems to teachers, counselors or trusted adults, however, educators must know how to respond,” Garcia-Lindstrom emphasized.

She related an incident in which a school principal would not release an abused child to police for protective custody because the principal was not aware of his legal responsibilities.

Garcia-Lindstrom also noted that because of the serious consequences involved with accusations of crimes, teachers and police officers must talk children through the problem-solving process gently.

While problem-solving with literature is mainly a process for educators, giving them tools to help children, it also makes the police departments’ and other agencies’ jobs easier, Garcia-Lindstrom added.