Using Bibliotherapy to Teach Problem Solving

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Forgan, J.W. (2002). Using bibliotherapy to teach problem solving. Intervention in School and Clinic, 38(2), 57-82.

James W Forgan explores the benefits of using bibliotherapy to help students with high-incidence disabilities become problem solvers. He identifies bibliotherapy as a helpful, proactive approach to this for these nine reasons:

  • to show an individual that he or she is not the first or only person to encounter such a problem
  • to show an individual that there is more than one solution to a problem
  • to help a person discuss a problem more freely
  • to help an individual plan a constructive course of action to solve a problem
  • to develop an individual’s self-concept
  • to relieve emotional or mental pressure
  • to foster an individual’s honest self-appraisal
  • to provide a way for a person to find interests outside of self
  • to increase an individual’s understanding of human behavior or emotions

Although his article focuses on high-incidence disabilities, he states that all students benefit from bibliotherapy in the classroom in small group discussion settings because they tend to run into similar issues as their peers, just at different times. Discussions on the topics can help with problem solving across the board.

Forgan states the four elements of bibliotherapy in the classroom:

  1. prereading
  2. guided reading
  3. postreading discussion
  4. a problem solving/reinforcement activity

Prereading means the teacher or librarian selects the material suitable for the group. It is important they feel they can relate to the character (real or fictional) in the book. Next, you help with background knowledge. (i.e. show them the cover and ask if they can predict what is going to happen, ask if they have ever had experiences like the book covers. “Have you ever been teased?”)

Guided Reading involves reading the story aloud to the students, without interruption for questions. After the reading the class or group can have a moment to reflect quietly or write in their journal how the book makes the feel.

Postreading discussion has a few elements. The students retell the plot and how the character feels, then they get the students to ask the “probing questions” about the book/plot/feelings which allows them to investigate how it makes them feel. Here they identify that they are not alone in this situation, they identify with a character, they develop insight into the character’s difficulty and look to find solutions.

Problem solving/reinforcement activity: Forgan says that many students rely on teachers and adults to solve their problems for them. He gives a mnemonic strategy to help with this:

  • I – Identify the problem
  • S – Solutions to the problem?
  • O – Obstacles to the solutions?
  • L – Look at the solutions again, choose one
  • V – Very good! Try it!
  • E – Evaluate the outcome

The students, working through this strategy, can get feedback from the teachers and their peers. This takes the read aloud into a different territory than story time. It gives them a varied way to look at their problem and analyze the book, or any situation, really, and they feel more confident at the end of it.

In addition to this mnemonic, students can also be assigned a reinforcement activity. This takes the bibliotherapy a step further and reinforces what they have learned. They can write a poem, write in a journal, engage in a debate, or work on practicing their skills with other people/their parents.

Forgan notes than choosing topics that are developmental in nature rather than clinical (bullying vs. abuse) are better to take on in the classroom or library without a trained therapist.

I think that this article gives fantastic advice for the layperson to use bibliotherapy in a structured environment like a library or classroom (or homeschool!) It lays out a basic strategy and causes the students to think critically, and proactively, about how to solve their own issues as they arise. It gives them confidence and the tools to work toward further independence of thought.

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