Problem-Solution Essay: Lesson 1

By: Tony VanderArk

>> Hello, and welcome to the first of four short videos this week. It might seem like a lot, but I wanted to break them up into four short videos instead of one long one. I want to go through some different elements of this paper assignment, in part so that you have a much better sense-- I hope-- by the end of these four short videos of what I'm looking for, but also how to get there, how to write sort of this paper. Really, this video is about the first of these two titles here-- "finding and fine-tuning a topic." I split it up and we're gonna do this thesis one in the second of these. And some of you might think, "Well, I already have a topic. "I don't really need to find one." It's really more about fine-tuning and getting a better sense for what you need to do in this essay, so I think it's worth a few minutes of your time.

Let me go through quickly something from your book where it presents five elements of this sort of essay. And I say here, you know, some version of these will be what I use to grade your essays. These are, among perhaps a few other things, what I'll be looking for in your final draft, so it's a good idea to kind of refresh your memory. The first-- "Does the essay present a well-defined problem, "as well as a clearly described solution?" The book calls it a "proposing a solution essay," but they make it clear that it's really what many other books call a "problem-solution essay." And in an odd way, a problem-solution essay requires you to make two arguments, really.

You need to present a well-defined problem-- in other words, you have to argue that there's a real problem that you're solving... and present a convincing argument in support of a proposed solution. So, in an odd sense, this is a paper that asks you to really weave together two arguments. If you argue that you have a solution to a problem that none of your readers think is a problem, none of them will find your solution compelling. And vice versa as well.

If it's a compelling problem but not a compelling solution, you don't have a strong paper. So, there's some new challenges to this assignment that I want to kinda talk about a little bit in these videos. How do you present a convincing argument? Well, first, I think you have clear convincing reasons and then you organize them with a clear compelling thesis statement. So, that's gonna be really the subject of the second video. And then, the third and fourth videos, we'll get into these fourth and fifth things here.

Problem-Solution Essay: Lesson 1

These really all are the idea of counter-arguments, where you anticipate objections to your proposal. Let me give you a couple ideas about how to develop a topic for this essay, if you haven't yet-- or even if you have-- two approaches might be helpful to you. One, you can start with a good idea for education-- a good proposal that you think would make sense. And then, figure out what problems it might solve. So, for example, an example I'm gonna use a whole lot here in the next few minutes and few videos-- let's say I want to pursue the idea of community service. Lots of high schools and colleges require community service. Should GRCC do that as well? Maybe your high school did. Maybe you hated the idea.

But if I wanted to pursue that as an idea, the first thing I could ask is, "Well, what problems might that solve?" And that's not a real obvious question. Community service? Well, it might solve some social problems but what about education? So, here are a couple thoughts. If this is my solution, I might say, "Okay, education tends to be too narrowly focused "on academic knowledge "rather than 'real-world' understanding." Some people make that critique. Okay, community service would get students out of the classroom and into the communities. There is a problem and a solution that fit together. Another problem-- colleges are sometimes viewed by the general public as distant from their worlds, stuck in an "ivory tower." Community service would bring the college out into the community, and maybe not just individually but as a college-wide program-- this would be useful. Another problem-- college life makes students-- this is, again, focused on students-- feel isolated from other people, and from the needs of the world around them. I don't know if that's as true at a community college as at a residential college, but perhaps you feel it, too.

Community service could offer a valuable education of the world beyond academic studies. Some of you might argue, "Well, wait a minute-- "I don't need any education "in the world beyond academic studies. "I've had years of that education." But it's a problem-solution pair that would fit together in some ways. Another approach, though, is to take the opposite approach and say, "I have a problem with the way school is done" or "the way education is viewed in America. "How can I solve it?" And let's start with just a real simple obvious example. I asked students last year in a class, "Okay, students in high school complain that they're bored "far too often." I was a high school teacher for seven years-- I've heard it myself plenty of times. So, I had the students in that class brainstorm.

And you could have created the same list, I'm sure. "What's the solution?" Well, someone said "More interactive. "Shorter schooldays, longer school years." Some would question that and some would question many of these, but, "Smaller classrooms, more teachers.

"More individual attention. "Participation, reward. "Less busywork, more time to work. "Interactive classrooms. "Relevant lessons.

"Mix up the routine," etcetera. And some of these almost contradict each other. More sort of time for work but also shorter days and more individual attention, etcetera. But this is a whole list of possible solutions to this question... which are much better than maybe the obvious, "Well, we shouldn't have to go to school," or something like that. Obviously, what I want you to see is that this sort of brainstorming isn't just about finding a topic.

And if you already have a topic, this still can be very, very useful to you. It's about fine-tuning your topic. It's about really thinking through the "ins and outs" of it. Thinking through how problems and solutions connect, which is crucial.

Figuring out what arguments you might make in an essay. You might do this brainstorming and find several more paragraphs of ideas. And deciding which arguments are compelling, which ones make sense, which ones work. So, you might make a list and then go through and say, "Eh, I'm gonna cross off several of these. "They don't really seem compelling to the problem "I'm trying to solve." I said here, "Plenty of connections aren't compelling." I might put these two topics together that I just talked about and said, "Well, students are bored, "so they should do community service." I see a connection there, but I don't see a compelling connection. I don't see a real reason that this follows this.

And that would weaken a paper if I wrote it on that topic. What I want you to do in just a minute, then, when this video is done, is open up a blank document, do some brainstorming of your own. And what you're gonna do is do this four times. You're gonna do this after each of these short videos.

I want to keep all of these notes and, as you've done once or twice before, upload all of those to a journal on Blackboard. I want to see a "progress report," as I put it there, but keep in mind, this is very much for your sake-- this work. It's not done just for me. The point of this is to get you close to writing an essay. So, you do for yourself as well. I said here, if you're starting with a problem-- if you really ended up with some good ideas about what's wrong with education, start with that, and then, say, "How many solutions can I brainstorm? "As many as I can." If, on the other hand, you're starting with a solution-- a few of you I think I read something about, "More fine arts in the schools. "We need more money for fine arts." And, by the way, you can define that as a solution or a problem.

You can say, "There isn't enough funding for the arts," or you can say, "I have a solution in mind." But either way, you can brainstorm much more than what first comes to mind. Why? What's good about more funding for the arts? What problems might that solve? And I said brainstorm as many ideas as you can in a few minutes, even if they don't seem like good or reasonable arguments. And that brings me to just the last suggestion-- you can make very bold claims or very tame claims or proposals.

And what I want to suggest is that these three lines might be connected in some interesting ways. So, for example, making a more bold-- a bolder claim, a stronger claim-- pushing, in a sense, your own claim, might make it more interesting. Of course, it might make it less persuasive.

If I said, "Students are bored, so they should not be required "to be in the classroom at all. "They should only have on-the-job education." Well, that might be an interesting proposal, but not a very persuasive one. If, however, I went too tame, and said, "Students are bored-- "well, maybe they should have a 10-minute break each week "where they could do anything they want." Sure, fine. That's not very interesting and not very persuasive.

Or, perhaps, most people would say, "Sure, why not?" But that's not what you're looking for. You're looking for something that pushes toward boldness, in some ways. Even if it's a very small claim.

Maybe it's a simple claim about, "Every student "needing some bit of technology," or something like that. But you want to say in your argument that this would make a big difference to education. And then, you could make it interesting and persuasive as well. So, I'm not suggesting that boldness and these things always go together.

Like I said, you can easily be too bold and, suddenly, it's no longer persuasive or interesting. But keep this in mind. If you run out of ideas, brainstorm some that seem at first not so reasonable but perhaps a bit bold, as you did with the $100 million idea in the exercise. Okay, I'll stop there. As soon as you do this in a blank document, save it, move on to the next video. And you won't upload it until you're done with all four.


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