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The word "brainstorming" is commonly used to describe the process of coming up with ideas. However, the problem-solving literature means something very specific when it refers to brainstorming. This activity stimulates critical thinking by disconnecting idea creation from idea evaluation, thereby giving participants a feeling of imaginative freedom.
First proposed by Osborne (1953), the following four principles have come to be accepted as the foundation for effective brainstorming:
As ideas are generated, having a facilitator write them up on a board for all to see can stimulate further thought and more ideas.
Reference: Osborne, A.F. (1953). Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. New York, NY: Scribner and Sons.
During the brainstorming phase of a discussion, the facilitator often must intervene to enforce rule number two, above. As energy builds, participants can be tempted to respond to each others’ ideas with "Yeah, but. . ." While these comments may come from a genuinely positive motivation to engage, the facilitator must carefully separate the evaluation phase of brainstorming from the idea generation phase.
We all want students to carry our teachings into their lives. Often, however, we must make our intentions very plain for students to understand that an assignment will equip them with skills and empower them, and is not an arbitrary hoop through which they must jump.
For this reason, frame each activity using these four steps:
Among the most useful things we as teachers can do during class discussion is shut our mouths. In an oft-cited meta-analysis of wait-time research, Tobin (1987) described findings of greater engagement and achievement when teachers waited at least three to five seconds after asking a discussion question before speaking again. Above this threshold, higher level thinking was observed and student academic performance improved. However, teachers behaving "normally" only tend to wait about one second. Students need a few moments to digest what they have recently heard, formulate their responses, and work up the courage to speak. Slow down, and more of your students will keep up with you.
Reference: Tobin, K. (1987). The role of wait time in higher cognitive level learning. Review of Educational Research, 57, 1: 69-95.