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Mr G Online
Mar 10

The infographic below ( click on it to get a larger, readable version from the source) stimulates good discussion about the process of brainstorming. While its reference point is the business world,  brainstorming is clearly an oft-used and abused strategy in both classes and staff meetings at school. While we have developed this strategy somewhat with techniques like Think-Pair-Share, we can still fall back on the traditional model when strapped for time, with far from stellar outcomes.

While this infographic focuses on brainstorming, I think its message resonates across all forms of group work that occurs in schools, involving both students and teachers. I think it deserves reflection.

The following points are what I connected with as I read through the infographic.

THE FIVE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WITH GROUPTHINK

  1. SOCIAL LOAFING – common in both student and staff settings, it is human nature to sit back and allow others to do the work if they are happy to. I see this at all forms of meetings involving school staff and it is particularly common in classrooms during whole class lessons. This is when you see the same 8 teacher pleasers and high achievers constantly contribute and give the teacher a false sense of success in getting the message of the lesson through. There needs to be protocols set in place so that all group members are accountable for contributing.
  2. SOCIAL MATCHING – Allowing group participants to choose their group members is fraught with danger. Amongst both children and adults, less dominating friends are loathe to disagree with their opinionated mates and very little innovation and debate occurs. Being in a group with leadership is also difficult if you have to go straight into groupdiscussion. Few challenge the boss without preparation.
  3. PRODUCTION BLOCKING – Dominant speakers not only take up air time but being forced to listen to them takes away opportunities for others to think about their opinions and ideas. This is one of the biggest dangers of group brainstorming – the first good idea expressed is accepted and stifles creative thinking and discussion.
  4. LACK OF ATTENTION – Large groups gives members an easy way to disengage. There is always someone contributing so the rest can switch off, allowing some to hide away during the entire discussion and avoid thinking.
  5. FEAR OF CRITICISM OR REJECTION – Anonymity is important sometimes. Processes that collect ideas without leaders/teachers  knowing the source can allow reticent participants to share their opinions and ideas. Ideas can then be challenged, not the person. And, who knows, that idea you though your teacher or leader was going to hate..may end up being the best one offered.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE BRAINSTORMING
Independently prepare - While we are getting better at this for prepared Brainstorming sessions, I still think there are too many instances when we go straight to discussion without allowing for preparation. It happens in both classrooms and staff meetings. Often the only one prepared is the organiser who then dominates discussion. Even during general class time, there needs to be time for ALL students to think about a response, Teachers should monitor potential responses and catch a typically reluctant child with a good answer to call upon. Agendas need to go beyond dot points and elicit responses from participants by providing some questions and details to consider.
Set a Goal - Too often, thinking stops because we think we have finished. Clear goals or criteria (set the bar high but achieable), whether time or quantity based,  laid out at the beginning focuses participants on maintaining engagement in the task.
Have Meeting facilitators - Regardless of group size or duration of task, group leaders maintain focus on the task, This needs to be attended to during any group related task. Accountability creates attentiveness.
Avoid criticism - Both agree and disagree on this one. We can’t avoid being challenged – it is a necessary fact of life – but we do need to ensure the attack is on the idea, not the ‘man’. It’s why I believe in anonymity initially, time for everyone to
carefully reflect on ideas before responding and a requirement that you have a justification or alternative to the idea raised. Negativity without a practical reason is unacceptable.
Encourage competition - We avoid this too much in schools today. While we are after quality over quantity, you often get neither if there is no incentive. The aforementioned goal/criteria is the starting point. Competition is the finisher. Hear someone’s ideas. Allow for others to present something better in response. Competition encourages greater effort. Lack of it discourages trying.
Try Collaboration Apps  - Never one to pass on an opportunity to sell technology as a solution, I have had great success over the last couple of years using apps like Edmodo for brainstorming ideas. It addresses many of the problems mentioned above, Be forewarned though. It requires very stringent protocols to be in place lest unsavoury flame wars break out a la Apple vs PC vs Android nonsense. Monitoring and rules must always apply, even ( sometimes especially ) at the adult level.
Group work/brainstorming is a staple of the Education system. Sometimes, though, we take the process for granted, and get less than satisfactory outcomes as a result. We must always plan for these opportunities and I think this infographic is a useful resource to have beside you every time you are considering a brainstorm session.
How do you prepare for group work or brainstorming? Join the conversation.
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2 Responses to “How effective is brainstorming at your school? (infographic and commentary)”

  1. Viviene Tuckerman Says:

    I am also concerned about dominant group members taking over and intimidating others in brainstorming sessions, both in staff meetings and in the classroom.
    Often the quiet, observant types have some valuable input, when they are not afraid to contribute.
    Personally, I am inclined to the view that a collaborative site is possibly better at the outset than a ‘real life’ session, as something like wallwisher (now Padlet) allows people to express their ideas and have them up there for later discussion.
    Polls and surveys are great starting points too. Hence a group could brainstorm for possible polls and surveys, then have the group complete them and discuss the results.
    When discussions are jumped into in a social situation it is kind of inevitable that the dominant personalities, who don’t necessarily have the best ideas, will just take over. I have seen it happen too many times.

    • mgleeson Says:

      Thanks, Viv. I agree when possible that a collaborative website is a good starting point for collecting all points of view. I like your idea of polls and surveys too – a good way of gauging group opinions on specific issues before greater detail is entered into through discussion.

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