Brainstorming, as originally developed and researched at the Creative Education Foundation at SUNY Buffalo, is a specific set of procedures for a group of individuals to develop ideas and problem-solve. Leading a class through a brainstorming session is an excellent way to demonstrate a variety of issues concerning group dynamics, cognitive processes, and creativity. Any topic in the course also can be explored through brainstorming, especially controversial topics:
In addition, the brainstorming session can help the teacher and class explore important questions concerning any aspect of the course itself:
- What's the best definition of "mental illness."?
- What should be done with sociopathic killers?
- How can we make psychoanalytic treatment better?
- How can we improve intelligence tests?
- What other topics should be covered in this course?
- How can the exams be improved?
- How can students be evaluated in this course, other than by exams?
- How can students be encouraged to participate in class discussions?
As the teacher, you will be acting as the "facilitator" of the brainstorming session. The trick is to create the right structure for the process to work, but not to overcontrol it. Here are the traditional steps in the brainstorming procedure:
Steps in the Brainstorming Procedure
Briefly discuss the question or issue for the brainstorming session before the actual session. Give the students a few days to think about and "sleep on it" (this stimulates the process of "incubation").
On the day of the actual brainstorming session, start off by clearly defining the problem, question, or issue to be "solved." The question should not be too broad or ambiguous. Write the proposed question at the top of the chalk board. Discuss any relevant information concerning the question, which will provide additional fuel for the students' imagination (for example, for the questions posed above, everyone should understand the characteristics of a sociopath, or recall exactly what the previous exams for the course were like).
Warm up with an easy, perhaps fun question for a short, practice brainstorming session. It can be anything and doesn't have to be related to the proposed question. "How can we prevent the geese from pooping on the campus lawn?"
This stage begins the actual brainstorming to the proposed question. Encourage the students to throw out ideas and suggestions as you write them down on the chalk board. Anyone at anytime can speak. Write down onto the chalk board the following rules for this stage:
NO CRITICISMS OR EVALUATIONS (no one should judge, evaluate, or in any way criticize anything that anyone else says)5. Solution-Finding
FREE-WHEELING (say whatever comes to mind. No one should hold back. Anything goes. The wilder the idea, the better. "Crazy" and impractical ideas sometimes trigger useful ones).
QUANTITY IS WANTED (the more ideas, the better. It's easier later to pare down a long list than it is to puff up a short one)
COMBINE, CHANGE, IMPROVE (add to, modify, improve on other people's ideas. Can another idea be adapted, magnified, minimized, substituted, rearranged, reversed, combined?)
RELAX, PLAY, HAVE FUN (the brainstorming session should feel playful and relaxing. When it is going well, it indeed will be fun. There will be an enjoyable mixture of friendly competition and mutual help)
SILENCE IS OK (during periods of silence, people probably are thinking/incubating ideas. Something good often pops up after a silence)
As the facilitator, remind the students of these rules and ideas, when necessary, in order to guide and encourage them.
At a point that feels right (or when you're running low on time), stop the Idea-Finding phase and announce that you are now moving into the last phase. Now the ideas on the board are examined and evaluated critically. What solution or idea makes sense and what doesn't? Are some too simple or two complex? What is practical/feasible and what isn't? What would be the results and consequences of each solution or idea? Gradually narrow the list down by crossing off or erasing ideas. Try to arrive at the few very best solutions/ideas.
If the brainstorming session was designed to produce an idea that could be put into action (e.g., ways to improve the exams), then try it out and see if it works. Devote some class time to discussing the results.