Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brainstorming: The Value of an Error

For most people, solutions to problems don't always make themselves readily apparent. In fact, not even the most gifted individuals hit the mark on the first try every time. After all, to err is human. I've found that individual brainstorming is a great way to generate possible answers. Just write down the first thing that comes to your mind and try not to weed out any of the suggestions mentally. Just let your common sense do that afterwards. Who knows, perhaps you'll find a gem in there yet. Brainstorming isn't just something to do as a teacher, but something to encourage students to do as well.

If we're trying to educate a generation of students who can solve tomorrow's problems, they need to be willing to generate errors, and not just one or two, but many. Brainstorming creates these errors in a relatively safe arena, but these errors aren't failures. There's something to learn from each one. Perhaps one solution lacks the elegance that is needed. Maybe another solution lacks a certain morality. Maybe another solution isn't even addressing the right topic. However, what does the suggested answer bring to the table? Every answer has merit in its own right.

Now, try to bring this brainstorming mentality to the classroom and treat class discussion as a time to brainstorm. Finding value in a student's response can be a tricky situation at times. There's a reason the whole phrase from Alexander Pope, "To err is human; to forgive is divine." It's simply harder to forgive less then perfect answers. Now, the goal isn't to praise every answer, but to acknowledge how it still contributes to the conversation and discussion. Students will provide a multitude of wrong answers, but they can still help point us in the direction of a right answer. It's not easy. It requires patience, a discerning ear, and the ability to just pause for a moment to really take in what was just said. It's easier to just say, "wrong" and call on the next student, but the only thing anyone learns in that situation is to that you need to have the answer the teacher is looking for next time. Evaluation is on the top of Bloom's taxonomy behavior. Knowledge is on the bottom. They're both needed, but let's promote the higher order of thinking.

One of the reasons I'm bringing this whole idea up is that it took me a while to think of a name for this blog. I ran a lot of ideas through my head, but it was only when I sat down and did some brainstorming was I able to really figure out what I wanted. I'm going to go ahead and show my brainstorming list. Some of the possible candidates were just plain bad. Other choices, while clever, didn't reflect the tone I wanted for this blog. Without going on too much more, here's the list of names that could have been.

Unteachable moments.

My students' pupil

Learning from my students

the teacher creature

brain surgery in process

Oh English

Wry education

Those who can't do teach

Reflective education

Audacious Education

Pragmatic Education

The Temerity of Teaching

Who Needs Tenure?

Unlearning how to teach

The teacher's learning curve

Learning the teaching curve

Elegant education

Learning the Unteachable

Irreverent Educator

indelible education

Noninvasive Brain Surgery

The noninvasive brain surgeon

The Educational Investment

evolving education

Sleeping in Class

Tutoring the Teacher

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