Brainless group storming

Guest-blogging at The Core Knowledge Blog, Diana Senechal deconstructs a lesson plan on the Pennsylvania Department of Education web site, “Brainstorming in Groups,” designed for grades 7-12.

Divide the class into small groups of equal size (3 or 4 students per group). Each group selects one person to be the recorder. The recorder will need three pieces of paper. Explain the prewriting strategy of brainstorming, emphasizing that the point is not quality, but rather quantity of ideas at this stage of the writing process. Give the class one topic to brainstorm in their group, allowing about four minutes. Then give the next topic, allowing another four minutes, then give the last topic, and again allow about four minutes. Ask each group to count the number of ideas that were generated for each topic. Select one topic and write all ideas on the board or overhead projector. Conclude with a discussion of the value of this group activity as a prewriting strategy. If time permits, create an outline for a formal essay working with the topics generated in the groups. Suggested Topics: Poverty in America, Contemporary Music, Technology in Education, Fads, Violence and Television, College Life, Effective Parenting.

I can’t do justice to Senechal’s line-by-line critique. You’ll have to read the original. In summary:

Quantity over quality is stressed. Keeping discussion to four minutes ensures students won’t have time to “sort through their ideas and eliminate the ones they thought were bad. Nothing is bad here, and nothing is good.”

With time for a discussion on why this was such a great activity — but no room for disagreement with that premise — time will not permit outlining an essay using all the good, bad and indifferent ideas, Senechal writes.

The suggested topics are chosen on the belief that students will be able to talk without “the crutch of knowledge.”

They will be glib and gird themselves with the gadgets of catch-phrasery. They will have the social interaction skills needed for life and the workplace.

Reading holistically — it’s all the rage — she concludes “the point was not to learn anything at all or nothing at all, but rather to learn how to learn nothing at all.

I’ve done this sort of activity at conferences.  A lot of time is spent writing things on butcher paper.  Nothing ever seems to come of it.