Gone are the days when every school uses textbooks as their base curriculum resource as more and more are opting to go without, leaving the materials to be used in a classroom up to a teacher’s discretion. And as a result the Internet has seemingly become the go-to place for one to find worksheets, lesson ideas, assessments, etc., because why create your own when you can effortlessly print something off instead? While I am willing to admit that the Internet does have its advantages – such as allowing for greater creativity and flexibilty in teaching – I sometimes wonder if it is doing more harm than good when it can be so easy for a teacher to take the first resource they find, instead of assessing its grade-level appropriateness and suitability for the task at hand. And if one isn’t careful, what are the consequences for students?
The consequences are that students can sometimes find themselves struggling to complete an assignment, not because they find the concept difficult, but because the text or source presents it in a manner they can’t understand. For example, my daughter recently brought home an assignment that required her to rewrite a paragraph and punctuate it correctly using capitals, periods, commas, question marks and exclamation marks. As far as homework goes, this should have been a relatively simple task, and yet it wasn’t, due to the difficult nature of the text. Even though my daughter is reading at grade level, the exercise became more than just about rewriting and punctuating – it became an exercise in comprehension as my daughter struggled to understand the paragraph. And don’t get me wrong, improving one’s reading comprehension skills is never a bad thing, however in this instance it took away from the homework’s purpose, because how can one punctuate a text they can’t follow? For this assignment the teacher would have been far better off taking the extra time to find a text that any student in the class could read so they could have focused solely on the task at hand, instead of having to worry about comprehension, to boot.
Now the point of this article isn’t to say that schools should all go back to using textbooks, it’s merely to suggest that perhaps there needs to be a better system in place for monitoring and assessing resources taken from the Internet. Perhaps it involves extra training sessions to help teachers learn how to assess and analyse the quality and content of a resource before using it, or perhaps it involves a school limiting which sites materials can be take from. I am not sure what the right solution is, but I believe it is an issue worthy of discussion for the benefit of our future learners as we move forward in this digital age.
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It’s time to re-examine how brainstorming sessions are currently being run within the context of team meetings in education, and ask ourselves if we are being productive or simply putting words in a mind map for the sake of putting words in a mind map. If you reflect on the number of meetings you’ve either planned or sat in, have any real concrete changes been made afterwards? I am going to go out on a limb and guess no, and the reasons for this are two-fold; the first being the way the information is organized on the mind map, and the second is a failure to provide the necessary tools for implementation after the meeting. The following tips will help you address these issues and ensure that the changes you were hoping for will transpire after your brainstorming session!
Prior to Your Brainstorming Session
The extra time that you put into preparing for your brainstorming session will be well worth it in the end, and so instead of just having an idea for a title for each bubble on your mind map, take the time to list in bullet point the specific kinds of answers you are looking for. For example, if a particular bubble on the mind map will be entitled “Designing Learning in the Digital Age”, you can add phrases or questions underneath it, such as:
By including questions like these within the bubble, you clarify what kind of answers you are expecting from teachers, there’s less room to veer off topic and your end result will be actionable goals that one can implement. Never underestimate the power of knowing and clarifying your outcomes prior to a meeting.
During Your Brainstorming Session
Amidst all the ideas being presented during a brainstorming session, it’s important to stay focused, on topic, and be thinking on your feet about ways you could extend ideas in a practical manner. So, let’s say someone throws out the idea of each teacher introducing new apps that relate to their subject area as a means of contributing to digital learning – instead of simply accepting this idea and moving on, pursue it further and ask teachers for a list of apps they can add to the mind map. In this way, when teachers sit down to do the work, they already have a starting point, as you can see in the example below.
After Your Brainstorming Session
No matter how organized or how good a brainstorming session was, it’s never a good idea to assume that teachers know what to do afterwards; it’s easy to forget things that were discussed the day before. In order to avoid this issue, you can provide staff with:
a) copies of the mind map to refer to by snapping a picture of it and emailing it to all. Because if you’ve thought long and hard about expected outcomes before the meeting, the information on the mind map will be germane to fulfilling the goals that were set out.
b) planning templates that indicate the process to follow for implementing the ideas on the mind map. So, if for example it was decided that each teacher would introduce new and relevant apps to their students relating to subject areas taught, a simple planner like the one below could be given for guidance.
The above planning template is an excellent segue from the mind map because it’s exactly what was discussed – each teacher will introduce new apps to their students, a list of apps was brainstormed during the meeting that teachers can refer to, and now all that’s left for the teacher to do is select apps and indicate when during the unit they will be introduced to students. In providing teachers with a template, you have given them a means for creating a solid plan of action that can be carried out without confusion - the perfect ending to any brainstorming session!
After a brainstorming session, it can be hard to follow up and ask teachers which tasks they have completed and when, but by ensuring your mind map has specific outcomes on it (as we have shown) with concrete ideas for implementation and an accompanying planning template for teachers to set actionable goals, following up becomes very easy. If a planner isn’t complete, you know that the teacher may still have been struggling with what to do, and you can use the planning template as a guide in mentoring them. If the planner is complete, you can easily see how and when each of the tasks was done without guesswork.
By following the above tips, you are well on your way to organizing effective brainstorming sessions that will produce the end results you are looking for – happy planning!
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