Crossword and Group Work

I love doing crossword puzzles. I’m not sure why, because they can be frustrating, and can remind me of how much I do not know.  But, they are good time-wasters, and won’t make you feel guilty afterwards – when vegging out while watching TV probably will.  I guess I like doing something remotely challenging, but there is a threshold that I don’t like to go too far beyond.  It’s the difference between an easy NY Times crossword and a medium one. I think this is a good metaphor for teaching and learning too, because most students are willing to be intellectually challenged with some scaffolding and to a certain extent, whereas it is easy for them to give up if they are forced well beyond their limits of comprehension or comfort.

Anyway, I was doing a crossword puzzle yesterday.  I was by myself, and just felt like every word was on the tip of my brain.  I knew the synonyms for the clues, but it was just an issue of recall.  I hate that.  When I looked again at the puzzle today, I was able to get a few more.  Perhaps sleeping last night had a beneficial affect on a weary brain.  Having some conscious or unconscious time to think about these clues may have helped too.  Later I had my boyfriend work on the crossword a little bit, and seeing a few more letters on the puzzle helped my brain recall some of those clues that I had trouble with.  I think this is the perfect example of creative thinking and the creative thinking process – at least for me.  I cannot come up with some novel idea at random, but need some pieces or some structure to my creative process.  In order to brainstorm, I need a foundation.  Even so, with the card game creation activity that we did in class I had a lot of trouble just coming up with an idea.  Potentially it had to do with the number of people in my group, which was only two.  I know having my boyfriend help with the crossword enables me to recall some of those words based on the addition of just one more letter.  In this way the creative process is sometimes done best with a group of people.  I was curious about the optimal group size for creative thinking or brainstorming, and so I Googled it.

Some web results indicated that the best group size for brainstorming is 4-5.  Other results said 7-10.  But, I did find a good number of articles that insisted that brainstorming does not produce any greater number of ideas than those same individuals would produce on their own (based on research, see the article below).  How can this be?  I don’t buy it, because I believe that one person’s knowledge and understanding of the world is limited, and that by introducing a greater number of people into the equation, the group would have access to a larger amount of knowledge and multiple perspectives on a give problem or issue.  I guess the number of ideas might be the same as individuals or as a group, however the quality of ideas (their practicality and their complexity) must surpass that of an individual.  I know that groups feed and build off of each individual’s thought process, and therefore there must be greater creative potential and problem-solving in groups. However, I guess groups have to be careful in suspending their critical thinking (or jumping to solutions without due consideration) in order to avoid shooting down ideas or creative strands/tangents.  Otherwise, famous examples like the Bay of Pigs result when groupthink causes members to stray too far down one path without considering alternatives.

For my own creative potential, I think I’d better stick to groups, but work on my ability to suspend judgment on others’ ideas.

The Brainstorming Myth

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