Does the Smartphone Promote Better Brainstorming?

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Is brainstorming becoming a lost art for today’s teens?

Over the past nine months I often wondered about this while I was student teaching 11th-graders in an affluent part of the country. I soon noticed that my juniors were having a difficult time brainstorming new ideas and generating commentary. Naturally, as a strapping new English teacher, I collaborated with my mentor teacher, and we tried new brainstorming activities—that is, ones without cell phones.

I wasn’t trying to downplay the importance of cell phones, of course—they do serve a purpose in teens’ lives. Plus, they even serve a purpose in the classroom at times.  The ability to research a factoid or make a clarification is incredibly handy and timely. The truth is, most of us can hardly remember what life was like without Google.

Regardless, though, I saw many teens struggling to come up with original ideas.  It became clear to me that the current high school generation is incredibly invested in technology and social media accounts, both of which are ingrained in them.  These kids grew up with phones—many got their first smart phones in kindergarten or first grade.

However, as an older Millennial, I think that cell phones are toxic. They don’t necessarily allow for original thought although some argue that curating the perfect Instagram filter is original art.  What I’m saying is that when you grow up relying on something so consuming, it becomes difficult to break the habits that accompany it.  Sure, when we don’t know the answer to a question, someone offers to “Google it.”  But isn’t that kind of impasse exactly when conversations should take place?  Not knowing the answer to a question causes people to talk, interact, and engage.

For that reason, engagement was one of the key things I promoted in my classroom this past year, and we did that by having students participate in brainstorming sessions. (Think “word vomit.”)  Sure, grammar and sentence structure still matter.  But what do you have to edit or correct if there’s nothing on the page?

First, bring on the thoughts; then the structuring part can happen.  At the end of the day, when kids are thinking, they are ultimately learning. In particular, for a writer, when an ingenious thought pops into his or her head, something convinces the brain that if the words aren’t jotted down, the thought will be lost forever. While people find their way around this problem (i.e. Post-Its, or typing a “note” in your phone), today’s youths are just beginning to experience writing for the journey and experience that it can be, and for that reason, I think some of them underestimate the “power” of their own opinions and words.

So many thoughts, so little time. Explore. Think. Enjoy!

One final question for blog readers: If you have a teen in your midst (home or class), what have you noticed in regard to teens’ reliance on cell phones affecting the resurgence of new ideas?