Circle time done right

Circle time done rightDownload a printable copy of this article (PDF 411KB)

  • Eradicate turn taking and wait time.
  • Focus on engagement during and after circles.
  • Make your circles brief.
  • Ensure high levels of student activity during circles.
  • Change up your circles constantly to maximise variety.

I often joke that, at Real Schools, an important event that will happen one day is a bonfire. We’re going to run an amnesty where Australian teachers can hand in their devices of destruction for incineration. And what exactly is that cruel, dangerous weapon? It’s the “talking stick”!

It’s not that Australian teachers have been harming anyone with variations on talking sticks from fluffy wands to tennis balls and spiky crocodile toys. These devices have led to an impression in our schools that circle time, for students of all ages, is done a certain way. That way is to hand the stick to the student on either the left or right and then to let the turn taking begin, regardless of the relevance, quality or the time it takes for each contribution.

This simply isn’t true. There is no ONE way to run a circle at all. Teachers who run truly successful circles are incredibly creative with how these circles proceed and they know that wait time is lost time. At Real Schools, our absolute determination is that circles have one key aim along with three underpinning principles.

“Passion makes one think in a circle.”
– Oscar Wilde

Main Aim of a Circle – Engagement

Every circle’s intention should be to have all students at their highest level of engagement for the longest possible percentage of time. Imagine taking a picture of your circle (or better still, actually taking that picture) and studying the percentage of students who are actively speaking, listening, thinking or doing – that’s how to measure circle engagement.

Further, circles should not only be engaging experiences, they should also elevate post-circle engagement levels. No matter the purpose of a circle, there should be the intention for something to be different afterwards.

  • Check-in circle – students should be calmer, more in control of emotions and more able to think and learn clearly.
  • Check-out circle – students’ capacity to reflect on work ethic, collaboration and personal impact on the class should be enhanced.
  • Preparation circle – students should be clear about behavioural expectations and their affect generation responsibilities.
  • Response circle – students should be connecting conversation to actions and deliverables.
  • Learning circle – students should be cognisant of learning intentions, demonstration opportunities, deadlines and noise requirements.

Engagement is the key. There are three principles that will facilitate the highest possible engagement levels both during and after an effective circle:

  • Brevity – a quick circle is a good one. Only in the most serious of moments should a circle stretch out as long as 15 minutes. The longer a circle goes, the more likely it is that students will disengage. Often, boys disengage through disrupting the circle, whereas girls tend towards a quiet mental trip to another place. In preference to a long circle at the start of a lesson and then a long period of sustained learning work (the old 15/45 model), try making your circle a 3 minute experience followed by 7 minutes of sustained work. The 3/7/3/7/3/7/3/7/3/7/3/7 model will trigger a far higher level of engagement across a 60 minute lesson.
  • Activity – Circles are not opportunities for you to make speeches. Nor should they be boring with certain students dominating the conversation with long remarks or through their uncanny ability to be chosen when hands go up. Have your students turn and talk to the person next to them for a minute and listen to three great ideas, in preference to everyone speaking individually. This is a mindset issue for teachers who need to let go of the paradigm that all communication must be heard by us and must come through us.
  • Variety – mix your circles up. Sit on the floor, sit on chairs, stand strong, stand outside, lie on your bellies, use a tennis ball, use your bodies to communicate, place students with “non-friends”, change your own position, use a whiteboard or butcher’s paper, invite other staff to join you, use the iPads, discuss non-school topics, share stories, hopes, dreams and memories. When it comes to circles variety really is the spice of life.

Circles work. They work for teachers and students, and they can work for you too. You may be just a tweak away from outrageous circle success.

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