Classroom Circles to Increase Learning

This past week, I started using the circle process in my Math 11 class. I have a challenging class, the kind that you talk about for many years to come. So far, they have been almost as tough as when I taught most of them two years ago, in Math 9. Things have not been going that great so far, so I decided to pull out the circle as a strategy to improve learning in the class.

Now I have used circles before…to get to know a class, I usually do a few circles in the first week, but then quickly abandoned them as it is “time to get to work.”

I was so excited about project based learning using technology at the start of this semester that I forgot about the get to know you, build relationships, build trust, establish norms part of teaching that I usually start with. I jumped right into my projects…only to discover that a majority of my class wasn’t that excited about using a wiki, creating an online portfolio project about taking a trip, or blogging about their learning. Go figure.

As a new VP, I have been learning a lot about Restorative Justice and the circle process over the past three years. I run informal Restorative circles with victim and offender on a weekly basis in my office. As a reaction to the way things were going in math, and as a way to increase my own learning through experience, I decided to run a daily circle in math.

At first, the students were apprehensive, but they quickly learned that not only is circle a way to get out of doing math for 10 minutes a day, but it can be fun to listen to others stories and experiences. It’s also a great way to work out classroom problems.

Four girls who were consistently loud, overly dramatic and off-task have noticeably settled down in class since we started circle. They have had the opportunity to see how their loud and off task behavior affects others in the class. To hear a peer say “when you guys are so loud it bothers me” has way more impact than another teacher saying “be quiet please.”

So we will continue with circle this week as a way to increase learning. This weeks focus: work as a group to establish classroom norms for behavior in class. Hey, better late than never…

Check out the Circle Spaces blog on my blog roll, it is a blog I came across today that looks like like a great resource for running circles.

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