Now that my practicum is finished, I am left with a plethora of memories, moments, and lessons, and five separate sets of observations from my Action Research Project (which explores the use of Circle Process in the classroom). In reviewing my notes, it is blatantly obvious which of the circle sessions was the most successful of the five, and this session occurred on the day that I relinquished some of my control as the Circle Keeper.
At this point in my project, I had completed a short sharing circle and two circles focused primarily on relaxation and meditative breathing. At the end of the third session, I asked the kids to tell me what they wanted to discuss in future circles, and while many of them did not think of ideas (or at least, didn’t share them), one child presented a potential topic that got a positive response from a few more of his classmates. He asked if one day, we could go around the circle and talk about our favourite and least favourite foods and drinks, and I wrote his idea down, thanking him for the suggestion. Little did I know at the time though, that this topic would spark the longest and most productive circle session of my entire practicum experience.
The first time around the circle went just as it normally did– I posed a question (this time, asking the kids to tell us about their favourite foods), and those who normally participated offered a statement, whereas my frequent passers passed the talking piece with a blank look on their face. However, much to my surprise, the more we went around the circle, the more the class began to open up. My Associate Teacher helped me to ensure that the Circle rules were being followed and slowly but surely, even most of the students who had originally passed were proudly sharing their ideas about their food preferences. By the end of the discussion, we had received stories about family traditions, frequently consumed beverages, descriptions about the students’ favourite foods, and reasons behind their dislikes. We also had a short debate about junk food consumption and the practice of eating all foods in moderation, and for the most part, I simply sat back in awe, quietly taking stock of the participation level and listening to the insights and opinions being shared around and across the circle. I felt slightly guilty as we wrapped up our talk and moved on to my poetry lesson, as it was clear that the class was engaged. I thanked each of them for their ideas, and told them that they were welcome to keep the discussion going throughout lunch, which a few of them ended up doing.
Overall, I am thrilled that I decided to use a student-generated circle topic, and I attribute the success of this session to that very fact. By asking the class what they felt like discussing, I provided them with a sense of ownership and direct responsibility for their learning. No longer was I solely in charge of the direction of our class circles– I was simply a mediator in a student-led conversation, and I loved watching the atmosphere in the room change as the discussion continued. While I did not get to host as many circles as I had hoped over the course of my practicum, this Action Research project has restored my faith in the power and effectiveness of circles as an instructional strategy and a classroom management technique, and I will without a doubt be implementing them throughout the course of my teaching career.