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A Seating Arrangement that Empowers: The Conversation CircleAnn Marie Corgill
How many of you have tried to lead a writing or reading share time with elementary students who'd rather chat with a friend about recess, or hide under the easel to confiscate the new markers, or play jingle bells with the Velcro on the new sneakers?
What about those middle school kids who've learned to text from their pockets and are having a completely different conversation with their classmates, while you are trying to encourage meaningful dialogue about writing?
Yep. Me too!
So what do we do to lift the level of the conversation and empower students to think and talk purposefully about their reading and writing?
I've always believed that it was important to begin and end my workshops or classes in a central location with all students. But because of the way students were seated, it wasn't always productive, and honestly . . . sometimes it was a big fat joke. Over the years with lots of trial and error, I've found that no matter the subject or the grade level, beginning and ending each class period in a circle -- not just a central location or gathering place -- lifts the level of the work students are doing and the conversation around that work.
Why Does the Circle Matter?
When students began to sit in a circle, my role transformed right before their eyes. I was no longer the leader, the bearer of all knowledge and keeper of the loaded questions and right answers. I became a co-collaborator, a facilitator, and an encourager. I sat in the circle with my students. I became one of them during our teaching and share time.
Sitting like this also shifted the expectations for students. When I said, "please gather on the rug" thousands of times and thousands of workshops before, I had no idea that many students got the message that this was a time to either be anonymous and let those dominant talkers do the work, or to let me do all the thinking and the talking -- because that's my job right? I'm the teacher and that's what I'm supposed to do, right?
Not true! The circle sends a message of accountability and respect for every person in the room. No longer are there opportunities for hiding under the easel or sending secret text messages without anyone noticing. It's now an opportunity to teach conversational skills, and encourage meaningful dialogue about the writing and reading work we are doing.
How to Start
Once we started sitting like this, a realization hit me square in the face. If I expected students to talk to each other about their reading and writing, I had to teach them how to have conversation. I'd never thought that I needed to be purposeful about teaching talk . . . good grief, my problem was to get them to stop talking (or so I believed). I've learned to slow down and not feel guilty for spending time teaching and practicing social skills. We can't expect students to grow to their academic potential if we don't teach them how to be social, ethical human beings who know how to listen, talk, and interact in meaningful ways with peers and adults.
Now I know that intentionally teaching things like making eye contact, shifting your body to turn towards the speaker, paying attention to body language, and listening for entrances to add to the conversation. These skills have to be taught, practiced, and revisited over and over and over as we navigate through our writing and reading day after day, year after year.
So what does this work look like in classrooms? This year, my sixth graders expressed the need to sit in chairs around the rug, because just sitting on the rug felt "too elementaryish" to them. We've had days of practice bringing these chairs to the rug in a quiet and timely manner. Yes, it was chaos at first, but because we took the time to practice, it's now a seamless habit and transition. I've also been in classrooms where the size of the room made it tricky to create space for an entire class to sit in a circle. Because I believe in this routine, this circle is that important to our work, I've sacrificed a teacher's desk, moved furniture, and somehow found space around the bolted-to-the-floor science table that took up a third of the room and made it work. It's that important. No excuses.
When you begin and end classes and workshops in this way, expect thoughtful, purposeful, amazing thinking and conversation to happen because it will! The conversation circle empowers students to be readers, writers, and thinkers who all have something smart to say. They will teach you something every single time you gather together.
Ann Marie Corgill
Ann Marie Corgill wrote the beautiful book Of Primary Importance. She loves to paint, send email, read on the floor of the children's book sections of bookstores, have fun with friends and family, shop in New York City, and eat at restaurants with a great wine list, and she appreciates a good vanilla buttercream cupcake. "I don't like big dogs, talking on the phone, unloading the dishwasher, desserts with nuts, and saying goodbye."
© Choice Literacy. All rights reserved.
Understanding the King—MLK Speech Analysis is an America Achieves video of 5th-grade close-reading instruction aligned to college and career readiness standards.
This LINK TO RESOURCE button on the right will take you to the America Achieves home page. There you can log in (or create an account to log in). Then you can type "Understanding the King" in the Search box to get to the video.
See below for a selection of discussion questions to help structure educator conversations about this video. Additionally, a video-viewing protocol is included in the Related Resources at the bottom of this page.
Possible Discussion Questions
What did the teacher need to know about the content and the students to implement College and Career Ready standards effectively?
What routines/structures were in place in the classroom for students to engage in learning with high cognitive demand?
What did the students need to know to be able to engage in these conversations?
How does the teacher convey his learning goals for the lesson?
Are the success criteria for the goal clear? Why do you think this?
What were the contexts in which students were engaged in classroom discourse (e.g., classroom discussions, assessment conversations, conferences)?
How did the teacher design the instructional task that made student thinking visible?
What feedback would you give this teacher?
- See more at: http://csai-online.org/resource/411#sthash.UvqlCYjU.dpuf
Use the protocol: http://csai-online.org/resource/411
Jones, B., Tobiason, G., Chang, S., Heritage, M. H., & Herman, J. - See more at: http://csai-online.org/resource/253#sthash.X91dXxwY.dpuf This resource addresses key shifts in learning and teaching represented in the CCRS with a focus on understanding the Common Core State Standards. It provides an introduction to the CCSS and outlines a detailed process that teachers can use to become knowledgeable about the standards and prepare to teach them. An important first step in preparing to teach the CCSS well is to understand the content of the standards and how they differ from States’ prior standards. This resource is one in a series produced by the Center on Standards and Assessment Implementation to assist teachers and those who support teachers to plan teaching and learning from the College and Career Ready Standard (CCRS) for diverse learners. - See more at: http://csai-online.org/resource/253#sthash.X91dXxwY.dpuf
Assessment Design Toolkit: Initially designed by the Reform Support Network, this is a series of 13 PD modules aimed at supporting teachers identify and develop strong classroom assessments. Although the primary audience for these modules is teachers and principals, we encourage district and State leaders to use Toolkit to design professional development opportunities. CSAI has been working with RSN and USED to transfer these modules over to the CSAI site and is looking for state partners to further develop additional modules and materials to support assessment development and use in the classroom.
With Common Core standards on the rise, many ELA teachers are concerned about teaching students how to analyze text closely. Text analysis constitutes referring back to a text to find evidence to support a conclusion. Evidence can be direct or implied, with implied evidence being the more challenging. Students new to this concept, especially younger or “less advanced” students, will struggle with this skill unless the teacher successfully scaffolds.
Via Jill Martin
Grit is not just a simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again. – Lewis
My son’s baseball team has a ritual. No matter how late, how cold, how hot, how badly we lose or how magnificently we win, at the end of a game the team runs to the outfield, takes a knee and reflects on what they learned from the game. They analyze, discuss, debate and strategize. They hear feedback and are asked to think about the goals they have set for themselves, where they are in relation to those goals and their next steps to meet those goals. The focus is always on the next game – improvement and growth.
The theory of growth mindset demonstrates that failing to reach your goal can actually sharpen your game plan and strengthen your resolve to go after it. Lewis’ research on mastery suggests, “Mastery is not the same as perfectionism. Mastery requires endurance. It is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.” This suggests that an over-emphasis on winning is not the path to mastery. We need to cultivate an environment of reflection, revision and risk-taking. Goals are not meant to be achieved, but rather to be propelled by.
I believe this ritual supports this mind-set of growth, risk-taking and the pursuit of mastery. It reminds me of the group-share in a balanced literacy model. We often use this time for students to celebrate and share what went well in the application of strategies. I wonder if we should use this time more often to focus on our next “book” — growth and improvement.
What didn’t go well today?
How might you try it differently tomorrow?
What did you learn about yourself as a reader today that you will use as a reader tomorrow?
What are you working to improve?
What are you going to do next to meet your goal?
What would happen if no matter how tired, hot, wiggly, loud, or stressed for time we are, at the end of workshop we reflect on what we learned about ourselves as a reader. Literacy is not about success or meeting a benchmark, it is about mastery, purpose and creativity. Grit and growth mindset are not things that just happen. They need to be cultivated, modeled and pursued. We need to take the time to value these dispositions not just label and assign them. We need to truly embrace the curved path to mastery through our classroom rituals and environment. I know I plan on making some revisions to my workshop rituals.
Find, steal, and share free Common Core tools. For teachers, coaches, school and district leaders. Assembled by Student Achievement Partners.
Lynnette Van Dyke's insight:
Achieve the Core
Website with Close Reading Resources for Teachers
Achieve the Core has many resources to support teachers in implementing close reading lessons aligned to shifts in the new ELA standards. For example, the website includes model lessons, sample assessments, and a lesson-planning tool. The lesson-planning tool provides helpful information for teachers at each stage in the lesson-planning process to support professional learning about the new standards, the components of a close reading lesson, and how to support learners at various levels.
Academic Language PD Resources: This starts with a brief outlining the implications for the emphasis on academic language in the new CCRS (attached), and includes a PowerPoint presentation that has been delivered to states as well as accompanying resources for teachers. These are being updated this summer.