Full Circle Connections


Class is over!  Three simple words that can portray a very different meaning depending on the tone of the delivery. On some days, the utterance of these words indicates great joy as students scutter out of the classroom.  On other days, these words are aired with despair due to the excitement of the day’s activities. In both situations, the effectiveness of the ending is important to capture student learning and direct future decisions. Making the ending meaningful and effective for student learning takes planning, time, structure, and commitment.

There are several ways teachers choose to end the class period. Popular ways to end include the utilization of exit slips and written reflection.  Unfortunately, when pacing is off and time is escaping, class endings tend to be cut short, rushed, or eliminated altogether. While this is going to happen from time to time, habitual exercise of these endings ultimately impacts the overall effect and impact of student learning.

One of the class ending protocols that I find both enjoyable and impactful is what I call the Full Circle Connection protocol.  In this protocol, students are taught the routines of how to circle up in both small group formations and large group formations. Teaching students how to circle up in both formation increases variety in how this protocol can be used. Teachers may wish to use small groups for time-restricted moments or in-depth moments. The large group formation may be used when more time is available or to get a feel for the whole class experience.  Teaching student circle up routines should include moving furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) if needed and what it means to arrange the group or groups into a circle. Depending on the purpose of the circle, arranging chairs for a seated conversation should be practiced or standing in place should be modeled. Practicing body movement such as eye contact, body positions, and other good listening gestures can be highlighted to improve social skills and interactions.

At the ending of a class, devoting 10 minutes as a closing activity could be powerful. An example of what that might look like could be:

Summary Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to summary the main points of the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide one-minute of think time.
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time (to small group circles–yes, this can be done if the routine is practiced).
  4. Assign a leader to begin (could be a class job or in a creative way with objects, cards, descriptor…person wearing the most orange, etc.)
  5. Each student provides a brief summary (limited to a minute).
  6. After 5-7 minutes, groups return to seats or to whole-class formation.
  7. Leaders from each group provide a summary statement.

Formulating Questions Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to write a higher-order thinking question based on the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide two-minutes of think time (this will take longer until students have practice with the routine).
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time.
  4. Assign a leader.
  5. Each student takes turn reading his or her question without commentary from other students (10 seconds per student).
  6. The group decides on a question to explore.
  7. Each student takes one-minute to respond to the question.
  8. After 7 minutes, group returns to whole-class formation.
  9. Leaders share question with whole group.  A list is generated for future exploration.

For me, I would have students stand in a circle during these moments.  Each example could be expanded into a much larger lesson. Practicing these routines will eventually increase the flow and pacing. Honoring the learning can help with recall and it can lead to deeper discoveries.  Circles create an more intimate experience empowering students both socially and emotionally. Building this level of support in a classroom opens students up to seek clarification and explore topics at a higher level. If teachers respond to these connections, formative feedback can positively impact student learning.

Red Card, Black Card, Move


The utilization of movement varies from grade level to grade level and from teacher to teacher. I was visiting with a teacher recently, and she mentioned how the use of “brain breaks” is different from elementary to middle school.  Middle school teachers were labeling time to get up and pass in papers or sharpen pencils as brain breaks.  Elementary school teachers were incorporating dance moves or stretching as brain breaks.  I think both, depending on how they are used, or the outcomes of the movements could be considered brain breaks.

I also often hear teachers request the use of movement to enhance content, or the use of movement in conjunction with content.  Many of the activities on this site are, or can be, used alongside the delivery of content.  I also hear from teachers the need for the use of movement in their classrooms to be simple and easy to implement.  This activity is both simple and easily adapted to any content.  A colleague of mine was explaining the activity in the following manner:

Each student is given either a red playing card or a black playing card. In the front of the room, one of the unit’s essential questions was written on a red piece of chart paper, and a second essential question was written on a black piece of chart paper.  Each student was also given a sticky note. When directed, students answered the essential question according to the playing card they received. Students then found a partner with the same playing card and discussed their answers (and made any modification) to the essential question they were assigned.  The sticky notes were then placed on the corresponding chart paper.

This is a simple activity that does not require a lot of thought. It can be modified in many ways. Students could pair up with someone with the opposite color of playing cards and have a conversation. Students could have a large group conversation after dividing themselves up into two large groups.  As the unit progresses, students could be asked to answer the other essential question and repeat the activity.  The same can happen at the end of the unit as a check to see if the essential questions were addressed throughout the unit.

Using movement in the classroom does not have to be flashy.  It can be simple and enhance the normal flow content delivery and classroom discussions; therefore, all teachers should be able to add more movement to their classes on a daily basis.

Finding the Words


Taking notes can be a bore.  Students will often groan when mentioning part of the class period will be used to take notes, but taking notes can be exhilarating.  It is hard to imagine using the words notes and exhilarating in the same sentence.  Another word that can create a buzz…in a negative way… is vocabulary.  Taking notes on academic vocabulary can be energizing! In fact, some students in my classroom actually get excited when I mention we are going to take notes on academic vocabulary.

One activity that I like to use is called the Hot and Cold Vocabulary. In this activity,  I begin by hiding the first vocabulary word around the room before students enter. Usually, I attach it to a student desk or chair.  I tell students to begin the activity by trying to locate the first word.  Students search their close proximity to find the word.  This begins to excite them.  After the word is found, we add it the note section of their vocabulary section.

For the second phase, I ask a student to leave the classroom with a watcher (who watches the student).  Working together, the rest of the class hides the next term in the room.  When the student returns, the class performs an action.  For example, we might start clapping.  As the student moves closer to the object, we clap faster/louder.  As the student moves away, we slow the clapping down or stop clapping altogether.  Once the student finds the word, we add it to the vocabulary section.

Depending on time, this process might be repeated multiple times. Following this activity, we explain the words in more depth, or we begin reading a text.  Since the students are engaged mentally due to the physical movement, they following activity is usually quiet and met with deep concentration.

A summarization strategy: Unraveling the details…


One of the struggles that teachers have, myself included, is to determine how to get the quieter students to talk in class.  While there are numerous ways to do so, I found a useful (and fun) activity at a conference a few years ago.  The session I attended was led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute (http://gurianinstitute.com/).  I, like most teachers, embraced the activity and made it my own.  What is great about this activity is that everyone is able to talk and students are up our of their seats.  The first thing that I do is groups students into groups no larger than five.  Sometimes I predetermine groups before class starts to ensure a variety of skills are represented, and at other times I make up groups on the spot.  I have found both approaches to be successful.  Each student is given a  long piece of yarn.  One student will be the group leader.  The group leader is the one that starts the activity.  Let’s give the leader the name of Brian.  Brian will grasp one of the ends of his piece yarn between this thumb and pointer finger.  As he talks, and only when he talks, he will slowly wind the yarn around the fingers that are grasping the end of the yarn.  If he pauses, he has to stop winding.  If he goes too quickly, he has to start over.  Brian will start summarizing a short story recently read in class.  He will start with the exposition and work his way into the rising action.  When he runs out of string, he stops.  The person to his right, Jennifer, will start summarizing where Brian left off.  Her piece of yarn should be of equal length to Brian’s.  Once Jennifer reaches the end of her piece of yarn, the person on her right, Billy, begins where she left off.

This activity should really simplistic (and it is), but there are some issues that will come up.  What does the group do if Billy can’t think of what to say?  or What if Billy was absent when the short story was read in class?  Great questions!  Billy will start from the beginning and restate what Brian and Jennifer just said.  So, Billy has to pay attention to the details of what has been said.  When he reaches the end of his yarn, the next person will start from where he left off.

What if Jennifer said something out of order or mentioned a detail that was incorrect?  In this case, if Billy realized her errors, he can mention the correction during his turn and then continue the summarization.

What if the Billy finishes the summarization and Sam and Kelly still have to speak? In this case, Sam would start from the beginning and wherever he ends in the summarization, Kelly would begin during her turn.

This activity may sound a bit overwhelming to monitor.  The teacher’s role during this activity is to walk around the classroom and listen to the different groups present.  I often stand in a position, so I can see multiple groups at the same time.  Since the person talking is winding his or her piece of yarn, it is easy to see which students are speaking in each group.  If one group finishes before another group, the process can start over and the group can continue until each group is finished.  Sometimes, if a group finishes early, I have the students talk about the characters, setting, theme, etc.

At the end of the  activity, I will ask students to share out what happened in their groups, give an oral summary of the reading selection, or begin writing a summary paragraph of the reading selection.  The great thing about this activity is that since it repeats from person to person, students of differing abilities can participate and everyone eventually hears the main details of the reading selection.

image:  www.flaxandtwine.com

The Power of Repetition? Swimming through the repetition waters…


Summer is a great time for reflection (at least for teachers).  I think it is also a great time for discovery…or even enlightenment (in some sense).

I was watching my daughter at swimming lessons the other day and a thought hit me.  In the past, we have signed her up for weekly lessons at a local indoor pool.  We were pleased with the lessons.  She seemed to be progressing to the point where she would have to take the class two or three times before proceeding to the next level.

This summer we decided to sign her up for daily swim lessons at a local outdoor pool.  Each session runs for two weeks and then students are given a progress report for whether or not they move on to the next session.  My daughter has made strides this summer.  Of course, there are many possibilities to the improvement she has been making.  It could be the teacher(s), the setting, her age, her motivation, etc.  I can’t help but think it is also due to daily repetition versus weekly repetition (as in once a week).

I’m not sure what to make of this observation.  Swimming involves physical skill, which can be easily observable when progress is being made.  It is harder to observe measurable progress in reading and writing (although it is still there) as quickly as I have seen in my daughter’s swimming lessons.  Rule #5 of John Medina’s Brain Rules, emphasizes the need to “repeat to remember”:  http://www.brainrules.net/short-term-memory .

I am wondering if it makes a difference in whether or not the repetition needs to be daily or weekly.  During a unit, I practice repetition (I think  most teachers do).  As I have reflected over the years, I have changed my teaching practice to involve more skill-based learning.  My thought is that the skills themselves need to be repeated over and over.  Perhaps this needs to be done daily and weekly throughout the year until mastery by most students has occurred.  Or, perhaps it needs to be done in with differentiation in mind.  Regardless, the repetition of skills needed in a English class help make the learning automatic, which is why, over time, improvement in reading and writing skills can be measured.

As I plan for the upcoming school year, I hope to integrate purposeful repetition in my lessons as I consider what it will take for my students to meet the ELA Common Core State Standards.

As far as using physical movement in lessons, I believe in the repetition of physical movement as a way to teach specific skills or as a way to introduce (or review) content through a different lens.  For example, when I teach vocabulary, I often have student transform their bodies into a shape that represents the definition of a word.  Each time we review the word(s), I have them recall the position.  In a sense, this type of repetition has students associate a physical trait with a verbal definition; therefore, they have a better chance of recalling the definition later. I will describe this activity in more detail in a later post.