Circle of Knowledge in a Nutshell
Despite its enormous importance as a teaching and learning strategy, classroom discussion can be quite fragile. On the one hand, it is highly involving; on the other hand, few strategies suffer as much when students refuse to participate. Classroom discussions help students develop new insights and perspectives, yet they can easily be thrown off track. Learning how to conduct an effective classroom discussion is an essential skill for any teacher to master. Circle of Knowledge provides teachers with a strategic framework for planning and conducting discussions that foster student participation and critical thinking.
Three Reasons for Using Circle of Knowledge to Address the Common Core
- Effective oral communication is a crucial 21st century skill. It is so crucial, in fact, that it gets its very own strand of Speaking and Listening Standards, along with Reading, Writing, and Language. According to the Common Core, "To become college and career ready, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner—built around important content" (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010a, p. 48). The Circle of Knowledge strategy helps teachers create a classroom culture where these kinds of "rich, structured conversations" become the norm.
- Speaking and listening require thinking. A close look at the Standards for Speaking and Listening makes it clear that low-level question-and-answer sessions won't cut it. Students need to be able to "participate effectively … building on others' ideas" (SL.CCR.1), "integrate and evaluate information" (SL.CCR.2), and "evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence" (SL.CCR.3). These are high-level thinking skills, which is why Circle of Knowledge discussions are built around serious, thought-provoking questions. Circle of Knowledge develops students' thinking through provisional writing and effective questioning techniques and has students work in small groups to integrate and evaluate ideas before participating in the larger discussion.
- Discussions build collaborative and interpersonal skills. The introduction to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010a) reminds us that the "twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together" (p. 7). To thrive in these characteristically diverse settings, students need to learn to listen attentively, appreciate opposing points of view, and disagree without "steamrolling" (or being steamrolled by) their peers. Well-designed Circle of Knowledge discussions, in which the teacher establishes communication protocols, allows students to work in both small and large groups, and gradually hands over more responsibility to students, give students the practice and support they need to build these essential interpersonal skills.
The Research Behind Circle of Knowledge