I’ve attached a PDF to today’s entry, called the circle record. It’s something I saw at a conference years and years ago… lost it, found it, forgot it, lost it again, and then rebuilt last week based on my own sketchy memories of it. I wish I could tell you the origin point of it, but this one isn’t copyrighted. Use it as you wish.
In essence, it’s a large circle labeled with sixteen positions — I suppose I could cut lines in half to raise the number to 32 posts, but I only need 16, for my largest class — and a key of symbols. Using it today for the first time, I’m discovering that I really only need six symbols — a check mark, a plus sign, an exclamation point, a question mark, an X, a spiral — in order to track conversations. The kids picked up on what I was doing right away, and then I made it explicit. I showed it to them, so that they could see the kind of data I was gathering.
Some things became clear to them, and to me, quite rapidly. We were much more aware of when our conversations spiraled out beyond the boundaries of our topics. We were more conscious of who was and was not participating; and some students who normally don’t say much, made a genuine effort to join the conversation.
We also adapted the rubric of one of our language teachers to our history class: Just as the Señora says, “To learn a language, read it and write it and say it and hear it,” we say of history now, “to learn history, read it and write it and tell it and listen to it,” with the caveat that seeing historical places in person can help a lot.
Our first day, our first class, was not very successful. Out of the ten kids present (several are out sick), seven can really be said to have participated solidly; and three of them were ‘spiraling us out’ from our main topic pretty rapidly. Three stayed mostly quiet, or talked only to each other about unrelated topics. But, by the end of class, we came up with a plan for tomorrow. They’re re-reading last night’s pages, and they’re going to be paying attention to:
- Seating arrangements in class (sit with people who will keep you on topic)
- Think what you’re about to say before you say it;
- take notes before class on a couple of questions and a couple of answers you want to discuss;
kick so-and-so out of class
Our fourth item wound up getting crossed off the list, even though several people suggested it (even of themselves) because we realized that nobody starts off being good at this. It’s a question of learning how to be better at it that matters, not how bad you are at the beginning. It was great for them to realize it, and I felt proud that they both a) suggested it, and b) rejected it as an option without my help. We all need help at staying focused during conversations, and this seems to help them understand how they might do it.
I like how “record keeping” gives kids data to look at when they talk about how a good discussion operates. Too often we work from perceptions. I wonder how you could keep data about who is listening. Hmmm. And how could you keep data about the type of comments being made. Asking students to create categories for types of contributions to discussion might be interesting: sharing facts, asking questions, building on previous comment, switching topic, repeating point already made. I wonder what they would come up with.