When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
This month, our focus is on restorative circles. Each member of our equity team shares their experiences and insight.
From Dawn Bjoraker…
Everything we do is in a circle. We are born, we turn into youth, we turn into elders, and then we pass. Spring, summer, winter, and fall. Usually, around mid to late February we begin to wonder if the snow will ever stop and if spring will ever arrive. Without fail, it always does.
We have four parts of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. Mind, heart, body, and spirit, it is all connected. We are all connected. Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all related / all my relatives). One cannot function properly without the other. Much like a circle where there is no beginning and no end, it is a process. Instead of top-down, it goes around and around. We are responsible for and to each other.
In south Minneapolis, I coordinated an after-school group. All of the exercises and activities were conducted in the shape of a circle. There was no teacher and no student. We mutually taught and supported each other. We were able to see faces instead of the back of someone's head. Our sessions always began with an icebreaker. One of our most engaging activities involved The Medicine Wheel, also referred to as the Four Directions.
The Medicine Wheel (or Four Directions):
For more details about The Medicine Wheel, click here.
Dr. Martin Brokenleg is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who holds a graduate degree in psychology and is also a graduate of Anglican Divinity School. He is known for the Circle of Courage model which is a model of positive youth development. The Circle of Courage utilizes Indigenous ways of life and child rearing based on four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. All of these areas are dependent upon each other.
"In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new "tribes" for all of our children so there will be no "psychological orphans." -- Dr. Martin Brokenleg
From Willie Tipton…
Group Norms or Guidelines are based on the values identified by circle participants. Guidelines are not rigid constraints, but supportive reminders of the behavioral expectations the participants in the circle share. Typical norms or guidelines are as follows:
An environment of trust and safety allows group members to share more deeply with others. In our circles, the teacher cannot guarantee students will protect each other’s privacy, but can explain and discuss the issue with students and work toward establishing norms that specify the importance of privacy, while defining the expectations we have about confidentiality (keeping in mind that educators are mandatory reporters).
From Martine Haglund…
I have brought restorative practices using circles at my feeder schools following two themes. The first one is relationship-building where students and teachers practice forming positive connections with each other. This theme creates the space where participants come as they are so to receive from one another kindness and support around authentic dialogue regarding conflicts or classroom issues. The second theme uses specific questions to engage participants in discussing and processing a challenging situation so they arrive at making things right. In either theme, as a facilitator, I remain consistent in the sequence of events and outline the steps. I open and close with the bell. I do a check-in rounds to establish connections. Then, I dive into the restorative content. Each circle step is intentional, yet is presented as effortless to participants.
There are various types of circles that teachers can use in their classrooms to connect relationships with high-quality learning consistently. Brief description are listed below:
From Toby Taylor…
I have used Restorative Circles for the last eight years. They have become part of any group work I’ve done since my training here in Rochester. I have found that through Restorative Circles students and staff have found a sense of community through commonalities and vulnerability. I have heard stories of depression and others of hope, which has often propelled me to action or simply allowed me to appreciate my own life a lot more. Students have talked about topics of handling school, mental illness, mass shootings and the state of our country. I have learned a lot by listening as others have given their viewpoints about these touchy subjects.
Last year, I had the opportunity to do some Restorative Circles at ALC that had a great turnout and response. These Restorative Circles were centered on three simple questions, those I call the “Big Three”:
No matter the type, teachers should maintain classroom circles as an activity to acknowledge the unique voices of students, focusing in on the quality of the process and not immediate results.
If you have a question about the resources available for students or staff or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to our team.
For more information in the ideas touched above, consider the following:
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools;
and Martine Haglund, Willie Tipton & Toby Taylor, Equity Specialists for the Rochester Public Schools.
Feel free to connect with them here.
As the district wide Equity Implementation Associate, my role is to help support teachers as they both implement equitable (particularly Culturally and Linguistically Responsive, or CLR) instructional practices and reflect on the why behind these practices. This work isn’t black and white. It isn’t easy and teachers have questions. Lots of questions! And to be honest, it makes my heart so happy that there are so many questions. Questions mean that we are taking our work seriously; that we recognize we need to do better, even if we don’t know how to do better…yet!
In this post, I wanted to take some time to address one of the most common questions I am asked in regards to Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching: “What’s the deal with these call and response protocols?”
I have good news friends…you aren’t the only ones asking that question! There is so much wonderful literature out there that addresses the call and response conundrum.
Why does everything come back to call and response?
Robert Longley writes that, “The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution summarizes the Founding Fathers’ intention to create a federal government dedicated to ensuring that 'We the People' always live in a safe, peaceful, healthy, well-defended–and most of all–free nation.” It is important for us to know that the Preamble does not hold, grant, or limit any legal power. That being said, it serves a very significant and powerful purpose: to explain why we have and need the Constitution.
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind talk at length about the importance of establishing a purpose for yourself as the teacher and for your students, and that instruction and learning should be focused on learning targets rather than tasks. Memorizing the Preamble, to me, seems like a task; whereas, understanding what the Preamble represents and means to us as Americans seems more like a learning target.
My fear, for my son, is that the task of memorizing the Preamble will lead only to a surface-level understanding and it runs the risk of disengaging kids like my son who thrives on learning through understanding. Yana Weinstein, in her blog entry “Memorizing versus Understanding” points out, “using a deep [learning] approach, a student has the intention to understand. Information may be remembered, but this is viewed as an almost unintentional by-product.” This is the type of learning I wish for both of my children: learning through understanding, rather than by memory.
If you would like specific ideas for how to increase student understanding, replacing memorization-focused activities with those that increase students' learning-by-understanding, please reach out to your instructional coach or one of us here at C&I.
Three components of student achievement in the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile are critical thinkers, skilled communicators, and effective collaborators. In teacher driven lessons, these components can be hard to come by. So how can we adapt our lessons to be a lot more of them, and lot less of us? Here are some ways to bring more student voice into the classroom.
Ask More Questions
1. Ask Authentic questions - Are we asking questions that simply “test” whether our students can produce an answer we already have in mind? Or are we asking questions meant to gain access to our students’ thinking or perspective? Ask students “authentic” questions where you as the teacher are truly curious how the student will respond. Typically these types of questions open-ended, and empower students to join their classmates in a line of inquiry in which the answer is not already known or owned by the teacher.
2. Play a little volleyball - Are you responding to every student comment, or are students responding to and interacting with their peers’ contributions to the conversation? Students are used to seeing their teachers as the experts in the room and are in the habit of trying to guess what the teacher wants in a response. Instead of responding yourself to student questions, volley the questions back and encourage them to evaluate, respond to, and extend their classmates’ contributions. Offering a range of sentence starters (“I heard my classmate say…”, “I agree because…”) on a poster or cheat-sheet can help students build this habit.
3. Try not to ask rhetorical questions – The same can be said for “yes/no” and “agree/disagree” questions. Students are often unmotivated to answer such questions for a couple of reasons; a) they know that we know the answers to the questions we ask so there is no reason to tell us what we already know, and b) they realize that we are in search of the one and only one correct response so there is a high probability that they may give the “wrong” answer.
4. Pose either/or questions - “Should we use additional or multiplication to solve this problem?” “Is a square or a rectangle a better base to support a structure?” “Would it be better to be a farmer in Minnesota or Wisconsin?” By posing questions that have no right or wrong answer but instead can be decided based on knowledge of the question, students are engaged in sharing what they know about a particular topic but may also have their thinking challenged by what another student knows and shares.
Turn Over the Learning
1. Don’t Steal the Struggle - It can be uncomfortable to watch kids struggle, but they need time and silence to work through it. Resist the urge to talk students through every step of a problem and instead just observe. Letting kids think instead of rushing in to narrate or question builds anticipation around what’s going to be said next and increases participation as more kids are prepared to move into the conversation.
2. Move from the Front of the Classroom - Try occasionally sitting on the side of the classroom or in an absent student’s desk and say, “I need someone to go up and demonstrate ___ for us.” Because students are used to the person at the front facilitating the lesson, they are likely to talk for much longer than if you stay at the front and they’re in their seats answering you. You can even remain sitting among the class once the student is done demonstrating and ask follow up questions from other students instead of commenting on the students’ demo yourself.
3. Get Student Input – Take notice of moments when you summarize or review for students and instead practice making those moments a chance for kids to share: What’s the rule about this? Who can sum this section up for us? Who remembers the way to determine ___? Some teachers even turn these moments into interactive activities, where the whole class does a hand motion, body movement, sound, or chant to indicate that they’re summarizing an idea or reviewing directions before getting started.
Differ Your Discussion Formats
1. Idea interchange – Designate “idea interchange” locations around the room that kids will be able to break into groups of three to five students each. In each location, post a different question or discussion topic related to the lesson. Assign students to groups, and have the groups move around the room together to discuss each question, jotting down notes individually or as a group as they rotate. Set a time limit for each idea interchange location depending on the age of the students and the topic. Students can move through all the locations on the same day or over multiple days.
2. Revolving discussion - Students form two circles, with one inside the other—the students in the inner circle face a partner in the outer circle. Then, pose a question that is open-ended and requires critical thinking. Students spend one to three minutes (depending on topic and age) discussing the question with their partner. When you call time, students rotate so that they are facing a new partner, and they discuss the same question. At this point, depending on the complexity of the question and the age of the students, students can rotate to another partner and continue discussing the same question or be given a new question to discuss.
Whole class discussion is a great way to get everyone involved in one topic at one time. There are numerous different ways to conduct these kinds of interactions. Here are three to get you started.
1. Seminar - This discussion is designed to allow students the freedom to share ideas and questions with each other by discussing without raising their hands. In practice, when students are learning the strategy it is helpful to begin by having them raise their hands and transition over time to free discussion.
2. Summit - This discussion is designed to encourage collaboration and problem solving as students generate ideas and come to a consensus. Students are given an open-ended question or problem to solve. They share out ideas and, through critical discussion in a seminar format, decide together which ideas are best supported by evidence and agreed upon by the majority of their classmates. They then come to a consensus to present to the teacher. This strategy works best after students have some experience participating in the seminar format. If more scaffolding is needed, students can practice in smaller groups before working as an entire class.
3. Debate - This discussion is designed to have students use facts to support their opinions and engage in civil discourse with their peers. Before a debate, students are assigned a side to argue for, and they research both sides and gather facts to support their ideas. A debate can be structured so that students freely share their arguments and counterarguments and then ask questions, or it can be structured as a round robin, in which each member of the class is given two minutes to talk. Alternate between the two sides until everyone in the class has spoken. During their turn, students can choose to bring up their own point or provide a counterargument to the person who went before them.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
- She comes to school every day talking a mile a minute about everything from the latest episode of her favorite show to who was sitting next to whom at lunch yesterday. She is bubbly and bright and loves school.
- First hour she walks into a classroom where there are opportunities for her to verbalize her thinking and to work in small groups and talk with her friends about her ideas.
- Second hour, she heads to a different classroom where she is expected to sit quietly and work independently.
- What does her home culture value about orality and verbal expressiveness?
- What does her gender group or age group value about it?
- What experiences has this student had that have informed her approach to learning and being in the world?
Furthermore, critiques of a hyper-focus on learning styles point out that we tend to focus on what a student is good at and rarely push them to develop other skills. How do we, instead, intentionally teach students to practice those styles that are perhaps out of their comfort zone, but necessary for academic and real-world success? In the case of Fazia, what skills does she need to grow to be successful in settings where verbality isn’t appreciated, like in her second hour class?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Is this behavior cultural or not?
- What experiences have my students had that inform their learning styles?
- Similarly, how do my own cultural experiences impact the way I view my students and their learning styles?
- How can I validate and affirm my students’ learning styles and am I providing opportunities for them to practice other learning styles so they can build up their cultural dexterity?
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
First, worksheets do not teach. You may decide to give students a short formative assessment to check their understanding but remember that a worksheet is not the teaching, it is the practice. Second, many of our students are hands-on learners and although they also need practice there are many other ways for students to show us what they know without filling out a worksheet. We know that many students show us what they know better through collaboration, discussion, and sharing. Thirdly, worksheets most of the time do not push our students to higher levels of thinking because most of them tend to lack the creativity and openness that requires our students to think outside of the box. And last but not least, over time the use of too many worksheets causes many of our students to lose interest and disengage.
So why do we give our students worksheets? One reason is that we need our students to have that independent practice. It could also be that we simply need our students to be doing something to fill the time while we are meeting in small groups or one on one. It can be a challenge for us to find meaningful work for our students during small group times of the day. So what do we do? Let’s start to think more about the purpose of the work and incorporate some simple ideas in classrooms to make this work time and practice time more meaningful for our students.
- Does this allow my students the opportunity to effectively practice the learning target?
- Is this directly linked to a learning target or is it “busy-work”?
- Have I considered the various learning styles of my students and does this platform allow each student to effectively share their learning?
There are times when a worksheet or practice sheet might be appropriate but students are not engaged. Consider breaking the worksheet apart among a group of students. It might look something like this: Take the worksheet or problems ahead of time and cut each problem into a separate slip of paper. Allow students to either self-select groups of five or place students into groups of five. Students would then take turns on each role below as each problem is solved.
Person 1: read the question or problem
Person 2: Rephrases the question or problem
Person 3: Responds with the answer or solution and explains their thought process
Person 4: Responds to person 3 by agreeing or disagreeing and explaining why
Person 5: Place the problems into an “agree” or “disagree” pile and pull the next problem to solve. This person becomes person 1 for the next problem.
Continue to shift the roles until the questions have been fully answered. The final step is to take all of the “disagree” problems/questions and to decide as a team how to best find the answer and/or come to a consensus on the correct answer.
This is a strategy that many of us have used in our own professional development. Why not use it with our students? Try covering your table with large butcher paper of any color and put markers on the middle of the table. Project the math problem or literacy topic up on the board in your classroom and have students complete the problems on butcher paper graffiti style. Encourage students to share their thinking and discuss the multiple ways that they have arrived at a solution. This allows students to write large if they need to and allows you to be able to check the students work easily by moving around the room. Just think about how changing out a worksheet for an activity like this will increase your students’ engagement.
Lines of Communication
Think speed-dating! Have your students stand/sit in two rows facing each other. Choose a question or problem from a worksheet and read it aloud or display it to the class. Giver your students time to answer and discuss their responses and reasoning with the person across from them. When their time is up, signal them to move one position to the right. Continue playing until students have discussed all the questions.
If you need your students to practice a specific skill or to show you what they have learned, try using technology to allow those students who would rather blog or vlog to explain and share their learning in different ways. Many of our classroom teachers have started using SeeSaw. If you are looking for other ways to incorporate technology into your lessons consider checking out these other platforms!
Remember, not all worksheets are created equal! If you are finding that your students are disengaged during their independent practice or during small group time, consider implementing a strategy above or perhaps you have some other great resources that weren’t listed above.
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Members of the Elementary C&I team post useful tools, tips, and tricks on a weekly basis to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Instructional Learning Formats
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective