F33 Community Circles

Teaching for Effective Learning 3rd Edition, page 153
December 2006

The concept of the Community Circle originates from the Tribes program, a program developed in the US by Jeanne Gibbs, to promote development of an inclusive, reflective learning community in all classrooms. The Tribes program is based on the classroom agreements of Mutual Respect, Attentive Listening, Personal Best, Showing Appreciations- Not Put Downs, and the Right to Pass.

The Community Circle is a powerful Tribes procedure, in that it promotes all of the Tribes agreements. To create a Community Circle students are simply asked to sit, with the teacher, in a circle in a large space in the class room. Students may sit on chairs or the floor. It is important that all students are part of the circle. Students who hang back are always asked to move into the circle, others are asked to make room for them, so that all are seen to have an equal position in the circle. This aspect of the Community Circle is most important as it creates a true sense of inclusion and equality  - no one hides and no one dominates. 

The rules of Community Circle are simply that we always obey the classroom agreements, and students may need to be reminded of these. The most important aspect of the circle is that everyone is invited to contribute and/or participate in the activity. This usually happens by passing from one student to the next, in turn, inviting a comment or contribution from each. While students are extended the right to pass, they will always be encouraged to contribute, be given a second chance to do so, and also be shown appreciation for their contribution. This helps promote the idea that all students thoughts and ideas are valued by the class. The teacher must model the "no put downs" agreement by not responding negatively to any silly comments made by students. If a comment is less that you might hope for you simply say "thank you" to the student and pass to the next student. A comment that has been given careful thought by the student can illicit a more generous appreciation by the teacher. The most important aspect is that all students listen to others, and show that they are listening by looking at the student who is speaking. Students do not interrupt other students, and show respect by not speaking whilst another person is speaking. The teacher also needs to take care not to interrupt the student who is speaking, even if they are not entirely happy with what is being said. An object can be passed around the circle to show whose turn it is to speak a soft toy can often help illicit appreciations in this manner. (Even from year 10 boys!) The main feature of the Community Circle is that it takes patience and care on the part of the teacher to develop a classroom environment where students respect and value the process. This will need to happen over a period of time.

All of these rules provide a landscape in which the community circle can be used very powerfully for many different purposes related to learning. At the start of a lesson, the Community Circle can be used to focus the students and bring them into the lesson. An energiser activity can get them thinking about what has been covered in previous lessons and introduce the focus for this lesson. There are many activities that can make use of the Community Circle in this way.  Many are outlined in the Tribes Manual, but the idea is simply to include all students and focus them on the tasks for the lesson often in a fun and energetic way. A simple but effective one is to say a letter to each student, and ask them to think of a word starting with that letter that relates to the material or ideas that have been covered in recent lessons in that class.

Possibly the most powerful use of the Community Circle is as a means of reflection at the end of the lesson. Again this process can be carried out in many ways. It might follow a period of written reflection where students have been given a set of questions about the lesson, their work, what they have learnt etc. It might use a reflective activity such as "two truths and a lie" where students are asked to contribute two true and one false statement based on the work covered in the class, and another student invited to respond as to which is the false statement.

Often it will simply be a chance to sit together and reflect on the lesson. This can be done quite openly students simply make a statement about something they have learnt in the lesson (content reflection), someone they have worked well with, assisted or who has assisted them in the lesson (social reflection) or a comment on how they felt about the lesson (personal reflection). It might be the students choice the type of reflection they offer, or the teacher might ask a question such as "Kim, how do you think your team went on this problem solving task today and why?" Alternately the teacher may ask each student a much more directed question, to allow that student to contribute something that the teacher knows was relevant to the student during the lesson. "Tim can you tell us what you discovered today about finding the y coordinate of the turning point of a parabola?" It is important that all types of reflection (content, social and personal) are equally valued by the teacher. The teacher might frame a more metacognitive question by asking a student to explain how they were able to learn a specific skill or concept, or to explain the thinking that they used to develop an idea or solve a problem. The reflections should not be long winded as students will become distracted, so the whole reflection should take no more than about 10 minutes in a class of 25 students that s less than 30 seconds per student. Students should be invited to offer an appreciation at the end of the session if there is someone in the class they wish to thank.

The power of the Community Circle cannot be underestimated, but the process needs practice and refinement by both teachers and students in order to develop it as a powerful learning procedure.

 Visit the Tribes Website http://www.tribes.com/index.html