I am always astounded at the differences between discussions conducted by a teacher at the front of the class with students at desks, and those conducted using the Knowledge Building Circle. During a KBC, discourse is consistently better.
Today my grade 6’s held their first formal KBC in response to the work we are doing in Social Studies as a lead up to our large inquiry. We began a few days earlier with students propsing their own theories of how people came to North America. We then read a text about the Beringia Crossing Theory to begin building knowledge and testing our ideas. Next students watched a gripping docudrama that provides evidence to support an Atlantic Crossing Theory.
One third into the film we stopped to hold a KBC to share thoughts, questions and observations. Desks were pushed to the side and 31 of us gathered. I began by sharing what I had found interesting. It is important to model how to make thoughtful contributions to the circle. I then selected a student to speak next – one I knew had given considerable thought to our topic. His elevated discourse set the tone for the group. We then went around the circle and every student contributed. This was uncomfortable for some as many are used to hiding in the woodwork during discussions. There is a level of accountability in a circle, however, that compels students to speak which is significant as many of those quiet students are thinkers with interesting ideas and insights worth listening to. It doesn’t take long before all students become eager to speak. Often a student contributed an idea that provoked side discussions. Students quickly learned the language of KBC “I’d like to build on ******’s idea”.
Because everyone participates in the conversation, many ideas are presented within a short period of time and as the entire class builds knowledge, the dynamic shifts from individual student knowledge to community knowledge. Students soon come to appreciate idea diversity and leave the circle with many more ideas in their repetoire than when they entered. Vocabulary levels in all students increase. Students build on the ideas of others through conversation, immediately employing new words – sometimes ones they have just heard for the first time.
KBC’s are engaging, interesting and low pressure. If there is one tool that I would recommend every teacher add to their toolkit, it would be the KBC.
Theories and Idea Diversity Next Post:
Scaffolding Student Thinking in a Knowledge Building Classroom