by • October 1, 2014 • Knowledge BuildingComments (2)1631

How can a teacher cause an elevated level of discourse to occur between students?

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.

Learn more about classrooms as place of knowledge creation here.


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2 Responses to How can a teacher cause an elevated level of discourse to occur between students?

  1. Frances says:

    I LOVE the idea of a knowledge building circle. I tried to conduct one with two different groups of students today. I know that my students had rich questions, but I found that they were reluctant to share their ideas. Do you give students the “right to pass” and then come back to them? Or must students share as they go around the circle?

    • Heidi Siwak says:

      Hi Frances,
      Thanks for your comment. It takes time to build a culture of communication. Students need to feel safe enough to risk advancing an idea. Also, many are not used to being asked to contribute in this way. Trust and norms need to be established. Non-judgement is also important. Every idea is a good idea, but it takes time for students to believe this because their experience of school tells them differently. I would suggest you use a provacation – an article or picture that provokes thinking; give students time to think of an idea about the text before they come to the circle. This way everyone should have something to say. Being allowed to say “Pass” is important though. People need time to observe and listen before being ready to contribute. Let me know how it goes and please ask if you need more suggestions because the dynamic that evolves is so worth pursuing!

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