Learning to sit outside the Literacy Circle

It’s been nearly two months since the learners in my class asked me to sit outside the literacy circle.

Each week one of the children acts as the main facilitator for the group. The child drafts questions to discuss the novel Out of My Mind and makes a seating chart based on the data from the previous week’s Equity map data.


Each week I’ve been put on the outside, watching and learning.

I’d like to say it’s been easy to watch.

That I haven’t struggled.

The first week one of the children looked me in the eye and asked whether the book was fiction or non-fiction.

I choose to look down at my notes and wait out the silence.

Slowly the child’s peers offered their point of view and the group came to their own conclusion.

The book is probably fiction but with some things that might have happened in real life.

If had jumped in with the answer, would the children have had the opportunity to debate and discuss?

To look for evidence from the text?

To dwell in nuance?


The children spent 10 minutes discussing this word.

What was it?

How heavy was it?

How long ago was this book written?

What materials was a camcorder made from?

How many buttons were there on a camcorder?

Great questions but not all relevant to the point of the novel.

I wanted the children to discuss the main character uttering her first words at 11 years old with the help of assistive technology or the character’s parents crying in response to this occasion.

Yet I sit outside the circle.

Noticing points where I would have redirected the conversation back to the novel.

Feeling the weight of a classroom observation by my principal on my shoulders.

Some of the children looked bored by the camcorder conversation, including the facilitator of the conversation.

Yet I sit outside the circle and wait.

One of my quietest students redirected the group of children back to the book and gradually some of those teacher questions were answered.

Some questions I hadn’t thought of were also discussed.

And I thought about all those times that I didn’t wait.

That I let my agenda and questions dominate the conversation about the text at the expense of learner agency.

And the opportunities for missed learning that were crowded out by focusing on the text.

I thought about the need for children to develop their social skills. To learn to recognize the body language of boredom, the causes of the boredom and strategies for moving a conversation along.

I thought about the leadership my quieter students are showing in the absence of a teacher in the circle.

I thought about the trust I hadn’t shown my students to find their own path.

And then I looked down at my watch.

This Year 4 group had been engaged in a conversation for 50 minutes without an adult to direct them.

We were sitting outside the circle.


6 thoughts on “Learning to sit outside the Literacy Circle

Add yours

  1. Hi Stephanie – what a cool topic. And so simple too. As long as you direct the task in the right manner. How do you set up the task? Is it simply a question that students need to answer? As a high school teacher, my junior (y9-10) students are very dependent on me to show them what to do, and then to keep them on task. Even when I scaffold, the concentration spans of my low learners is such that they’ve moved on in as little as 2 minutes. How do you design for this?


    1. Hi Sarah that’s probably worth a blogpost in and of itself. There’s a combination of factors that lead in to it. The first is mindfulness, every day after lunch we start with some downtime of a few minutes. Sometimes I might have some activities such as rolling a ball on the carpet without talking so the children learn to read non-verbal cues. Mindfulness makes us present and helps to become aware of time and space.

      The second thing is visible thinking. I’m a huge fan of Ron Richart and am constantly modelling his language. When the children sit down for book group the discussions about the text have happened earlier and I’m there to look at their communication skills. I give a lot of sentence stems to kids based on thinking thinking language ‘I notice…” “I wonder…” “I agree with…. and would like to add on….”

      Finally the tasks themselves are based on literacy circles so they each bring something each week to the table to discuss. I conference with the kids beforehand so they are on the right track.

      Phew a bit of a novel but the pay off has been huge!


      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is fantastic- I love the app that you used to track who was speaking, what is it? I’ve been experimenting with different oracy techniques for a while now, and that balance between structure and freedom seems key!


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