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.



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