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Circle Time, also called group time, refers to any time that a group of people are sitting together for an activity involving everyone.
The method is now in widespread use in schools across the UK. In Scotland many primary schools use the method regularly and it is starting to be introduced into secondary schools. It’s a special time to share fingerplays, chants and rhymes, songs, play rhythm instruments, read a story, and participate in movement games and relaxation activities. Circle time provides a time for listening, developing attention span, promoting oral communication, and learning new concepts and skills. It’s a time for auditory memory, sensory experiences, socialization, and a time for fun. Circle time can be a complex, dynamic interaction among adults, children, and resources used. Teachers have the power to make group time more effective and enjoyable for all involved. It also has roots in social group work and in solution focused therapeutic approaches.
Use of circle time in schools developed from the Quality Circles used in industry for many years.
The ideal number of people to be involved is between 6 and 18 because any more than that and it becomes difficult for everyone to take a full part in proceedings.
An open circle is made of chairs or cushions (there should not be any tables or desks which could act as a barrier), allowing everyone to face each other clearly.
Many schools also use a `talking object` to facilitate discussion. The talking object can be anything (a stuffed toy, a cushion or a decorated piece of wood or plastic). This talking object is then passed around the circle and only the person who has the talking object is allowed to speak.
The teacher sits on the same type of chair or cushion as everyone else. This helps to signal that what is happening is a special kind of classroom activity in which the teacher is a facilitator rather than a director. The teacher has a special responsibility to make sure that structured rules of the Circle Time are kept, that everyone's emotions are protected and that suitable activities are prepared. The teacher must also be ready to draw a session to a close if students are persistently breaking the rules.
The most important thing about the rules for circle time is that they should be discussed and agreed by all members. This is one of the first activities that should take place. The three basic rules which should be discussed are:
Quality Circle Time
Quality Circle Time is a democratic and creative approach used to consider a wide range of issues affecting the whole school community.
It was developed in response to England's Primary schools' need for a whole school Behaviour Policy as a part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). Quality Circle Time is based on the promotion of self-discipline and self-esteem. Students learn and understand the consequences of their behaviour and begin to take on responsibility for themselves and their immediate and wider community. This has been shown to gradually shift responsibility for discipline from the teacher to the children themselves.
At the heart of the Circle Time Model is a class meeting which involves the whole class sitting in a circle to look at issues relating to personal, social, moral and health education. The circle meetings aim to encourage the development of positive relationships, self-discipline, conflict resolution, assertive communication and democratic group processes alongside the skills of speaking, listening, observing, thinking and concentrating.
Circle Time follows a clear structure over half an hour:
- Opening game: pulls the group together, provides a sense of fun and enjoyment, used to teach learning skills, moral values and codes of conduct
- Round Table: gives everybody a chance to speak. A speaking object such as a conch can be used to enable a focus on the speaker and indicate that all others must listen. It is this section of Circle Time where scripted sentences are often used. Examples might include: I find it easiest to work in class when…I get fed up when... I was pleased with myself when...
- Open Forum: an open, free discussion phase which can be used to discuss and solve problems and set targets
- Celebration of successes: a chance for pupils to thank others, both children and adults, for acts of kindness etc. during the past week
- Closing game: brings a sense of closure and bridges into the next part of the school day
The structure is designed to build a sense of class community and the teacher acts as a non-authoritarian facilitator, encouraging co-operation and creating a climate of emotional safety.
Circle time can be used to help solve problems which have been identified by either the teacher or students. Issues and problems can be identified by brainstorming or by rounds such as, "the best thing about this school is..." and "the worst thing about this school is...". Then the idea is to make sure that if a real problem is identified at least one positive suggestion is agreed on before the session ends. (e.g. The teacher will arrange for Jack and Jill to have a meeting with the Principal/Headteacher to discuss the bathrooms).
Games and activities can be engaged in and are designed to promote trust, respect, empathy and understanding which offers participants the security and freedom to explore issues and find ways forward.
Evaluation and assessment opportunities
As a well established model used in many Primary schools throughout the UK much evaluation has taken place on the effects of the model in schools. In addition to positive assessment by OFSTED, various studies have evaluated the impacts of the model, e.g. A report on the use of Circle Time in Wiltshire Primary Schools and A report on the use of Jenny Mosley's Whole School Quality Circle Time Model in Primary Schools in the UK (1999) commissioned by All Round Success Charity
Headteachers have expressed concerns about lack of resources and training. They also emphasise the importance of the adult who conducts Circle Time. Without adequate training, the process can become diluted and ineffectual. In untrained or inexperienced hands, Circle Time can be disappointing or even destructive. At its worst, it can be misused by teachers to try and shame children publicly and coerce them into 'behaving'. Or, it can be simply mediocre, where it can become boring and repetitive.
Furthermore, there is the danger of an appreciable gulf between the values demonstrated in Circle Time and the reality witnessed around the school in terms of teachers' attitudes towards each other or towards children. If this is so obviously apparent children can become demoralised and lose faith in the moral values. In many cases the school fails to act on the listening, i.e. they fail to incorporate many of the management issues raised by children into their subsequent action plans. Children can then become cynical and apathetic towards the process, detecting a divide between values and action and may come to see it as little more than another control mechanism.
Much emphasis is placed on the mental health of adult teams in the school and on training. It is impossible to expect adults to respond positively, warmly and calmly if they themselves are emotionally and physically exhausted and /or lacking in team support.
Effective training is seen as vital to the success of Circle Time. Measures include:
- The introduction of the model at teacher training level
- Local Authorities (formerly LEA (Local Education Authorities)) personnel and advisors/inspectors
- Local Authorities programmes involving a number of schools and/or whole school INSET (in-service education and training program) led by accredited Trainers. Demonstration Circle Time sessions involving a specialist and a group of children is often included as part of the INSET
- Research suggests that headteachers consider on-going training an essential pre-requisite for the success of Circle Time and it is strongly advised that schools undergo a process of training from accredited trainers.
In popular culture
Circle time is a concept that seems to have spread beyond the U.K. and is sometimes used to indicate simply a form of "show and tell".
- Circle time is mentioned in Emily's First 100 Days of School, a book by Rosemary Wells. In the entry for number 47, the title character states that she read a book out loud with forty-seven words during circle time.
- Circle time was featured in an episode of Blue's Clues titled "Blue Takes You to School".
- In the "Cassie the Green Eyed Dragon" story of Dragon Tales, Cassie brings her little brother Finn to school for circle time.
- In its early years, Playhouse Disney used to air a live-action mini show called "Circle Time," where a man would tell a story during Circle Time that related to an issue one of the children was having. Such a story included "The Lion and the Mouse."
- Circle Time Newsletter
- Department for Education and Skills
- Ofsted - is the inspectorate for children and learners in England
- Circle Time website - Jenny Mosley Consultancies & Positive Press Ltd.
- Mosley, J. (1993) Turn Your School Round LDA: Wisbech, Cambridgeshire
- Mosley, J. and Tew, M. (1999) Quality Circle Time in the Secondary School - A Handbook of Good Practice. David Fulton Publishers: London
- Lloyd, G. and Munn, P. (eds) (1998) Sharing Good Practice: Prevention and Support for Pupils with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. Moray House Publications: Edinburgh
- Sharp S & Smith PK (1994) Tackling Bullying in Your School - A Practical Handbook for Teachers Routledge: London
Titles produced by Lucky Duck Publishing at 34 Wellington Park, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2UW are:
- Six Years of Circle Time - a Primary Curriculum (spiral bound activity file)
- Magic Circles - Building Self Esteem through Circle Time (a handbook)
- Picture This - Guided Imagery for Circle Time (audio tape and activity booklet)
- Circle Time Resources (copiable materials)
- Circle Time - An Activity Book for Teachers
- Developing Circle Time (book including worksheets)
- Coming Round to Circle Time (video)