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 focussed therapeutic approaches.
Use of circle time in schools developed from the Quality Circles used in industry for many years.
Jenny Mosley, has done much to popularise its use. She says that industry used it "to overcome the gulf that can develop between management and the shop floor...the reputation for quality which Japan enjoys can be attributed largely to the widespread use of the approach".
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 first of these helps to create order and to encourage people to listen to others. The second and third help to ensure the emotional safety of children taking part: no one should be forced to speak about something which they find embarrassing and no one should be ridiculed for saying something in which they genuinely believe - however much others may disagree with their views. The group may state these rules in other ways and may add extra ones.
These "Golden Rules" are then the core set of values that are then displayed in the classroom (perhaps in the lunchroom and on the playground) and a copy is also sent to the parents.
Other core rules usually applied are:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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".
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