NCIS in the classroom: a great teaching tool!
We make a campfire to act as our talking circle. We used to simply call it our talking circle or sharing circle, which is a custom firmly rooted in the Ojibway culture. Now I just need to call out "campfire" and everyone knows what to do.They pull their chairs into an inclusive circle. Everyone has to be a part of the circle. Everyone has to be respectful and let the holder of the feather speak uninterrupted. Everyone has the right to pass.
We use the campfire/talking circle in two ways. The first way is through Brags & Drags. I have always had a sharing circle in my classroom, since my very first year of teaching (Grade 1) on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, nearly 18 years ago.
My sharing circle has evolved somewhat, as it is sometimes hard to elicit a response from Junior and Intermediate aged students. An ETFO PD presenter a few years ago, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, told us about his Brags and Drags that he had students share. By focusing the conversation topic on something good that has been happening to you (brags), and something that isn't so great (drags), students are much more likely to respond.
How to do "Brags&Drags"
- One person begins, holding the talking stick, sharing feather, whatever you decide to use.
- They share up to 2 things (1 brag, 1 drag, 2 brags, 2 drags) OR they can choose to pass
- Opportunity for questions when they finish ( we max it at 2 questions for sake of time)
- Pass the speaking object to the next person - only the person holding the object may speak unless they are finished and open up the floor for questions (it just takes too long to pass it around for every question).
- One issue that comes up is that some students retell every detail from an event and you could end up spending WAY too much time in the circle. We limit it to the main idea.
- What are they learning? How to ask good questions, active listening skills, speaking skills, main idea of an event, empathy, how to be part of a community...so much more.
Because of Brags & Drags and our sharing circles over the years, I have learned many, many things from my students, and gotten to know them on a level that I don't think I would have otherwise. I know when things are bothering kids (tough times at home), or why they are so tired (all night gaming), or even why they are so giddy and over-excited (winning a hockey game, upcoming sleepover). My students also get to know me, and when I've been up with a sick child at home they seem more compassionate and understanding toward me.
Brags & Drags are probably my most valuable teaching tool. At the beginning of the school year we have them at the start of every day. It builds a strong sense of community, of empathy, and builds bonds in a short amount of time. Once the year gets underway we limit it to Monday and Friday mornings, just so that we can use other days of the week for meetings of a different sort (which is my second use of campfires/sharing circles, and will be a future post). Visitors to the classroom are always asked to join us in the circle, and hopefully they even share a brag and drag from their lives.
In the past I have heard criticism that my talking circle is a waste of valuable teaching time. However, when that same educator later came to me and ask what was going on with student X or student Y, they had a major shift and began to understand the purpose of my circles, because I always knew the answer. Kids need to talk, and they need people to listen.
For me, Brags & Drags extend beyond the classroom. As a parent, they are a surefire way to actually get an answer to the question "what did you do at school today" from my own kids, as opposed to "nuthin". It is a great way to start a meaningful conversation at the dinner table, on a car trip, at bedtime...
So today, my brag is that I've managed to eke out some time to blog. And my drag...it's a school night...