Step Inside the Circle of Knowledge

When the Circle of Knowledge was published in 1847, one of its objectives was to bring within the scope of a school book those neglected, but useful and familiar things, which are generally overlooked in the ordinary instruction of children. This intention was expressed in the following paragraph of its preface.

“The subjects chosen for the lessons are such as all children are interested in, such as they continually ask questions upon, and such as are illustrated in popular works, which are easily accessible to teachers and parents. It has been a main object to exclude everything that might be considered cold and lifeless, to create an interest for common things, and every-day life, and to make all the lessons natural and animating.”

The author, Lord Ashburton, said, “”we sadly want some plain formula appealing to common sense.”

Today, Ashburton’s theory is being widely used in the teaching of Common Core Standards. It is one of the six core principles, referred to by contemporary educators as the “Core Six.”

In short, Circle of Knowledge is a strategic framework for planning and conducting classroom discussions that engage all students in deeper thinking and thoughtful communication.

It is a procedure and teaching technique that involves effective oral communication, speaking and listening and discussions to build collaborative, interpersonal skills.

A fragile circle

Learning how to conduct an effective classroom discussion is an essential skill for any teacher to master.

Despite its enormous importance as a teaching and learning strategy, classroom discussion the knowledge circle can be quite fragile, say educators. It is highly involving, but it relies on student participation. Classroom discussions help students develop new insights and perspectives, yet they can easily be thrown off track.

Circle of Knowledge provides teachers with a strategic framework for planning and conducting discussions that foster student participation and critical thinking.

Circle of Knowledge is one element in what is known as “The Core Six“. All six areas are best explained in the book, “Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core” by Harvey Silver, Thomas Dewing, & Matthew Perini.

Teachers who learn the blueprint will be better able to help their students meet the new common core standards and design lessons or activities that utilize the game plan.

Top three reasons to use Circle of Knowledge

According to the “Core Six”:

Effective oral communication is a crucial 21st century skill

It is so crucial, in fact, that it gets its very own strand of Speaking and Listening Standards, along with Reading, Writing, and Language. According to the Common Core, “To become college and career ready, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner—built around important content”. The Circle of Knowledge strategy helps teachers create a classroom culture where these kinds of “rich, structured conversations” become the norm.

Speaking and listening require thinking

A close look at the Standards for Speaking and Listening makes it clear that low-level question-and-answer sessions won’t cut it. Students need to be able to “participate effectively … building on others’ ideas”, “integrate and evaluate information” and “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence”. These are high-level thinking skills, which is why Circle of Knowledge discussions are built around serious, thought-provoking questions. Circle of Knowledge develops students’ thinking through provisional writing and effective questioning techniques and has students work in small groups to integrate and evaluate ideas before participating in the larger discussion.

Discussions build collaborative and interpersonal skills

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy  reminds us that the “twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together” To thrive in these characteristically diverse settings, students need to learn to listen attentively, appreciate opposing points of view, and disagree without “steamrolling” (or being steamrolled by) their peers. Well-designed Circle of Knowledge discussions, in which the teacher establishes communication protocols, allows students to work in both small and large groups, and gradually hands over more responsibility to students, give students the practice and support they need to build these essential interpersonal skills.

How and why it works

Discussion is an essential component in any thoughtful classroom. Dialogue and conversations are foundations for serious thought, and learners in discussion-rich classrooms enjoy irrefutable benefits: deeper comprehension, increased ability to handle complex and rigorous content, improved conflict resolution skills, and a greater passion for learning in general.

Math serves as a good example. When learning math, kids are often hit with one concept after another without taking the time to thoroughly explore and discuss. This creates an environment that leaves many students tuned out.

But if a teacher can instead give the students an opportunity to talk concepts in greater detail and the bigger ideas and concepts of math, it creates an environment of interest and engagement.

How the Circle of Knowledge strategy can apply to your classroom

Beyond the Core Six, teachers can now take professional development courses to get hands-on instruction in how to apply the common core standards in their classroom. Often the six components – Reading for Meaning, Compare and Contrast, Inductive Learning, Write to Learn and Vocabulary’s Code – are not individually, but as part of the larger series designed to help teachers learn strategies that will significantly improve their ability to teach the Common Core State Standards.

The content learned in a class focused on Circle of Knowledge, will afford a teacher the skills necessary to implement the discussion technique Circle of Knowledge. This strategy provides teachers with the framework for planning and conducting discussions that foster student participation and critical thinking.