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    Chicago’s teaching begins with participants sitting in a circle, all facing each other, without tables that would hide their nonverbal body language. Such exposure encourages active listening. Chicago also expects each member to contribute to the discussion by taking turns in responding to important questions under group consideration. Chicago informs participants that they can pass their turn in the circle and then the facilitator can circle back to ask those who passed to contribute when ready. However, everyone is expected to participate. For those who have tried this approach either as learners or teachers, what advice do you offer? For those who have not tried this approach, what are the challenges or reasons you have not.


    As a learner and facilitator I have participated in ‘sitting in the circle’ and have observed a few things. First, that the simple act of sitting in the circle, opens up and creates an environment of acknowledging others. When you are physically positioned to sit in a circle you are most likely going to have to look at others next to you or in front of you and on some level recognize their presence. The next thing I noticed is that by having to talk and participate, as the learner you are listening to what others are saying, their reflections, experiences, commentary on life and issues–this then may spark your own thoughts for sharing. The expectation that everyone around that circle is waiting to hear from you, is powerful and inescapable. I could see how perhaps someone who is not accustomed or finds it difficult to share with others, may find this activity intimidating. However, I have observed that because it is organic, not rushed, and mindful of listening to one another, that many times, even the most reserved learner will ease their way into the circle. Lastly, I think that it is a way to hold each other accountable in speaking and listening, in dialogue and conversation through respect and honoring one another’s voice.

    Judy Chicago

    I just wanted to say that I thought that Leslie Sotomayor’s comments about the use of a circle pedagogy were very thoughtful and I appreciated them. I often read about professor’s frustrations about non-participation in their classrooms which makes me impatient because there is such an easy method of countering that. And I have not found that people are intimidated. If they feel uncomfortable at first, they can always pass. But usually, everyone is excited about the level of sharing that a circle pedagogy allows – also, by the fact that they often find personal subject matter for artmaking through this process which is its goal.


    Using “circles” as a tool in the classroom undoubtedly has an insurmountable amount of benefits for educators and students. I myself have personally experienced this technique in attending and working at a summer camp for the past twelve years. Starting on the very first day of camp, we have always had the bunks of girls form into a circle for an icebreaker. In facilitating discussion, we give every camper the chance to voice topics varying from their favorite ice cream flavor to what they’re looking most forward to that summer. I have noticed that the shape of the circle works well with all age groups, as it requires each camper to listen to one another, equally share the spotlight when it is their turn to talk, and help quieter kids come out of their shell. Like Chicago, I am also a firm believer in allowing a “pass” if they do not feel comfortable responding right away, but eventually making sure to come back to remind them that there opinion always matters, making them truly feel a part of something special.

    As a counselor I have used this tool in serious situations as well. When coming across a problematic camper or negative experience that may have occurred during an activity, we use circles to let each camper voice their experience without calling out or judgmental notions. Sometimes solving problems in the classroom that occur between two students may make them feel out-casted or objectified, whereas working in a circle can be a productive way to work through difficult agendas. Every summer we would have these circles sprawled all over the grassy hills, some serious, some silly, but always making headway in growing a connection that is not only respectful of each other, but would provoke us to think for ourselves as well as learn from one another.

    As a learner and as a teacher, the best advice I can give with this circle strategy is to give it a chance. There were few occasions that I can recall from high school walking into my English classroom with the desks arranged in a large open circle and not getting extremely excited for discussion that day. I always enjoyed class debates where we used circles and can only hope that future educators become aware of the benefits of encouraging participation and active listening in such an easy, admirable way!


    As I sit here at our weekly tea time with a fellow colleague, we discuss our research and methods and process. As we discuss individual and social transformations, what it means, and how we hope to interact significantly with our field, art and research, we are engaging in an active process of listening and responding. Over our cups of tea, these conversations are meaningful ways of circle dialogue inspiring new perspectives and organizing existing ones. What do our research methods look like? How do we decide what to use? What are our goals?


    The essence of this circle discussion is to create discussion space. Space is a social situation or field connected by various social relations and takes various forms. It is created trough connection of different social elements, which exist and work by taking different positions. Every man is at the same time a participant of space and time. Man becomes an capital to seek more value. And behind man, there are cultural capital and experience capital, the interaction between which give rise to new innovations and changes the value.

    Artistic creation is a kind of experience, memory, and imagination. It is a recognition and experience of the society. Art defends people against the colonization of mass culture and brings people back to their nature. Postmodern art offers multifarious approaches to feel. It can be achieved without any knowledge about patterns, colors or graphic expressiveness. Many art creators come from all professions. This is in fact a requirement of modern society to visual art. We see colors, images and structures abandoned when art reaches the field of postmodernism. It starts to know the social cultural system. Once the support of formative aesthetic and technology is gone, artistic knowledge and techniques will degenerate into individual experience that are incapable of being copied and taught. This is why we must adopt the method of circled participating teaching to give everyone the chance to share his or her own experience. Besides, this method makes teaching process more meaningful while shorten the distance between teachers and students. When people are sharing their experiences, they are encouraged to let go of their self restraint to analyze their own growth. In this way, everyone becomes an element in the learning which learns in a dynamic environment. It is indeed a wonderful method for teachers and students who haven’t tried it before. There are several reasons why they didn’t try it: 1. They don’t understand art well or pay close attention to the society and underlying problems of human being.
    2. They ignore the differences between students. Instead, these teachers use a relative model to restrict the students so as to turn skills into a handcuff to creativity. In this situation, students have to be clear about their current position and what he/she or the predecessors are doing in order to find a unique way to express himself/herself. 3. The propaganda and themed creation are too ideology-oriented.

    For those who have tried this method, here are tips to follow: 1. Create a space where every participant can fully trust each other and willing to share his/her own experience. 2. Find out the technical weak points through discussion. At the same time, point out that artists’ creation depends not only on talent to make everyone realize the power of the group comes from their unique language background, ideological capital and social relations.


    I love carrying the symbolic meaning of a circle into the art classroom setting: wholeness, revolution, infinity, inclusion, completion. Conversations can happen in a circle to allow everyone to have face to face interaction and feel present in the discussion. These circle conversations occur on the rug in my K-6 classroom. To promote the idea of the circle concept in artmaking, I’ve arranged the student tables in a circle as well. It doesn’t have the exact same effect since students are around the tables themselves- leading to some backs toward the center of the circle. However, this layout promotes teaching in the round, which allows me to constantly circulate the room and guide students as necessary to encourage their success. Students are also able to hear one another as they respond due to circle set up whereas communication was impaired in the linear layout.

    Jackie Geiple

    I have not tried this particular approach, but not for any specific reason. One of my personal teaching goals this year was to help my students grow more comfortable with sharing ideas and discussions, but I am embarrassed to admit that I have not made as much effort and progress as I should have. I found it a lot easier to try new techniques and make progress when I taught year-long courses, probably because students grew more comfortable with each other over that time and because the year-long time frame allowed more opportunities for in-depth content development, growth, and ‘practice’ with discussions.

    This is my first year teaching semester courses (and now all ceramics courses), and I have been struggling throughout the year to somehow find a magic balance between the ‘creation,’ ‘production,’ ‘response,’ and ‘connection’ standards…my new school’s art curriculum has students developing skills and techniques the first marking period, then the second marking period is research, individual project development and creation, and setting up the end-of-semester art show and displaying their own individual portfolios. I find it very difficult to condense everything they need to know into one single marking period of 45 minute classes and then expect them to have a solid foundation (in terms of artistic thoughtfulness and technical skills) that will adequately enable them to successfully develop a personal and expressive final project. As much as it pains me to admit it, class discussions have been neglected and put on the back burner. However, I have never tried this particular circle approach and here are my thoughts…

    Potential Challenge: Obstructions or limited open circle options with my built-in tables…no true ‘open area’ in my ceramics room.
    Potential Solution: Move stools around outside of tables (form a circle, but tables still separate lower bodies); move stools around pottery wheels (which are lower and less obstructive…only lower legs and feet will be blocked).

    Potential Challenge: Students aware of required ‘share expectations’ but even upon the ‘pass’ return, still refuse or don’t provide personal response. ‘I don’t know,’ ‘Same as her.’ (Or constantly copying/repeating responses to avoid coming up with their own.)
    Potential Solution: Some may be motivated to share if discussion included in participation grade. Provide topics and questions that require some element of unique, personal connection in the response (memories, experiences). Avoid ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ discussions. Create rule that allows you to agree with another person, but then you must develop a response that could be from another person’s point of view so you contribute a new point.

    Potential Challenge: Students are extremely shy or uncomfortable opening up and sharing thoughts and ideas. Have thoughts to share, but can’t express them clearly.
    Potential Solution: Pottery wheel area has white Christmas lights hanging above it…could turn them on as ‘fun discussion lights’ to lighten the mood. Pose a question or topic and have students quietly reflect and then jot down their thoughts on personal dry erase boards or notepaper so they have a chance to visually organize thoughts and something to refer to when it’s their turn (encourage students to add to their notes throughout discussion). Mini-discussions to build up to longer or more in depth ones. If students uncomfortable sharing their ‘personal’ views, could have option of providing a potential viewpoint from another person. Incorporate game elements (‘sharing stick,’ ball, etc.). Give students something like lollipops to make it less informal (and help deter side chatter because their mouths would have a lollipop in them unless they are the one sharing, haha).

    Potential Challenge: Students struggle with discussing topic beyond ‘face value’ ideas and observations; struggle with thoughtful responses beyond basic contributions.
    Potential Solution: Provide students with upcoming topics a day or two in advance to allow more time to ‘marinate’ in their minds. Introduce discussions gradually; demonstrate with quick and less intimidating topics to build foundations/steps behind deeper ones. Provide students with a few prompts to encourage more thoughtful responses.


    Jackie has identified many challenges and several potential opportunities and possible solutions to the challenges she raises. Circle discussions are intended for “personal connection in the response (memories, experiences)” that could include each bringing an object or an image to the circle and readiness to respond to a prompt such as “what have you selected, why, what does it mean to you, and how might what you have chosen be helpful to the art you are working on.” After speaking, the image or object could be passed around but no passing of objects during speaking. This would encourage active listening to each other and longer moments observing and looking at the item in one’s hands.

    Danna Kerns-Streett

    Although I do not teach art I have implemented the circle design in my classroom. At my school we do “Daily Raps” at least 3 times per week. During the Daily Rap students sit in a circle around the classroom and discuss different topics that are affecting them in school such as bullying, peer pressure, cliques, etc. the circle forum is really important because it allows all students to see each other and focus on the conversation. However, there were also some challenges such as logistically fitting 31 students in a circle around the classroom. While I like the idea of not having any tables in the way that’s just not feasible in my math classroom. Another struggle has been what to do when there are side conversations going on. In my room students must’ve move themselves from the circle if they are talking but that does not always solve the problem.


    Design of teaching spaces significantly impacts learning. Dialogic learning requires spaces conducive to dialogue. Since active listening is a developed skill, 31 young students in a circle, with tables or not, may not lead to dialogic learning. Six groups of five students responding to a prompt and then putting responses on a large paper in the center of the group and posted in the room for all to see each group’s responses is one strategy to avoid some of the problems that Danna raises.


    I believe this is all about a personal comfort level. I teach middle school kids and there will always be a few students that are too shy to speak in front of even a small group. I have found that it all depends on the topic of choice. Opening yourself up in a circle formation breaks the barriers of security but puts everyone in the same boat so to speak. If a student is excited about the topic and can relate they will speak, if they are unfamiliar they may wait for other students to respond before they take a chance and further open themselves up.



    The layout of a classroom is so important to the teaching that takes place. When I taught in younger grades, we used the circle set up to inform students of what was expected in that class. Many times, our lesson would be introduced with a correlating story, read while the students were all sitting in this way. After the story, our project and the steps needed would be explained and demonstrated. Students would ask any questions and then be dismissed to their seats to begin working. The time spent together in the beginning of the class, allowed students time to share ideas and possible issues, while eliminating much of the possible confusion later on. Now that I teach high school, I do not use this particular set up but do try something that may be similar. When I give a demonstration, students will stand around the table in a circle to see what is expected during a particular point in the assignment. Many times, questions and issues will arise at this time and are addressed so the whole class is on the same page. I find this to be the most effective way to reach all the students at the same time. Once the demonstration is over and students are ready to work, I circulate around the room to each table and student. I have six tables that seat four to five students, the students at each table usually collaborate, discuss, and share ideas with each other. If I had individual desks in my room, this collaboration really would not be as successful.


    As a teacher, I have tried this circular approach before several times. At first, it did not go so well. You will always have those students who jump at the chance to answer a question. They are the ones that always have their hand in the air and always dominate the classroom conversation. I also ran into students who are either too shy or too fearful to give a good answer. Fortunately, I have learned several strategies to help this circle-strategy become more meaningful to all students involved (thanks to our districts Reading Apprenticeship program). One of the best strategies involves combining the circle-share out with a Think, Pair, Share activity before the circle-share out with the class. This allows students to practice their answer with a classmate and bounce their ideas off another person before being singled out in front of everyone. The key with this strategy however is to actually give students time to THINK. A good 30 seconds of silent think time before sharing always provides better results. I also make sure to tell students that it is OKAY to have a similar answer as another person in the class, just add another sentence to elaborate on your answer a little further. This way they can’t cop-out by saying “Johnny already said my answer”.

    Judy Chicago

    I’ve recently been receiving various comments on the Dialogue Portal and am very excited that it’s still being used. I find it interesting that different educators are finding a variety of ways to implement and expand the circle pedagogy that I have used whenever I’ve taught. I’m glad that it is being used and is useful but I’ve found that giving students space and time in the circle over and over again slowly helps break the dynamic of ‘the loudest voices’ dominating discussions. So keep sharing your thoughts. Judy Chicago

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