Why Circles - Student Created Routine

We started discussing emotions and where feelings come from in our UOI.  Earlier in the year we had a brain expert come to the school and build playdoh models of brains.  The kids already knew that the "Red Room" where our anger comes from is generated by the Amygdala; but I wanted to take it to a meta-level of understanding, and I wanted them to draw some connections between the physical process, the mental, and the emotional.  I had no idea how, but I have trust in my students to show me the way.

The lesson started with a simple premise and a simple question (as all things complex do).  I showed them a video of a kid who was not in the best of moods.  He was, for wont of a better word, flipping out.  He was playing some kind of video game, and it obviously was not going well, judging from his reactions.  The best thing about this video is that is was in a language that my children could not speak, so they couldn't connect with him and get into his shoes.  Their observations about why he was upset were simply based on what they saw, and inferences.  While they were watching, they were taking sticky notes and writing down notes.  I gave no instructions on what kind of notes to write.  I specifically gave no instructions to increase the complexity of the activity and not limit it to only area of observation, which would then mean that they were watching the video through the lens of my interpretation, not through their interpretation.

Once we had a number of sticky notes on the board, we threw out the ones that were repeated and started to look into how to analyze the rest.  I use this routine often, and I find it a great base that leads to very interesting discussions.  It also takes control of where it goes away from the teacher and gives it to the students.  They interpret the information on their terms, and take the learning in their own direction.

Next, we got to meat and potatoes of the activity, which is the sorting and classifying of the information.  During this stage, I tend to sit back and let it go, only interjecting if they are stuck.  They found that their were different levels of emotions at play here, and that there were also observation about what will happen.  One student then drew a circle and put an observation in the middle (smashing controller), and another student added another circle around it wrote a simple emotion (angry).  They found another emotion that is was little deeper than "angry", and drew a third circle on the outside and put "hates to lose" in that circle.  Here, they got stuck on with their notes because they couldn't find anything deeper than that to continue the circles, so I interjected and asked them to forget out the sticky notes and continue the circles.  Here is the basic progression they came up with:

Smashing Controller --- Angry --- Hates to lose --- Needs to be cool --- Doesn't have many friends --- Shy

They drew these out in nested circles on the board.  One of the students called them Why Circles.  An idea was born.  I quickly created a rough template to use on my computer and printed it off:

We then each applied the Why Circles to ourselves and began the process of self-introspection.  This will be on-going process, though I have no idea where it will go!

This is a strategy that teachers have been using for a long time (I'm talking about the Why Circles) and has many variations.  It is not anything new, innovative or ground-breaking.  The point is, the kids created it themselves, and it has meaning to them and a feeling of ownership.  When we use this strategy in the future for other things (and I certainly will!) they will immediately remember the moment they created it.  They were the teachers, and they taught themselves.

However, the collective was an integral part of the entire process.  This is not the product of one students idea or insight, it was a group effort.  Without the contributions of everybody involved, this idea would not have emerged.


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