Hi everyone. And welcome to the effective teaching podcast. I'm your host, Dan. And today I have Esther with me and Esther you've been listening to the podcast for a while. And you sent me an email the other day after listening to one of my episodes. And we ended up chatting by email about what you do in your classroom to help your students to become lifelong learners. And you talked about this process that you use at the beginning of your classes, where you sit down with your students in a circle and chat to them and find out more about them and who they are and their learning process, which I thought sounded super interesting and would be something that would be worth having your here to chat about. So can you just, before you get started talking about that, can you tell everyone where you're from and what you teach?
Yeah, no worries. Thanks for having me. I am PDHPE teacher at Oxford falls Grammar. I'm on the Northern beaches and I'm the year 12 coordinator soon to not be and yeah, I teach seven through 12 PE and pass and all the associated things with that. Yeah.
Awesome. So this circle chat that you start your class with. Can you just describe it in general for me? How do you actually, like, what are you doing with your process? The what, you know, what is it,
What is it it's basically, so I could hear every student at the start of the lesson, so everyone gets a chance to be heard and it's also a casual way of organizing the class for it to start, like started the class, once there is time to get started. Yes.
Cool. And so can you just describe as the students walk in, do they go to their desk first? Have you got the chair set up already? And then what kinds of things do you chat about this circle?
So it changes depending on the room that we have or the, the class that it is, whether it's a junior class or a senior class, often senior classes are a lot smaller. So it's a lot easier to kind of make a circle around the desk and not have to do a lot of change if it's a really big class of 30 year, seven girls, and they're all woo. As soon as they will see and hyeeractive sometimes it takes a bit of time to really organize a circle, but I usually find taking the time to organize the circle is worth it because it brings everyone in. And I know that I don't have to say we just walk in and they set up circles. And then I just pose a question for them. We've tried varieties of, they do a question or whatever. We've tried so many different things, but generally the general rule is I've got a pre-prepared question, and everyone answers it. The exception is if someone really doesn't want to, we've talked about, like, if that's a genuine question that you find hard to answer, they can not answer, or they can say skip and come back, but we try and give everyone a turn.
Yeah. Cool. And then are your questions always like linked to what you're teaching that lesson? Are they just random questions you've pulled out of a jar somewhere? You've Googled them what kind of questions should I ask students to get to know them? What kind of, what are you doing?
It's really mixed. So sometimes it's really clearly linked to the lesson, but it's nice to start with something really open-ended because sometimes I find a lot in PDHPE, we're giving a lot of answers and sometimes some content areas. I find it hard to get them to ask the questions because there's so much, I need them to know. Yeah. Sometimes it's linked and it's open and there's some really good, different answers. Sometimes I provide a question and no one likes it. And three kids in they go miss new question. Like this one sucks. So I might get fair enough. It's not working. So we just send it up on the spot. Sometimes it's very personal and sometimes it goes very deep in that moment. And I usually roll with it if I don't have a really pressing things that I need to get done, sometimes it's super shallow.
And oftentimes if I'm in a rush and we just don't have time for a good convo or they've come in at the end of, you know, an incursion and we've only got 20 minutes or something like that, I'll just say how you're feeling between one and five, five. Do you feel, you know, something like that, but just so I can gauge here there all that before we get stuck into it. And oftentimes I'll find there's a lot of one and a half and it really helps me, ah, okay. Their feeling there, that gives me a good starting point for my lesson. It feels like a cheat, it feels like sneaky, like, oh, awesome. I've just hact great. Now I know where to start. So the question is really ranges. Sometimes it is I'm on my way. And I'm literally on my phone typing into Google for a new question, because I forgot a circle time question.
And other times I prepared it weeks in advance, and it's building up from other ones. And that kind of, so I've obviously got documents saved where I've just got the questions I've used because classes start respond. Well, if you've asked us that before and they remember trust me, they remember, so it worked really well in online learning because we started every lesson again with circle time, but it was more like grid time. We'd just go through the grid. And students really appreciated it. They I think they just find it familiar no matter what happens. And even if I'm absent and I leave a casual lesson, there's always a circle time question. So they still have the same rhythm. So yeah, but certainly not my idea. Totally stole it.
Where did you steal it from.
I saw it when I was teaching in Canada. So they used to do it in a different way. But yeah, on my exchange there, that was a structure that they did in that class, in that school it was a smaller school a really community feel so big circle discussion questions was the vibe there. So I just borrowed it.
Now, would you be willing to share your document, your list of questions? Cool. So if you are listening and you would like to get that list of questions, you can head over to tyeacherspd.net/95, and I'll have a way there for you to get that document with all those questions. Can you, give us a few examples of what you've asked, your kids this year.
Yes. I'm sorry. Some ones that aren't related to content would be what's the best ice cream toppings or if you were a fruit, what would you be or are you more like your mom or your dad and why, who is your closest friend? And what's made you so close, but like, it could just be totally random. Other questions could be what is your least favorite activity that we've ever done or which part of the syllabus do you think sucks? Or if, if you could be the teacher, how would you teach what we learned yesterday or anything like that? Sometimes I learn from them. Like I can ask them something and it really helps me and I take notes. So I did a series of questions over the last few with my year 12 class. And I slowly ask them so many questions about themselves so that when it came to the end, just now I put together a small gift and a card for each of them that was personalized, based on their answers to questions in circle time.
And it was silly things like, what's your favorite confectionary? Or like what general books do you like? But it enabled me to then know them and you can often just know them when you're trying to get content down their throat. So I think, I think that's been my favorite and their favorite part because they like to be known. So yeah, it's yeah. Sometimes if it's content related, I might say it might be something to do with how many, have you ever had an experience with prescription medication? What what's the story or something like that? If you have to show something like that. Well, have you ever first-aid works really well? Like have you ever experienced a broken limb anyway, lots of stories come out and or embarrassing moments. Yeah. It's really fun. One of my favorite parts, the lesson
That's fantastic. And I think that getting to know your students is one of the most important things that we do as a teacher. I think if you're not getting to know your students personally, then it's very hard as a teacher to motivate them. It's very hard for you to actually appear. I hear even on their side, if you don't really know them, particularly, I used to find with large numbers of students that I would be teaching this in PDH. We tend to have a lot of our classes every year. And you got to learn all these kids' names and stuff. If you don't get those kids' names down by the end of the first couple of weeks, they already started to disconnect from you because you haven't quite made that connection. So can you tell me what are the, some of the benefits and advantages of this process that you've seen in your classroom when you're doing this learning then with your students after the circles, and you're starting to try and get them to enjoy learning, get the skills of learning, or just get the content down their throats. What benefits have you seen from the circle activities for, for the learning aspect of what happens in your classroom?
Yeah sure, Uh I would say when they're on side and when you have a strong relationship or a growing relationship, it's a lot easier to communicate. And I, I feel heard and I think the students feel heard when they've got more than just PE content to talk about. So we know other things about one another. And as a teacher, I answer every question as well. And I answer what number I am between one and five. I know how I'm feeling too. And I think that helps them approach me and know how to respond to my, my teaching in terms of, of learning as well. I think the context provides, so in a circle time recently, one of my students said. It was something like what's going to challenge and it was something, it was a disaster in the home. Like something got destroyed in the home from some natural weather or fire or something like that.
And they had moved house 10 times in 13 weeks or something crazy, like a really interesting that I would not have learned from circle time. And I mean, I'm sure the school would have been notified, you know what I mean? But it was something that was quite personal and, and I could then see, oh, that's why those two tasks weren't completed. And it helps me gauge better where the student was out without them having to in the moment, try and justify something. So even, I guess, contextually, it really helped. But in terms of practical, like understanding of content and those kinds of things, the way that we start is super inclusive. The reason it's a circle is that no, one's in front of anyone. There's no desk to someone behind the desk and anything like that. Everyone does no overlapping. So if it's practice and we're starting off with circle time, there's no shoulder in front of another person everyone's open.
And we talk about how that's, because we all are included. We're all important, everyone's valued. And everyone's a part of it. And I think that sets a precedent for the remainder of the lesson, knowing that no matter the success or the mark or the quickness of a student, the ability to pick up on something, each person has something valuable to contribute. So it really helps in collaborative tasks because it gives a structured practice for what I expected them. You know, I don't want it to break up into groups and one person dominate. They're all a part of it. I think the, like the big thing is that it's not, it's not like a like pedagogical wonderful thing. It's just super fun and it has amazing benefits. And I think when the teacher and the students have both really enjoying themselves, learning so much easier when I'm having a good time, whatever I'm doing, it's all good. I don't know. I think that's the main just makes everything a bit more. Yeah. Like, like we get along, like, you know, when I left
That makes things more enjoyable. I think once, once learning becomes enjoyable and the classroom environment is one that's enjoyable, it helps the students to relax. It helps them to enjoy the learning and then that's going to impact them. Long-Term I think there's going to remember those lessons where, you know, they were known and they were included or they could constantly just be involved in every bit of things and know that even if they contributed something that ended up being wrong, that didn't actually affect who they were, or it was just part of what's going on in your classroom, getting things wrong is actually a really good part of what's happening.
And it's, yeah. I think it's been a catalyst for other things. So you know, we've had a second question where like, okay, if you were to make a class, playlist, what would it be? And I'm on Spotify making it live, and then I can collaborate and I can share it with them. So then they all list a song and we have a class playlist. And then we use that in a, an activity later as well, because they've all, and they're all like, oh, but my songs in there. And they will identify with what we created, which was just the casual 10 minute thing. And I've noticed also that if I forget, I get filled up really quick. Like, what is that?
So the question I think a lot of teachers are going to have is have you found that you've run out of time for teaching the stuff that you actually had to teach throughout the year? Like I'm not talking about in a single lesson, I think in single lessons that could happen. There'll be other lessons where you had time left over at the end, but have you found throughout the year that you've struggled to get through content because you've devoted your time at the beginning, every single lesson to be circle time
On the contrary students. Cause I look forward to it. It's almost like the, it's like a reward, but it's a start. And so I might say to them, last lesson, we didn't get through enough. So we're not doing circle time at the start of this lesson, I've only done it maybe twice. And at the end of the lesson, the Bell's gone and then say, can we just do circle time before we go? So the bell has gone. Like, so usually I'm not saying every class and all the time, obviously kids are like bye, I'm going to recess, but I haven't, I've also set it up so that you don't, you can't do a life story and that time. And if a student just sit there and goes well, I go, okay next? And we just, yeah, we kind of put plow for so, but it would be 10 minutes at the start of each lesson. Our lessons are about an hour. Sometimes it means I need to maybe put a bit more structure in that using online time or when I wasn't going to or something like that, just to make things more concise as a general rule. No, but then I would also say it doesn't have to be every single lesson like teachers use, however they would like to. But I think it's helpful. Yeah.
Awesome. Well, I would encourage listeners to try it this week to come up with a question that you're going to ask all of your students at the beginning of your lesson and to go out and see what happens. See if you learn stuff about your students that you didn't know yet already, Esther I want to thank you so much for joining me today. I have a coming on the podcast.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
My pleasure and the guys, if you want that list of questions that Esther already has compiled together for you, please make sure you head over to teacherspd.net/95. If you enjoy this episode, I would love it. If you would leave us a review and of course, make sure that you subscribe and come back and join me next week. Bye for now.