Curriculum and Pedagogy
Make a list of all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. Which do you believe is the most important?
Do you think the students in this class would agree?
Providing learning opportunities for each objective in the curriculum consumes the majority of a teacher’s time. Unfortunately, despite the time and energy poured into this, many capable students still do not avail of these opportunities. In order to engage students in a meaningful way in our classrooms, we should discover what motivates them, and incorporate this into our teaching. This is common sense to educators, however, it can be difficult to genuinely align curriculum with student interest. This is amplified when we consider the range of interests for the variety of students in our classrooms. The simple answer to what motivates students is social connection.
All people are motivated to be connected to their peers. If we utilize a teaching style that allows students to genuinely interact with each other, while they are interacting with the curriculum, they will remain motivated. The use of talking circles allows students to discuss curricular topics in a meaningful way. They are given the opportunity to connect with curriculum deeply with their peers.
Imagine a talking circle in a grade 5 classroom where students take on the role of Jess or Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia. At various stages throughout the reading of the novel, the students could take on the role of characters in the story and answer the restorative justice questions below based on how they think Jess or Leslie would answer.
What were/are you thinking?
What were/are you feeling?
What’s been the hardest thing for you?
Who has been impacted? How?
What do you need [to do] in order to go on?
This not only offers students the ability to comprehend the curricular objectives in a substantial way, it also improves their social skills. Conflict and personal struggle are a part of being human. By addressing conflict resolution in the classroom, teachers are better preparing their students for life. Acting as these characters provides students with a safe venue to express emotions, which can act as a prelude for expressing their own emotions in the future. This type of true connection with characters encourages students to realize the worth of all human beings.
Circles can also be used in all subject areas, not just those traditionally seen as discussion based. Imagine a grade 8 math class. Oftentimes as a teacher is introducing a new topic students get lost along the way. Due to a variety of reasons they may not interrupt the lesson to get clarification. A teacher can use check-in, check-up and check-out circles with their class to ensure the students feel comfortable and have the opportunity to express what they understand and what they do not. As a check-up, mid-way through the class the teacher will bring the whole class or small groups together to share their thoughts as prompted by the following types of questions.
What is happening for you while doing the activities?
What’s hardest thing for you?
What are you thinking?
The key in asking the questions is to genuinely listening to how the students articulate their thinking process. This gives the teacher the opportunity to see where more practice is needed and adjust their lesson accordingly. In a similar way when working with an individual student who is struggling to understand his/her work, use the questions to frame your listening.
When we consider the various ability levels, learning styles and other differences of the students which make up a class, adding another task to the list of responsibilities for a teacher is contentious. Teaching with restorative justice is not another requirement to fulfill- it is a way of teaching that gives teachers more time in their day to teach the curriculum and beyond.
The ideas expressed here are simply beginning ideas for understanding the different relationships we have with our self and others. Relationships are very complex and many of the intricacies that make up our relationships require deep personal reflection to be understood. This can be accomplished through work with restorative justice.