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Circulating the Classroom: How to Help Your Educators Move with Purpose

Updated: Feb 23

When visiting your educators' classrooms, you’ve seen them "circulating the room." Teachers move between desks, ensuring that students are on-task, engaging in extensive one-on-one discussions, addressing questions from various students, and finding themselves pulled in multiple directions. Frequently, this form of classroom navigation can leave teachers feeling exhausted and uncertain about whether they have adequately attended to each students' needs.

To enhance the assistance provided to students during their independent work, teachers should have a clear purpose when moving around the classroom. The following three approaches can help educators establish their objectives for circulating and decide upon practical next steps:

1. If the educator wants to know students' levels of understanding of independent work, then circulate to collect information.

Circulating to assess understanding requires the teacher to know what they are looking for and to refrain from providing individual feedback (in that moment). The ultimate goal is for teachers to collect individual student information that provides an overarching synopsis of class understanding. By actively observing students as they work, teachers can identify misconceptions or areas of confusion. As a result, the teacher can address these issues promptly to the whole-class, or just to the students who need it, avoiding having the same conversation multiple times with different students throughout the room.

Actionable next step: Take this information and engage in whole-class discussion or create small-groups based on student responses. The feedback is provided post-circulation and addresses either individual or whole-group needs.

Keep in mind: What the teacher assesses must be very specific. For example, the teacher cannot assess a whole-paragraph or project by circulating. However, they can assess a sentence or two of the paragraph or a very specific piece of the project.

2. If the educator wants to answer individual questions or clarify instructions, then circulate to ensure student understanding of task expectations and directions.

In this strategy, the goal is for the teacher to remove any directional barriers within the task that may prevent student understanding. The teacher is checking-in with each student to ensure that directions are being followed and that individual questions, as it relates to task expectations, are being answered.

Actionable next step: Provide explicit feedback to students on those directions or expectations if they are off-track. If educators notice that the majority of students are misunderstanding the directions, then address the class as a whole.

Keep in mind: Have a timer, or know how much time the teacher can spend with each student in order to get through to everyone. Stick with that time. If the teacher sees that a student is struggling with the content or skill, jot their name down and return back to them for a deeper discussion following your circulation.

3. If the educator wants all students to participate, self-assess or reflect, then circulate to hear student perspectives.

In this approach, the teacher's aim is to foster an interactive learning environment where students contribute, assess their own progress, and reflect on their work. The teacher may ask students to share their thoughts, discoveries, or input with a peer or a group of peers. Alternatively, they may ask students to jot down their opinion and then share out. While circulating, the teachers' feedback does not focus on what is right or wrong with the response. Rather, it focuses on listening to and engaging with student voice to help create a classroom atmosphere where students feel valued and motivated to participate.

Actionable next step: Engage in meaningful conversations with students to elicit their thoughts, opinions, and self-assessment regarding the task or topic at hand. Encourage them to share their insights, ask questions, and express their understanding. Acknowledge their contributions and create an open space for dialogue.

Keep in mind: Be attentive to the diversity of student perspectives and ensure that all voices are heard. This approach promotes a sense of inclusion and participation, cultivating a classroom culture where students feel valued and motivated to engage actively in their learning journey.

While the role of a circulating teacher is multifaceted, the teacher should set a clear purpose for moving between desks and engaging with students enables the teacher to effectively meet student requirements and cultivate a positive classroom atmosphere with minimal preparation and increased efficiency.

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