I enrolled in this course hoping to learn practical ways of using learning circles in a high school setting. Now that the semester is over, I realize that I’m walking away with a lot more information to draw from than I expected! From what I learned this semester, I believe there are many different approaches to learning circles that would be great to use with high school students. Learning circles enable students to discuss controversial topics without being interrupted and misunderstood. They also arenas in which social justice can be discussed and changes can be made. However, I feel that the two most meaningful ways of using learning circles with high school students focus on the students’ moral and emotional health and development. Oftentimes in public high schools, these aspects of humanity are overlooked. It is considered the job of the family, community, religion, or other social network to encourage students morally and emotionally. However, these types of conversations can and should take place in school. In my opinion, it would help foster community and create strong relationships that could positively influence educational attainment.
The first approach to learning circles for high school students is philosophy-based. This would encourage moral development. In class, we tried out a Philosophy for Kids exercise using a Frog and Toad story. I really enjoyed this activity. Children and young people are rarely asked to give their insights and perspectives on deep, philosophical issues. Too often, public education seeks to fill students up with information instead of enabling them to think critically and discover truth on their own. High school students certainly have the cognitive ability to think deeply about philosophical topics. In fact, high school is a place where students really should tackle these tough questions. Before long, they will enter college or the workforce. They will soon start their own families. In order to be fully mature adults, they need to have a clear understanding of their belief systems and what they stand for. Learning circles can be used to encourage students to develop their opinions on love, honesty, community, peace, and other important topics. While religion may enter these conversations, it is not required to. Morality certainly exists outside of religion. In addition, many religions share similar belief structures. The goal is to develop a value-neutral area in which students can talk about what they believe and why.
Another approach to learning circles for high school students is based on personal reflection. This nurtures students’ emotional health and development. By doing learning circles, I realized that my first, natural response to a question is not usually the one that is the most true. When I sit and listen to other people speak during the learning circle, I have more time to reflect on my answer than I would have in a normal conversation. This period of time, although short, is longer than most people given themselves to respond. It enables participants to really think about what they want to say. In return, learning circle participants understand more about themselves and everyone learns a little bit more about one another.
I believe the learning circle atmosphere encourages participants to show their true selves, instead of the false front that they would like to portray. This type of experience is especially important for high school students. From what I experienced in high school, it was rare when every member of a group was paid equal attention, listened to in the same manner, and given the same amount of respect. In order to be important, students had to behave in certain ways. I think that learning circles remove some of this social pressure, even if only for an hour or so.