Introduction Getting Ready
Learning Circles Teachers' Guide
Open Circle Plan Projects Share Work Publish
Close Circle Overview



Working on Learning Circle Projects

This phase of the Learning Circle interaction is very exciting. Your students will be very eager to see the responses to their project request. Participation in the projects sponsored by the other classrooms can also greatly enhance your students' learning. Successful projects will take some facilitation by all of the teachers in the Learning Circle. Hopefully you will be able to send at least one contribution from your site to each of the projects sponsored in your Learning Circle. You and your students can help make each project a success!

Organizing Writing Activities in the Classroom

The size of your Learning Circle has been designed to ensure a comfortable and diverse working environment for you and your students. We have found that groups of 7-9 classrooms are large enough to provide diverse perspectives on a project, yet intimate enough to encourage regular exchange.

It is important to remember that the message exchange occurs among classrooms, not between individual students. Since each Learning Circle includes over 200 students, sending individual messages to each other every week would result in mail overload. While some personal exchange among students can motivate their work on projects, an extensive student-to-student exchange adds little to the learning that takes place.



In projects with surveys, it is helpful to send a class response rather than have each student respond separately. If each student sent a separate survey response, there would be over 200 surveys for one classroom to compile! Here are some ideas for collecting survey data for Learning Circle projects.

When students are asked specifically to share their personal views, you will be faced with two important decisions:

  • How many messages should you send?
  • How should you select them?

It is wise not to send a large number of essays on the same topic. While students are initially excited to receive mail, they soon lose interest if they read message after message with similar content. If you send only the "best" essays, many students may feel as if they failed and will find little motivation to polish their work. All of your students need to feel involved in the message exchange.

Organizing your classroom response to involve each student in at least one Learning Circle project can ensure the success of all projects sponsored in your Circle. Incorporate cooperative learning strategies in the classroom can make your Learning Circle experience more successful.

In some classrooms, teachers prefer to have students write alone or to allow students to choose whether to write cooperatively or independently. In this case, here are some other ways to make the decision of which messages to send.


The Writing Process

One of the goals of the Learning Circle projects is to help your students develop their writing skills across the curriculum. In some projects, your students may be asked to write about a particular topic. The following advice for organizing writing is consistent with the writing process approach that has been very effective in improving students' writing skills. The writing process can be conceptualized in three stages:1) planning, 2) drafting , and 3) polishing.

Regular Transmission of Student Work

Your students will be writing articles and/or submitting data to all of the projects. It is important to set up classroom procedures for sending and storing student work. Students in other locations will be eager to see your work on a regular basis. If you have easy access to the network, you may be sending messages whenever they are ready. If you have to use a computer that is not in the classroom, it is helpful to select a specific day or days of the week to send messages, other sites will come to expect to see some work from your students based on this pattern. This predictability helps all members of the Learning Circle organize their project work. The use of consistent subject headers will help others schools in storing their mail.

Responsible Team Work

The participants in your Learning Circle will be waiting to see what you will be sending on their projects. It will help everyone if you send a weekly classroom update message.

It is likely that you and your students will enjoy the challenge of most, or all, of your Learning Circle projects. It is possible that one of the projects may not capture your students' interest. It may be too difficult, request information that they cannot find, or you may judge the content not to be age appropriate or too controversial. You can help your Circle partners by finding participants from another class. Another option might be for you to write a short response yourself. By signing up as a participant or finding someone outside of the class to respond to a project not appropriate for your students, you make clear your commitment to help all of the projects in your Learning Circle.

If, for some reason, there will not be a response from your site for one or more of the projects, please let the sponsoring class(es) know as soon as possible. It is not fair to your partners to keep them waiting for a work that will not be coming. It is important to let others know both what level of response to expect from your site and when they can expect to receive it.

Learning to work in teams is an important work skill. Help your students to understand that others are depending on them and they are depending on others. In any team, there is usually a weak link, someone who is unable to do as much as others had hoped. What happens in this situation? What makes a productive team from one that falls apart? What does it mean to call a group a team? Helping students to understand productive and nonproductive strategies is part of the learning that takes place in this unique environment. When faced with a non-productive team member what strategies are likely to improve the situation? What strategies are likely to lead to a worse team outcome?

Learning Circles are created by the interactions of everyone in the team. Some Learning Circles are incredible experiences in group cooperation and teamwork. Everyone is ready and eager to work and each school team has the tools and time to contribute to all projects. In other Circles the participation levels are not well matched. For example a few schools might have a lab of networked computers and a period each day devoted to their Learning Circle participation. Other schools might have one or more computers in the classroom with student groups cycling through to send their work. In some cases the only computer is found at the home of the teacher who takes student work home each night and tries to keep up with typing and sending. Different patterns of access to technology are often reflected in the volume and quality of materials sent.
Students with access to network computers sometimes send high volumes of unedited work. Students with limited access send less work and it may or may not be of better quality.

Understanding differences, offers of help and humorous reminders of deadlines are ways of helping others meet their deadlines. Insults, demands and angry pleas are not as likely to increase group productivity. Helping students to monitor their social skills as well as their work on projects can be a very valuable education.

Teacher Comments...

Teachers comment on their experiences in exchanging work on Learning Circle projects.

The "Exchange of Student Work" Checklist

The "Exchange of Student Work" Checklist will help you see if you are ready for Phase 5:Organizing the Circle Publication.


Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel