Responsive Classroom After School: Classroom Organization & Closing Circles

This is the sixth and final post in a series on using the Responsive Classroom Approach after school. It’s my hope that it will be useful both to teachers who wish to extend their use of RC after the school day, as well as to teaching artists and community educators who may find RC to be as transformational for them as it has been for me. Please note, while I use RC, I am not formally connected to the organization.

In this series I have tried to trace the trajectory of what after-school time can be like with Responsive Classroom in action. Begin with the Opening Circles, engage through interactive modeling, handle discipline with logical consequences, and structure lessons to be fun and exploratory with guided discovery, choice, and the arts. So the natural place to end would be the closing circle.

In the classroom, the idea of a Closing Circle is to give students a way to release some of their end-of-the-day energy with a focused activity, similar to those in Morning Meeting. It also means that students and the teacher can briefly reflect on the day, so that learning can be carried over to the next day. As I’ve mentioned throughout the series, RC is very compatible with using theatre games and approaches, and this is another example.

Another aspect I really like about closing circle is that it gives students a bit of an incentive to clean up and be ready, otherwise we may not have the time. Responsive Classroom emphasizes having a clean room that is organized for the fullest participation. In my practice, structures like Closing Circles help to enforce that. Plus, students look forward to the closing circle, especially if it is a regular ritual like the one I describe below.

In my classroom at the Boys and Girls Club, I keep two tables set up at the end of the room for homework or writing activities. The rest of the space is kept open, with the large circle taped on the floor to help us form up quickly for games or discussion. Extra chairs are stacked along one wall, for easy access if we need them. Why share this? To address two points: one, the space reflects both my own approach and the needs of the club; two, keeping my classroom set up openly means greater participation and focus on the activities.

When considering classroom organization, RC asks us to consider the needs of students, the needs of the teacher, and the needs of the school/facility. In my case, students need homework tables, or a place to sit of writing or just observing an activity. I need an open area to guide circle games and direct our theatre activities. The Club needs to keep extra chairs (which as an added bonus, I sometimes use) in the room. The Club also gives me the schedule of when and how long each age group is in my room, which influences which opening and closing circle activities I use, and why I find them so beneficial.

In what could otherwise be a chaotic few minutes of everyone cleaning up and leaving, here is what can happen when I use a Closing Circle:

When 5-minute cleanup is called, students turn in supplies, stack chairs, and gather their things. Everyone forms the circle, and we all take a deep breath in, and release. Then, we begin our simple ritual. I usually ask for a volunteer to start. This person turns to one neighbor, and they both nod silently at each other. This is to acknowledge that each other was here and gave something to the group today. Then, that neighbor turns to their other side and does the same thing, and so on — the shared nod passing around the circle until it returns to the volunteer who started it. Then we glance around the circle for a quick moment. I break the silence with a simple “Thank you,” or “See you tomorrow,” and students line up to leave.

In doing this, two things happen. First, responsibility for keeping the room clean and organized is on the students. I think that student responsibilities are a crucial dimension of the social/emotional learning. Second, the next activity leader (or the parents) receive a calm, focused, and eager young person. A closing circle like the one above reinforces that each student matters. They are important, I value their learning, and everyone sees that they have something to give.

That is really what makes RC so valuable after school. It’s practical, to be sure — I hope I’ve made that clear. But really, it shows that even after school, every student is still an appreciated human being with something to share with the world. In the presence of caring and responsive adults, these children can grow into amazing people and giving citizens, in school and after.

Be sure to check out other posts in the series:

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5 comments

  1. […] Classroom Organization— even though after school has less structure, having an open and organized classroom helps with success. Like in the classroom, I also use cleanup time in conjunction with some sort of closing circle (see my post here). […]

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