Circling Detail

After another great observation of Julie Soldner’s classes yesterday, I learned from Diana Noonan an interesting point about circling that I had never heard before:
…the only reason to circle is to teach vocabulary….
It makes sense. If our students already know a word, why circle it? Thus, we must be ever watchful when we speak to our students about the degree of familiarity they have with each word we are using in a sentence. The minute we sense what Blaine calls a “weak response”, then that is the time to figure out what word they are weak on, do some circling on it to teach it to them and then move on with our instruction.
That explains why a lot of experienced CI teachers say they don’t circle – they sense that their students don’t need it so they don’t do it.



9 thoughts on “Circling Detail”

  1. Circling incorporates all the other language embedded in the question, and helps gets those pieces/chunks acquired, too. This is particularly critical for novice/beginners. The circled questions include all kinds of morphology & syntax, plus Ss get tons of modeling of the phonetic system. The implicit instruction, that comes in the way of prepositions/clause language, IOPs, reflexives, etc. also gets laid in via circling. Circling is so dang brilliant!!!
    I’ve noticed that I can get away with much less circling for my oldest/most experienced T/CI group – -I assume that’s because they’ve already acquired the ancillary language, and we’ve (hopefully) also accelerated their processors – so they can listen more effectively. Then we have tons of other ways to get the reps in, other than circling, and we can mix it up w/PQA etc. sooner.

  2. Exactly. The discussion we were having yesterday reflects what you said above, Alisa. What we saw from Julie, and these were first and second year 6th and 7th graders, was almost no circling and yet totally comprehending kids which was proven by their tremendous amounts of unforced output. But, esp. with her first year kids, we learned that the lack of circling now in February was directly connected to a ton of circling back in the fall. Like a ton.

  3. Just a question or maybe a comment but I feel like 2 different things are being said here. Is there agreement or are there distinctions being made by the 2 previous posts?
    1. Circling is for vocabulary (Diana and Ben).
    2. Circling is good for various reasons…syntax, morphology, implicit knowledge etc.
    I am only asking for fun discussion…in the end, circling is brilliant for us and students. Thanks for this post!

  4. I think they are both true. But we don’t do circling to teach (2) above, but rather (1) above. CI is so awesome that (2) goes straight in the students’ deeper mind acquisition system without the kid even knowing it, since they are so busy focusing on (1).
    It’s a big trick. We get the kid’s minds focused on an image, the image is propped up on the desktop conscious mind by (1) but after enough reps, both (1) and (2) are recognized without effort, since they have been acquired, in the same way that anyone reading this sentence doesn’t have to stop and think about what each word means because of all the reps they have gotten on the words.
    Just for fun, when I was three years old, I decided to start counting the amounts of reps I got on one specific word – the word was “gentle”. Since that year, over my lifetime, I heard it 1,016,487 times. I also counted how many times I read it in print – that was 907,414 times. So now, when I hear or read the word gentle, it immediately plops into the context of what I am hearing or reading like the old friend of mine it is. Words, languages, become our old friends. That’s why we love them so much.
    CI works like that, for all the words, including the little words. If we hear them enough times in meaningful context we acquire them even if we don’t want to. We learn to love them because they are connected to something really great, language, which is connected to things even far greater, mind-boggling things.
    Circling has it’s place in that at the start of the period of building the language system, but then it’s not needed, as each word, (1) and (2) above, slot in or as Alisa said are laid in, to the system.
    (How was I able to remember how many times I heard and read “gentle”? I didn’t. I just made that up to make a point.)

  5. This totally makes sense. I’ve talked with a few people after TPRS training who were trying to implement circling in their class, and I think this point needs to be made more clear. I think it’s a subpoint under Teaching to the Eyes. We circle/ask enough questions so they understand very well, but not as if we must do 12-question circling to replace a textbook exercise or something. It’s another aspect of the transition from structured rehearsal of language (a la textbooks) to more free communication, isn’t it?
    What I’ve found with the year 2, 3, and 4 students this year, who had a more standard textbook approach before, is that they did need something more like normal circling for a while for reason 2 in Michael’s comment. They just hadn’t heard language enough in unrehearsed situations to have the structure in their minds yet. They knew vocabulary items (in some students’ cases quite well).
    I still wasn’t trying to run through 12 options for types of circling questions with them, though. Is it ok to say we just want to ask students a whole lot of questions with the newly-introduced words in them? I think I didn’t have really rigorous training on circling because I didn’t go to a conference where we did that as extensively as I hear described by others (who come away seeming to feel that circling is a step of its own, or nearly so). I haven’t felt like I missed out. Has my experience has been unusual?

  6. Nicely articulated Ben!
    I think both messages or representations of (1) and (2) serve an important purpose. For me they serve a purpose because there are messages for different types of teachers. One is not better than the other…is just is what it is.
    Teacher (1) asks himself or herself, “Why should I be circling all the time?”
    Quick/wants to get the job done answer: Because students need repetition to learn vocabulary (Nouns, verbs, adjectives, whatever).
    Teacher (2) asks himself or herself, “Why should I be circling all the time?”
    Pedagogical/philosophical answer: “ Circling leads to “deeper mind acquisition system without the kid even knowing it, since they are so busy focusing on the vocabulary.
    Pretty cool!

  7. Diane,
    Just saw your post. #1 you use TPRS very well in my opinion 🙂 I don’t think you missed out on anything. When nes stuff comes up for me at least it feels like I am back to the basics on circling because I am watching the faces of students figure out new stuff.
    I think in workshops teachers practice circling in a very clunky way at first. They are trying to make language authentic by following a formula (yes/no, either/or, question word, ask a statement). It is somewhat unnatural right? But it serves a purpose for one to figure out how they can play with a phrase or chunks of language in a comprehensible way.
    I am practicing this right now as I am getting ready to demo French (a language I do not teach). It is clunky for me as the teacher but I know by this summer I will be less formulatic with circling and asking a story.
    I think the beauty of advanced circling is to ask questions in a variety of ways where the audience can’t see that there is a formula at all. This, I think happens when we interact with more proficienct learners because there is language in there already acquired. I alos think when teachers don’t transition from formulatic circling they get a little bit of negative feedback about their classes. I have seen this on the moreTPRS list serve, teachers circling when student have already acquired and they wonder why kids are finding class exhaustive. Also this happens in classes when some students are more advanced than others.

    1. Laurie has been telling us that presenters need to be clearer when they teach circling. The practice that a newbie does to learn to circle is not because you are going to follow a formula, circle everything, or ask 12 questions about 1 utterance. It’s just practice.
      As Carol Gaab says (I paraphrase): You learn how to circle and then you stop doing it or use it scarcely. (I think she is referring to the formulaic, omnipresent circling).
      Terry sells CircleUp! cards, which are to train newbies in non-formulaic (unpredictable) circling. Each card tells you what type of question to ask (e.g. yes/no, either/or, etc.) and you just shuffle up the cards and pull from the deck.
      1) Circling is for reps (vocabulary and grammar).
      This may be a false dichotomy, an artifact of traditional teaching. Every word has a meaning (vocabulary) and a use (grammar). Since there is lots of support of a natural order of morpheme acquisition, we accept that more reps may not lead to acquisition of morphological structure. There are also plenty of studies showing there are steps (transitional stages or developmental sequences) in acquisition of syntax.
      I bet most of us believe that more reps of a word can force it into acquisition. Vocabulary acquisition researchers report the average number of reps for a word to be acquired around 7-12. I do not know how they measure “acquired” and I don’t know whether they refer to comprehension/production and visual/aural. I do know there are studies that track eye movements so they can see how many reps it takes a subject on a new word until they are spending the same amount of time to read it as a word already acquired.
      I also bet that the # of necessary reps depends on level of acquisition. (I would like to stop calling it a “proficiency level” since “proficiency” has so many definitions and “proficiency tests” often measure a mix of learned and acquired competencies). I am willing to bet that the vocabulary studies suggesting the number of reps to be 7-12 is based on subjects who are already of advanced acquisition.
      We must also remember the importance of distributed reps over time. We could get 1,000 reps in 3 classes, but if that word never gets encountered again, then knowledge of that word is fading, and 1-2 months later it may have entirely faded, or at least it may only belong to passive vocabulary (recognition) if never encountered again.
      2) Circling is also to check comprehension and particularly good for differentiation.
      We hopefully keep the students’ focus on the meaning and not the form. Yes, it is often possible that the student does NOT have to process all the words during circling, since 1 word may give away the right answer.
      3) We have so many strategies for getting reps (e.g. repetitive story plots, 3 steps), which is why we needn’t get all our reps from circling. Circling is but one exercise among the language acquisition gym.
      4) Circling can also be a way to add details.
      5) Circling is also part of classroom management (beyond checking comprehension and accountability). It’s interaction so we are talking with and not at the students. And a good choral response is like a call-and-response used to silence and get attention, kind of like a good “amen” from all the church-goers.
      As Ben says, our job is just to ask questions.

  8. Circling engages students in the interpersonal mode at their level of acquisition. It frees the mind to focus on meaning without formulating non-fluent responses. It increases the number of ways that a structure is processed. It changes a structure from the highlighted position in one utterance to a supporting role in the next. It allows for less repetitious reps.
    Part of the skill is to ask a question like you really want to know that bit of information, or maybe that you are still surprised at the response or it slipped your mind.
    To reduce it to “teaching vocabulary” makes it sound like an equal alternative to flashcards and 3 times each. It is way beyond that.
    But whatever they are doing at DPS in lieu of circling we want to know what it is. Like Blaine repeatedly says, “If you have got a better method, tell us what it is. We want to use it, too.”

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