Sharing Leads to Learning

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.An adapted excerpt from The Morning Meeting Book, 3rd edition

Sharing is a rich and vital part of a daily Morning Meeting, a key Responsive Classroom practice in which all classroom members—grown-ups and students—gather in a circle for twenty to thirty minutes to greet each other, share news and ideas, do an activity together, and read a message written by the teacher. Morning Meeting helps students begin each day as a community of caring and respectful learners, by getting to know each other, practicing academic and social skills, and looking forward to learning together in the day ahead.

How sharing builds communication skills

Sharing, the second of four components that make up Morning Meeting, plays an important role in building a positive classroom community. Just as important, sharing offers ample opportunities to practice and reinforce the speaking, listening, and thinking skills that are so crucial to school success.

As social beings, we learn through communicating with others—and this is true no matter what the subject matter. Knowing how to observe and reflect, to speak and to listen are skills fundamental to our ability to learn. These skills enable us to exchange perspectives and ideas, explain our thinking, and critique the thinking of others—tasks that children need in all areas of school and of life.

In acknowledging the value of these communication skills to success in the 21st century, the Common Core State Standards for Speaking and Listening state directly that students should “prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners” and note that “to build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner.”

Additionally, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified relationship skills as one of its five core groups of social and emotional competencies that children need for success in school—and in life. And a fundamental aspect of relationship skills is the ability to share ideas clearly and respond thoughtfully and empathically.

Morning Meeting sharing not only gives students a daily arena for this crucial communications practice but also enables them to practice in meaningful ways that are integrated with the academic, social, and emotional content of their lives.

Structuring sharing

As the examples below show, sharing can be focused on either an academic or a social topic and structured in various ways. These are the three basic sharing formats:

  • Around-the-circle sharing
  • Partner sharing
  • Dialogue sharing

If you and your students are new to Morning Meeting sharing, you might start with around-the-circle sharing, in which all members of the meeting circle say something very brief about a teacher-chosen topic. Used early in the year, this format provides a safe way to introduce basic sharing skills: how to decide on an idea to share, how to speak clearly, how to listen attentively and remember what was shared.

Around-the-Circle Sharing

A sixth grade class is about to start the sharing portion of their daily Morning Meeting. The teacher, Mrs. Sorenson, announces the topic for an around-the-circle sharing—someone who shows courage. “This can be someone you know or someone you’ve read or heard about,” she clarifies.

Students take a minute to think and then Jolene begins. “I saw a story on the news last night about firefighters who rescued three people from a burning building. I think they showed a lot of courage.” Several other students make the “me, too” sign showing that they saw the same news story and agree with their classmate.

Salome is next. She says, “I think my grandmother shows courage—she’s really scared of the water but she’s decided to take swimming lessons—she says it’s good to face your fears.”

In partner sharing, students pair up to talk with each other on a teacher-chosen topic. This is a good way to introduce sharing if many students are shy about speaking in front of the group or tend to get restless while others are speaking.

Partner Sharing

Fourth grade teacher Mr. DiFranco has noticed that students choose the same classmates over and over for all kinds of activities. To help them stretch their social circles, he has planned a partner sharing, pairing students with classmates they don’t usually work or play with. “Today we’re going to chat with our partners and find two things we have in common,” he instructs. “At the end, we’ll share those things with the class.”

Before they begin, he has students generate useful questions they might ask: What do you like to do after school? What kind of movies do you like? What do you like on your pizza? He writes the suggestions on a chart before announcing, “OK. You’ll have two minutes to discover at least two things you have in common and then one more minute to pick which one you will each share with the class.”

As students’ skills and comfort levels grow, introduce dialogue sharing, in which one student presents some news or information to the entire class and then asks for questions and comments. A few students share like this each day until everyone has had a turn. Dialogue sharing can be open-topic or focused on a topic chosen by the teacher. To be successful with dialogue sharing, students need to learn how to state a main idea and supporting details, speak clearly, listen to each other carefully, and offer thoughtful questions and comments.

Dialogue Sharing

The entire school has been studying bridges, and each day for a week during Morning Meeting, a few students in this first grade class are sharing their work with classmates. Zachary has made a model of a truss bridge and the landscape in which it sits. He carefully transports the blue cardboard box lid holding his construction to the meeting circle and places it in front of him.

“This is my bridge,” he says. “I used clay and toothpicks and craft sticks. It was fun to make.” He pauses before concluding, “Oh, and it’s a truss bridge.”

He pauses again and then says, “I’m ready for questions and comments.” A few hands go up and he calls on Sam.

“What part did you make first?”

“I made the land first,” he responds, and then calls on another student.

Fitting the format to the students

Once the class is competent in all sharing formats, choose which format to use on a given day depending on students’ needs, time constraints, and classroom events. For example, on a day when you want everyone to think and talk about a certain topic, you might use around-the-circle sharing.

On a different day, partner or dialogue sharing might provide a time for more in-depth conversations. For example, students could do a partner sharing or a focused-topic dialogue sharing about which character from a read-aloud book they like best and why.

There’s no prescription for how to choose among these three formats as the year unfolds. Many teachers focus on dialogue sharing, recognizing that this format provides deep practice in speaking, listening, and thinking skills. Others might find that around-the-circle or partner sharing best suits their students’ needs. The bottom line is to do sharing in a way that offers an appropriate level of challenge and enables all children to feel heard and cared for in a safe environment.

Build community, bolster skills

Students who regularly practice Morning Meeting sharing benefit in two important ways. First, they build a caring, respectful community as they learn about—and respond to—each other’s ideas and concerns. Second, students bolster their competence in the key communication skills fundamental to all learning—skills that will help them meet not only the rigors of the Common Core State Standards but also the demands of daily life in the globally inter­connected 21st century.

Read more about how Morning Meeting Sharing hones students’ speaking and listening skills: “Teaching Skillful Communication: A Standards-Based Approach to Morning Meeting Sharing.”

 

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