Saturday, August 15, 2015

Helping Circle

The Helping Circle

‘… the whole class team assembles in a ‘helping circle’, usually at the beginning or

end of a writing session, so that writers can share their work and consider the effect

of the writing and what might improve it. After receiving an initial response, the

writer will expect some specific feedback about the effect of the writing and the

choices made. Over time, as students gain confidence and success in the Helping

Circle they will also expect to be helped, questioned, nudged and challenged to

improve. Initially the teacher takes the lead, modelling the expectations of the

helping circle and establishing protocols around language that builds confidence and

skills in developing writers. As students are guided to respond competently and

confidently, the responsibility shifts more to the students themselves for response

and help. They become less dependent on the teacher and more confident in using

the community of writers within the classroom.’

Loane/Muir ‘I’ve Got Something to Say’

 I get to read my work to see if I need to make changes

 I get to read my work to a buddy, who can respond and help me

 I get to listen to a buddy which helps me with my ideas

 I get a chance to make the changes I need to

 I get to learn more about language

 I get to see who has done what

 I can prompt students to support their self-editing

 I can direct students into the learning focus

 I can lead the learning when we all need to hear about (eg) spelling patterns –

 Inclusiveness – we are all part of the class ‘team’; nobody is an outsider

Associate Gail Loane Educational Consultants

 Develops oral language – there is an expectation that we all participate; we learn a

language that is useful when we talk about texts: “when the writer said ‘he trudged

towards school’, it gives a strong image, because of the strong verb…”

 Develops peer response: students expect to listen and respond to the writing of

 Develops critical thinking: “I wonder what the author meant here…”

 Setting is a practical means of monitoring how each student is getting on as a

 Provides an environment where students are secure – they know that they will be

supported and they know they will get a chance to be successful

When everyone is responding to others’ writing, then the writing and the

- Organise the furniture to enable a circle; if there isn’t room for the whole

class to sit in one circle, make it a ‘double’, like a doughnut.

- Practice responding to model texts – can be excerpts from stories, articles,

picture books etc

- Allow and expect a response from everyone, firstly on an emotional level:

Did I like it? Did it do anything for me? What did it make me think?

Feel? Visualise?

- As we respond on an intellectual level, feed in the language that we use to

discuss texts, eg

These comments can be transferred to peer response –

The writer has included three senses when he described…

The writer draws us in with her opening sentence.

We get a clearer picture because the writer has used specific


This is a good example of personification.

Let’s see if we can identify what the writer has done to persuade us…

You have included three senses when you described…

You draw us in with your opening sentence.

- Reminders about the writing processes;

o Writers have something to say (forming intentions)

o Writers choose the best words to say what they mean (creating a

o Writers check, for meaning and for surface features (revision)

- In a Helping Circle, writers come to the circle with their draft writing and

o read their own writing, to themselves - make adjustments if


Associate Gail Loane Educational Consultants

o read to a buddy (turn to the person next to you) – make

- Teachers support the revision process, through their inclusive talk (with

reference to the success criteria):

o Put your finger at the end of your first sentence… did we all

adjustments if necessary

o Who included a sentence that mentioned an action? Let’s listen to

o Did anyone have a go at a listing sentence? Four of you did! Let’s

remember the full stop? Let’s check we have remembered where

the full stops go.

those action sentences… Jamie, read yours to us…

listen to those four… it might give the rest of us some ideas for our

own writing.

- Teachers monitor where students are at: in a circle, you can see at a glance

who has done what

Sally Muir 2014

Associate Gail Loane Educational Consultants

Sally Muir Writing PD

Record of visit - Term 2 / Wednesday 24th  June






Modelled lessons – 40 mins x 4


Room 7 – Yr 5,6

Model Text - Rebel Sport: Ode to Winter (TV commercial)

Purpose/Learning Focus: responding to text; writing to describe winter, by talking directly to winter;

focus on strong verbs, describing what the winter does


Room 11/12 – Yr 7,8

Model Text – Summer, from ‘Cloudstreet’ (novel by Tim Winton)

Purpose/Learning Focus: responding to text; writing to describe (winter) OR memoir OR explanation;

focus on choosing the best words to say what we mean


Room 1 – Yr 4

Model Text – ‘Washing Day’ (from Big Book: I Remember When)

Purpose/Learning Focus: responding to text (written and visual); writing to explain how our dirty

socks get clean; focus on choosing the best words to say what we mean


Room 4 – Yr 2

Motivation – Pirate finger puppet

Purpose/Learning Focus: writing to show what we know – about pirates; focus on choosing the best

words to say what we mean

1Sally Muir

Associate of Gail Loane Educational Consultants

TE PUNA SCHOOL Professional Development Literacy 2015

The lessons all followed the same sequence, to align with the writing process, ie

As students wrote independently, teachers roved, to monitor and support.

[NB This is the part of the lesson where I would pull a small group or groups down, to provide a mini-


Practice analysis conversations

The conversations, with teachers who had observed the modeled lessons, focused on

 The deliberate acts of teaching – the impact on student engagement and learning of the

range of DATs, eg questioning, where students were invited to respond through talking to a

buddy. This ensures ALL are processing, as they verbalise, rather than being receptive and

allowing a few eager students to respond with ‘hands up’. The PACE of a lesson is very much

dependent on the use of questioning, prompting, telling, explaining, directing and modeling.

(See Effective Literacy Practice Chapters 4,5)

 Links to prior knowledge – connections to the topic; connections to what we know about

writing. These links were prompted through questioning and prompting – in a

conversational tone, followed by an invitation to verbalise 1:1. Students were quick to chat

to a buddy – clearly familiar with this process – and were therefore all engaged in the

learning. (See above)

2Sally Muir

Associate of Gail Loane Educational Consultants

TE PUNA SCHOOL Professional Development Literacy 2015

 Selection of texts, as models – ensuring that whatever text is selected, we monitor how the

students are making connections to the ideas they meet, eg in the selected text ‘I Remember

When’ the reader is introduced to ideas that are historic, as in the baker and milkman

delivering their goods with horse and cart. The wash-day scenario included a copper, a

washboard and a wringer. It would not be likely that the children of 2015 have ever seen

items like this, but it is not difficult to support the connections through conversations about

how WE get bread, milk and how we wash our clothes. The concepts are familiar to today’s

students, though the process has changed.

 The language used, to ensure engagement and learning. When we deliberately choose to

use inclusive language, there are numerous benefits: students are trusting of the process;

students see themselves as being part of the process; students begin to develop the

understanding that we write for a purpose, we’re all in this together, helping each other out,

and that writing is a life-long skill, not just a classroom activity – eg

o We are going to have a look at the way this writer has described winter…

o Let’s have another look at those strong verbs the writer chose…

o What do you think? Have a chat with your buddy…

o We’re going to come down to the Helping Circle and see how we got on…

o We’ll be able to help each other out…

 Interactions – opportunities for teachers to extend thinking as we respond to students’

ideas; opportunities (and expectations) for the interactions between students. While the job

of the teacher is to lead the learning, it is useful to be mindful of the ratio of teacher talk:

student talk. Teacher talk, when over-used, can also slow down the pace of a lesson.

 Motivating ‘reluctant’ writers. More discussion around -

o selection of topic and selection of text used. Eg Very simple, everyday topics, such as

‘How do my socks get clean? Can put writers in a position of expertise – as they ALL

have personal experience of getting washing done.

o Expectations, and routines playing an important role in daily writing tasks

o Providing choice for students, within a topic – ‘You can choose write as a scientist,

o Providing shorter tasks – regularly and often

o Having different criteria for different students, to ensure all feel their task is

 The Helping Circle – clarifying purpose and benefits. Needs to be regular, to develop that

safe, secure forum where students see themselves as part of the ‘team’, as they develop

skills and strategies as writers. (See Handout)

 Mileage – making sure that students are creating text every day – they have lots to say

about lots of things.

 Sincerity of voice – when students feel secure in the knowledge that we (teachers) are

sincerely interested in what they have to say, it is more likely that they will write with

sincerity. Writing is a creative art – and learner writers ‘expose’ something of themselves

when they write what they want to say – just as they might do when they paint or sing or


 Independence – we want our students to know that writing is something we do

independently; the words we need are all in our head – after we have had opportunity to

listen and talk, and we are developing the skills and strategies we need to get better at

writing. This goes from the early conventions writers need, like letter-sound knowledge and

finger spaces, to choosing the best word to describe. Whenever a student makes marks on a

and explain… or you can write as a poet, and describe…’


3Sally Muir

Associate of Gail Loane Educational Consultants



TE PUNA SCHOOL Professional Development Literacy 2015

paper, they are showing us what stage of development, as a writer, they are at.

 Surface features – we must let students know that any writing completed needs to be given

their ‘best shot’ – so they are always encouraged to bring what they know to the page.

 Catering for the diverse needs we find in every class – being aware of the lesson design, so

that we design tasks that are manageable, and provide challenge. Rather than giving every

student the same task, with the same success criteria, and then supporting the high need

students through it, design either a different task (within the same topic) or clarify a

different success criteria (within the task).

Focus on

Boys – What do our boys have to say?

PowerPoint presentation, with the following key ideas:

 What we believe has an impact on what we do

 Brain research tells us some fundamental differences in the way male and female brains


 Range of difficulties commonly seen in boys: knowledge difficulties; skill difficulties;

motivation difficulties

 Exploring ways to set boys up for success

 Boy friendly topics – scratching the itch

 Texts that engage boys

 The Quick-write – a shorter writing process

 Choices within a chosen topic

 Variety of approaches

 Importance of visual text

 Responding to our world: personal, local, national, global

Next visit: (suggest) Wednesday 26 August AND/OR Thursday 27 August

(Dates to be confirmed)

To include classroom observations: 30 minutes observing; 15 minute practice analysis conversation

to follow. Kylie to timetable.

Staff Meeting – collective feedback on practice; focus on lesson design.

Teachers to be clear on what aspect of their practic they want the observers to notice – ie they do

not have to be observed in the entire writing process, it could be ‘I want you to observe the way I am

managing Guided Revision in the Helping Circle.’