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Running head: CLOSING CIRCLES MANAGE END DAY 1

Using Closing Circles to Manage the End of the School Day:


An Action Research Project
Nicola Fitzsimmons
Grand Valley State University
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The Problem

In January 2018, I began student teaching in a kindergarten classroom at an

elementary school in Hickory Corners, Michigan, which services a student population

that is 89% white and 33% economically disadvantaged (Michigan’s Center for

Educational Performance and Information, 2018). Our classroom has 23 students. On

one of the first days of my internship, my mentor teacher expressed her dissatisfaction

with our end-of-the-day routine and asked if I could think of a way to improve it. The

problem was two-fold, one of which we could not influence. Dismissal at our rural school

poses a unique challenge: it involves our students being dismissed at varied and

inconsistent times over a thirty minute period, combined with a minimum of six

interruptions over the public address (PA) system. The second problem is more

commonplace: how to make the most of all of our students’ time in their classroom, and

how to continue to run a well-managed classroom, right up until dismissal.

Until I began my action research project, the end-of-the-day activity was for

students to read from one book box at their table, and they were expected to do so

silently, while music played. However, the students would often talk to one another

rather than read, and they otherwise appeared generally restless: many students would

find reasons to leave their seats, or stay seated but leave their book box untouched.

They were not engaged.

As announcements began for some students to leave the classroom, my mentor

would select a few students to do classroom jobs like wipe down the tables, and have

the rest of the students sit on the floor in line, based on their bus order. At that point, it

would be up to me to entertain them with a game of “I Spy” or “Simon Says.” The


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students were not always interested in playing a game, sometimes preferring to talk to

one another there as well. Personally, I also had trouble understanding why we should

bring the students to sit in a line when it might be ten minutes or more before they were

dismissed. I was eager to research answers on what activities might lend themselves to

better managing our dismissal time.

The Research

I initially began my research by doing a quick search on Google to see how other

teachers have solved this potential end-of-the-day chaos. Numerous teachers and

organizations recommended ending the day with a class meeting (Smedley-Warren,

2017; Cox, n.d.; Jefferson County Public Schools, 2009), and so I turned to professional

literature to find the most effective way to implement them.

Responsive Classroom, the organization which markets Morning Meetings, calls

their version of end-of-the-day meetings “Closing Circles.” Januszka and Vincent (2015)

described the exact situation my mentor and I experience: chaos and frustration at 3:30

PM every day. The authors explain how Closing Circles help to create a calm ending to

each day, while simultaneously building a community within the classroom. Their

version of an end-of-the-day meeting takes 5-10 minutes and has all students and staff

come together for a positive activity, which often has each student reflect on their day.

Closing Circles seemed like the perfect solution to my problem because it

addressed one potential root for the problem: my students lacked a clear time where

they could share a piece of themselves with their peers and their teachers. It was clear

to me that my students want to talk to one another, and Closing Circle would give them

an outlet to do that, in an organized manner. It also could help students to build listening
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and reflecting skills, which are both vitally important.

It was difficult to find professional research on the effects of end-of-the-day

meetings in schools. Edwards and Mullis (2003, 21) explained that research on the

efficacy of classroom meetings is limited, but some studies have shown improved

behavior, problem-solving, and empathy. Still, results will vary depending on what kind

of meeting is put into place. Horsch, Chen, and Wagner (2002) looked specifically at

Responsive Classroom’s program and found extreme variations both in its

implementation and outcomes. But Responsive Classroom’s program includes more

components than just its well-known Morning Meetings—which also have a different

format than Closing Circles. I was unable to find any research that focused solely on

Closing Circles. Still, the rationale that Januszka and Vincent made for instituting the

practice made it seem like a promising solution for my classroom.

Enacting Closing Circles

Before I began doing Closing Circles, I communicated with my mentor teacher

about my plan and secured her permission for trialing them. My plan was that at 3:30

every day, my students and I would sit in circle around our rug. For at least a week, I

wanted to stick with sharing activities, where I would ask my students a question and

then we would go around in a circle, each having the opportunity to answer. Edwards

and Mullis (2003, 26) emphasized both using an object to indicate the speaker and

allowing each student the option of passing, two things I wanted to do as well. I also

knew I also wanted to try other activities beyond simple sharing, which I ultimately did

during the last week of my action research.

I conducted my action research between February 27 and March 16, for a total of
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15 days. The first day I began doing Closing Circles with my students, I asked them to

meet me in a circle on the rug and, once they were organized and quiet, I told them we

were going to try something new at the end of each school day. We would have a

Closing Circle, where we would all get the chance to share with one another about our

day. I explained that this would hopefully help the end of the day to go more smoothly

and would replace our “book boxes” activity. I acknowledged that our school secretary

would likely make busing announcements during our Closing Circle and that, if that

happened, we should wait patiently, let the individuals who needed to leave share, and

then continue in our circle. I also modeled: how we were going to pass our “talking stick”

and take turns answering our question of the day; how responses should be brief but

contain some detail too (about 10-15 seconds); and how we should actively listen to the

person that is talking, by looking at them and sitting quietly.

The Data

I decided to take data on Closing Circles in a couple of ways. First, I would make

daily notes about how my students transitioned into Closing Circle, out of Closing Circle,

and how they behaved during Closing Circle: did they move around, talk when others

were talking, or otherwise seem restless, or were they engaged. For my second set of

data, I incorporated my students’ responses and general participation. I made a simple

chart, which would tell me many students participated in the Closing Circle, how many

passed rather than sharing, and if their responses were appropriate. I decided to take

that data in order to give my students a voice in this research: if they passed, that could

be a sign that they did not find the question interesting, that they were not sure how to

answer, or that they did not feel comfortable answering. All three possibilities would be
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worth finding ways to address. It was also one way to measure whether my students

were engaged. For activities that did not involve individual sharing, I then recorded

whether my students participated instead. I also made sure to record what activity we

did each day to help interpret the data.

Student Participation in Closing Circle


120%
Percent of Students Who Participated

100%

80%

60%

40%

20%

0%
Feb Feb Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar
27 28 1 2 6 12 13 14 15 16 19 20 21 22 23
Date of the Activity

Figure 1. Student participation in Closing Circles, as evidenced by sharing or performing another task.

Participation in Closing Circle started high, at 90% the first day. It remained high

throughout the research process, and the last eight days, participation held strong at

100%. Because I was taking data, I was able to notice a pattern with who was passing.

The first few days, one person passed every time, but on the fourth day and most days

after, that student shared. To me, that signified that it may take time for some students

to be comfortable sharing. Students’ willingness or ability to share may also depend on

the question being asked. My lowest participation day, at 77%, was the day I asked
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students “What did you read today that you liked? Or what do you like to read?” I knew

that would be a more difficult question to answer for my students, but posed it because

it reflected an important focus of the day: the students had gone to library, picked out

new books, been read to several times, and we also had Drop Everything and Read

(DEAR) time. It was the perfect day for students to take the time to try to reflect on this

academic goal. I was able to get several students to share, who had initially passed, by

asking them to think about what they like to check out from the library.

While participation began relatively high and ended with 100% on many days,

that quantitative data does not tell the story of how enthusiastic their engagement was.

My daily notes were able to paint a fuller picture. The students did seem overall

interested in sharing. The day after our first Closing Circle, several students asked me if

we were doing Closing Circle, and an increasing number of students would try to pick

out our “talking wand” for me before I got to the rug, and would wait to see where I

would sit before sitting down, because they wanted to sit right next to me. I frequently

got the request, from students sitting just to my right, that we share counter-clockwise

this time. These behaviors told me that some students were interested in sharing and

did not want to wait long for their turn.

In analyzing my daily notes, I found that on most days the transition into and from

Closing Circle was relatively smooth. Students needed some reminders to sit in the

circle, not in the corner, and behave appropriately while they were waiting for Closing

Circle to begin. I was also able to have students do selected jobs after every Closing

Circle, and even on the few days that students took their time getting into bus lines, the

transition seemed smoother than when the students came to bus lines from reading
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books at their table.

The bigger set of behaviors I had to manage were the ones that took place

during Closing Circle. Every student had to listen to as many as 23 other people share

and sometimes I did see behaviors I had categorized as “restless.” Students sometimes

talked when others were talking, laid on the floor, played with objects, or did not look at

the speaker. On the days where behavior was an issue, I observed that the behaviors

began or increased the longer students had been sitting. On several days, the

problematic behaviors began after a P.A. announcement for busing. The

announcements were inevitable, but they would break the flow of our Closing Circle. If

the students had already been sitting for several minutes, already had a number of

interruptions, or had not had enough play time earlier, it would take increasingly more

effort on my part to have the students ready to re-start the Closing Circle.

Overall, though, the Closing Circle provided a positive forum for sharing and I

was impressed with how well the students listened to one another the majority of the

time. During the week where we did different activities, the students also were well-

engaged and respectful. The first day that week was the hardest because we did a

chant, which was meant to ramp the students up: it did. Because of that, I picked

activities for the rest of the week which better met the goal of having Closing Circle

create a calm environment. The novelty of those activities may have also helped with

behavior: one day we got to toss a ball to each other and they were each so eager for

their own turn that they were also incredibly respectful during their peers’ turns.

Conclusion

I love that I had the opportunity to introduce Closing Circles to my mentor’s


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classroom. She stated that she really liked the practice and will likely continue them

after I leave. One of my favorite things about implementing Closing Circles is how it

provided a forum for important conversations we might not have otherwise had. One

student asked me if they could share about their recent surgery during a Closing Circle.

Another time, students wanted to use Closing Circle to expand on an earlier class

discussion about being respectful and not making others feel bad. I think it is truly

important that classrooms have set times for students to share, reflect, and build a

community with their peers. The high level of participation I observed, as well as the

manageable behaviors and transitions, suggests that this sharing can take place at the

end of the day.

After analyzing my data, if I were to continue doing Closing Circles in my

mentor’s classroom, I would feel confident about implementing both sharing and other

activities at the end of the day. I also would want to develop a stronger routine for

dealing with the frequent P.A. interruptions. This might mean ensuring that the students

that leave the earliest share first, so that I could facilitate the return to Closing Circle

more quickly. I think it would also mean establishing stronger expectations for what

students should do when the announcements turn on. Typically, the students would be

quiet during the announcements, but might begin talking or changing places in the circle

while I worked to ensure that the right students were leaving. Instead of expecting the

students to wait quietly, it would be great if they had a quick activity to do that holds

their engagement. I think it would also be helpful to have an attention-getter for picking

up where they left off: perhaps a quick song or chant that reminds everyone that they

should turn their eyes and ears to the person with the “talking stick.”
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Further Research

There is a lot of room for additional research on end-of-the-day meetings. For

example, studies could look into their efficacy in community-building as compared to

Morning Meetings or other formats of class meetings. Closing Circles could also be

compared to other potential end-of-the-day activities. To further the analysis of student

engagement in the activity, quantitative data could be taken not just on participation but

on listening skills: how many redirections were given due to students talking when

someone else was, not looking at the speaker or sitting, or for being off-task? Data

could also be taken on the quality of student answers: were they just one-word answers

or were students able to reflect and elaborate? This could help to measure student

engagement, but it could also be a measure of students’ communication skills. Finally,

different methods for managing student behaviors during Closing Circle could be

implemented and studied to determine the most effective means for facilitating Closing

Circles.
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References

Cox, J. (n.d.). Classroom management: How to end the school day. Teach HUB.

Retrieved from http://www.teachhub.com/classroom-management-how-end-

school-day

Edwards, D., & Mullis, F. (2003). Classroom meetings: Encouraging a climate of

cooperation. Professional School Counseling. 7(1), 20-28. Retrieved from

http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/213357491?accountid=39

473

Horsch, P., Chen, J., & Wagner, S. L. (2002). The responsive classroom approach: A

caring, respectful school environment as a context for development. Education

and Urban Society. 34(3), 365-383. https://doi-

org.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/10.1177/0013124502034003006

Januszka, D., & Vincent, K. (2017). Closing circles: 50 activities for ending the day in a

positive way. Turners Falls, MA: Center for Responsive Schools, Inc.

Jefferson County Public Schools. (2009). End of day/class check-in class meeting.

Edutopia. Retrieved from

https://backend.edutopia.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/stw/edutopia-stw-louisville-

sel-end-of-day-meeting-guide.pdf

Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information. (2018). Student count

for Kalamazoo RESA, Gull Lake Community Schools, Kellogg Elementary

School, all grades and all students (2017-18). Retrieved from

https://www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles/StudentInformation/StudentC

ounts/StudentCount.aspx
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Smedley-Warren, G. (2017, November 14). Classroom dismissal: End of the day dance

party. The Kindergarten Smorgasboard. Retrieved from

https://thekindergartensmorgasboard.com/2017/11/classroom-dismissal-end-day-

dance-party.html