With the school year having already started (or soon to be starting) for CI/TPRS teachers, many folks have asked me about circling, specifically what to do when it is not "working" and students are not responding.
First off, let me say that this student reaction happens to me ALL THE TIME, so please do not think that it is you and that you are the problem per se. However, when this does occur when I am circling, then this does communicate a message to me. Below are a few situations with possible solutions:
Students did not respond, because they did not fully comprehend what I was asking. When I attended my first Blaine Ray workshop back in 2008, I vividly remember him saying "If you are not getting any response from students during circling, do two things: ask the question again but this time more slowly." I have always remembered that statement, because I have had to do what he said SO MANY times. In many occasions when students are not responding, it is because I, the teacher, am speaking WAY too quickly for them to process what I am asking or I am asking TOO MUCH. When that happens, I take a breath, repeat what I am saying again more slowly and if possible, I will point and pause at any words which are projected. Sometimes, I will also do a comprehension check and say, "What did I just ask in English?"
Students did not respond, because they do not want to respond. One of my class rules is that everyone is required to answer aloud during circling. NOTE - there is a difference between students who are introverted and students who do not want to be part of the class. In each case, I still require each to respond chorally with the hopes that each will feel more comfortable being part of the community as a result.
Students gave an incorrect answer to the question. If students gave an incorrect answer, then it is possible that they did not comprehend the question itself. When this happens, usually I will point and pause at the particular interrogative which is on my wall to establish meaning, and then I will ask the quesiton again more slowly.
Students did not respond, because they have figured out the basic pattern of circling. If you hold to the basic order of circling all the time, then students will figure out the pattern, as it is very predictable after awhile. During my first year of using TPRS, I had students who figured out the pattern after 3 days! As a result, you need to keep students on their toes. Vary up the order, and ask the questions in reverse order.
Students did not respond, because they have become bored with circling. Let's be honest: circling can get very boring both for the students hearing the questions and for you the teacher asking them. I had always run into this wall, but I never voiced my concerns, because I thought that I was circling incorrectly. It was not until I heard Carol Gaab at NTPRS 2014 say, "Circling gets really old, really fast," that I felt understood! This, however, does not mean that you should throw out circling, but rather that you need to vary up the types of questions. A few months ago, i wrote up a post about circling and how to vary it up. The key is "the brain CRAVES novelty," so you need to change things up with W questions, PQAs, and higher order thinking questions.
Another strategy is to circle with certain groups in the class. On the first day of class, I divide the class into two groups: Bubones (the owls) and Mortuambulantes (the walking dead). To vary up things during circling, I will direct certain questions to one specific group and then ask the other group particular questions.
I hope that this helps some of you who are experiencing some difficulties in circling. Feel free to leave some strategies which you use!