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This action research project investigated the effects of talking circles on student participation when engaging in sensitive topics. Researchers used 38-4th and 5th graders from two elementary classrooms. Both classrooms were located in Catholic schools. For the pretest phase, students were taught a series of controversial topics within the curriculum. To deconstruct the lesson themes, a traditional question, answer and discussion was employed. Researchers examined students’ participation, the quality of questions about injustice/justice that was raised and the students’ written statements about how they could make changes towards solutions. The strategy of using talking circles was implemented as a treatment. A second series of lessons concerning a controversial topic was presented. Students were directed to use the talking circle method to deconstruct themes in the lesson. Researchers again examined participation, the quality of questions about injustice/justice and students’ written statements about how they could make changes towards solutions. The researchers as teachers also reflected on their behavior and participation comparing a traditional discussion to the talking circle. The implementation of talking circles increased student participation, and the level of commitment to problem solving increased. The researchers as teachers also found that using the talking circle method was a more effective tool as it alleviated the role of teacher from expert to participant and facilitator. During the talking circle treatment, students communicated their opinions with civility. Researchers concluded that talking circles was an effective method for discussing sensitive topics for the 4th and 5th graders in this study. This corroborates the research on talking circles which has been implemented with older populations as much of the research begins with adolescent students. This research demonstrates that the method can be effective with younger populations and be an essential aid for teachers who may have difficulty presenting sensitive topics such as racism, death, gender differences, disability, immigration and slavery to younger students.
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Lyons, Patricia; McCormack, Kaitlyn; Sauer, Samantha; and Chamblin, Michelle, "Can Conducting a Talking Circle about a Sensitive Topic Increase Participation for Elementary Aged Learners?" (2019). Faculty Works: Education. 85.