flickr CC image via IDEAleemade
I'm fond of circles. To me circles represent learning that is non-linear, organic and never ending; not the type I typically experienced as an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education I attended. A linear path was more or less set out for me in pre-service teacher training, (but there were some bright spots,) and I did what was asked of me. More recently I have become involved in less linear learning paths, but only in the last few weeks have I contextualized them as learning circles. All the way through my K-12 education, and at three post-secondary institutions since then, I always knew when I was immersed in an authentic, organic learning environment, I just didn't know what to call it. It was about the spirit of my involvement in learning, and the spirit of those around me. Collectively we created learning environments that were comfortable and non-threatening, strength-based and multi-faceted. A bright-spot example of what I would have called a learning circle at the time if I had thought about it in that context was my experience in a class taught by Dr. David Wangler.
Dr.Wangler insisted that his students did two things... we had to read, we had to write and we were guided to do both using the best resources available at the time. My undergrad years pre-date widespread use of modern technology in the classroom, so that meant we actually had to read books; lots of them, and then we had to write about what we read. Years ahead of his time in the realm of creating an authentic learning environment, Dr. Wangler set up his class so the students were the drivers of their own learning paths. At the beginning of the term he asked us to sign a contract stating the mark we intended to get at the end of the term. Each requisite grade corresponded to a set of "readings," five picked by him and the rest varied in quantity according to the mark we intended to receive (for a seven out of nine, I had to read 18 "books," each the equivalent of 200 pages.)