By Jennifer Fisahn, M.Ed, BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
The daily Morning Circle, a.k.a. Morning Meeting, is a staple lesson in general education and special education classrooms throughout the world. Standard activities usually include greeting or signing in, updating the calendar, reviewing concepts, and other routine activities that can differ from teacher to teacher. According to Bruce, Fasy, Gulick, Jones, and Pike (2006), the primary purpose of the Circle is to support each student to establish membership in the class while developing a classroom community and culture.
In classrooms that utilize the verbal operants as a basis for language assessment and intervention, the Morning Circle can also be a time for practicing functional language skills that have been taught during structured teaching sessions (e.g., discrete trial training) and conducting generalization probes. Additionally, essential group skills can be targeted that include the ability to sit in a group session without disruptive behavior, respond to teacher demands while in a group session, and acquire new behaviors during a group session (Sundberg, 2014).
Creating a Morning Circle that addresses all of the above skills can be a daunting task but a necessary task nonetheless. Activities that are well-thought-out, are carefully crafted, and provide opportunities for novel responses can help your Circle go from just meh to magnificent and meaningful! Here are 5 tips to help you ‘get your VB on’ during Morning Circle.
Tip # 1 – Lose the Smart Board activity (or at least save it for another time during the day).
Commercially-produced Smart Board Circle activities may certainly hold your students’ attention. Students may even be mesmerized by the show as calendar activities are presented and played out with the touch of a button. However, even with the ability to move things on the screen with a finger or stylus pen to sort, match, and reveal pictures, these activities may not provide an appropriate number of opportunities or the flexibility needed to practice functional language and related skills. Specifically, opportunities to mand for items, actions, and information would be difficult to capture, contrive, and manipulate utilizing Smart Board Circle activities due to the lack of tangible materials. While there may be a few opportunities to mand nestled within these activities, they are certainly limited. Consider saving these Smart Board activities for later in the day when staff numbers are down due to lunch or other breaks. Teacher-created Circle activity materials will likely allow for more active engagement and responding as the instructional leader can better manipulate the materials (including removing, adding, and changing materials).
Tip # 2 – Set some ground rules for your staff members (and tell them the reasons for the rules).
Consider asking staff members to refrain from participating in the group activities. While it is fun to sing, dance, and respond to the instructional leader, our students should be doing those things – not the staff members! Here are some reasons:
- If staff members are singing the songs, it would be impossible for the instructional leader to provide opportunities for intraverbal responding (fill-ins) as staff members would inadvertently ‘fill-in’. We want the students to ‘fill-in’!
- If staff members are dancing, they probably won’t be able to provide timely physical prompting to students who AREN’T dancing. We want the students to engage in the movements!
- If staff members are singing and/or dancing, student attention may shift to the singing and/or dancing staff members. We want the students to attend to the instructional leader!
It is important to note that the instructional leader is ANYONE who is leading the group. The instructional leader can be the teacher, paraprofessional, SLP, etc.
Tip # 3 – Create secret signals with your staff members to help ensure appropriate prompting and delivery of reinforcement (think ‘hand jive’ from Grease).
Consider using signals to communicate to staff during Morning Circle. These signals can relay important information including when to deliver reinforcement, when to prompt and what type of prompting to use, and when to simply do nothing! Specific examples include:
- Instructional leader puts a thumb up = Staff member should quietly deliver specific social praise to a student.
- Staff member puts a thumb up = Instructional leader should deliver reinforcement to a student.
- Instructional leader nods head = Staff member should physically prompt student.
A signal system may also limit the unnecessary repeating of demands, directions, and questions that have been presented by the instructional leader. Instead, staff members will be more likely to provide appropriate prompting.
Tip # 4 – Differentiate instruction based on individual student learning profiles.
Individual skills assessments will reveal information needed in order to differentiate instruction during your Morning Circle activity. Skills that have been mastered as well as skills that are current targets in DTT can also be probed during Circle. While it is tempting to present the same direction, demand, or question to every student, refrain from doing so. Consider the student who does not have a functional intraverbal repertoire; however, is still asked the question, “What did you have for breakfast?” How will the instructional leader prompt the student if he/she doesn’t respond? What if the student does not have a vocal echoic repertoire? What if the instructional leader doesn’t know what the student had for breakfast? What if the student responds with a plausible answer?
Bottom line: If you can’t prompt the correct response, or have no way of knowing if the given response is correct, it may be best to refrain from asking that question to that particular student. The Morning Circle should focus on providing many opportunities for students to contact positive reinforcement for actively responding and demonstrating appropriate group skills.
Tip # 5 – Take frequency data on the number (and type) of language opportunities that you provide for your students.
Do you want to see where you stand with your ability to provide opportunities for students to respond across the language operants? Have a staff member evaluate you! Create a simple data sheet that provides a column for each verbal operant. During Morning Circle, a designated staff member can place a tally mark in the appropriate column each time you provide an opportunity for a student to respond. For example, if you presented a rolled up flag, and a student responded, “Unroll the flag”, a tally mark would be placed in the MAND column on the data sheet. This data can help to answer questions such as: Am I providing language opportunities across the operants? Based on the profiles of my students, am I meeting individual language needs? Which operants are lacking during my Circle?
This exercise can also benefit the staff member as they will be required to tact the opportunity that you provide in order to place the tally mark in the correct column. As suggested in one of our past articles, posters containing a general description, a variety of examples, and the controlling variables for the elementary verbal operants can be hung in the classroom and used as a reference during this activity.
Remember to have fun and be creative! Try these suggestions to enhance your Morning Circle and share your own ideas in the comments below. Also, consider subscribing to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Bruce, S., Fasy, C., Gulick, J., Jones, J., & Pike, E. (2006). Making Morning Circle
Meaningful. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 2(4), n4.
Sundberg M. L. (2014). Verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program
(2nd ed.). Concord, CA: AVB Press.
Jennifer Fisahn, M.Ed., BCBA has worked with individuals with autism and their families for seventeen years. She is a certified Teacher of the Handicapped, Board Certified Behavior Analyst™ (BCBA®), and parent of a child with autism. Jennifer has public school experience teaching preschool through high-school aged students as well as extensive experience as a school district consultant, direct service provider and supervisor for home-based ABA programs. She currently serves as the training coordinator for the Foundation for Autism Training and Education (FATE) and conducts workshops on the topics of ABA and autism. Jennifer regularly contributes to a resource-rich blog for teachers, therapists, and caregivers and also created the S.T.A.R.S. Network, a group aimed at supporting teachers and paraprofessionals working with individuals with autism. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.