Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Circle justice: A creative arts approach to conflict resolution in the classroom

Gibbons, K. (2010). Circle justice: A creative arts approach to conflict resolution in the classroom. Art Therapy, 27(2), 84-89.

This article describes an eight-week art therapy project focused on developing conflict resolution skills in a sixth-grade classroom.  After introducing the community setting, the author reviews literature about the importance of conflict resolution education and the success of various therapeutic methods, e.g. bibliotherapy, art therapy.  Next, the author explains the development of the project, from identifying the needs of a sixth-grade class to constructing an eight-week curricular plan. Students read Touching Spirit Bear, a novel about a boy who repeats “familial patterns of violence,” and practiced “circle justice,” a “Native American process of setting disputes” described in the book (85).  During circle justice, students and teachers participated in a role-play scenario that “paralleled the story in the book and included elements from the students’ current circumstances” (86).  Each week, a new theme was introduced, e.g. community, trust, self-identity, and students created art pieces to reflect their discussions around this theme.  In the next section, “Circle Justice Process and Results,” the author summarizes the student’s weekly progress and suggests that the students became increasingly engaged in the project.  Finally, the author concludes that the project enhanced the students’ perspsective-taking abilities, their sense of individuality, and their understanding of communal values.

The article is an easy-to-read, real-world case study on the value of conflict-resolution education in a sixth-grade classroom.  The article’s clear prose and logical structure help the reader to grasp the main points and lend credibility to the author’s viewpoint.  In particular, the literature review offers a compelling case for conflict-resolution education in the creation of healthy classroom and school communities.  The author’s summaries of each class also provide a valuable window into the classroom life and students’ personal growth.  While the article does note students’ initial “resistance” to the project, the author’s overwhelmingly positive assessment casts some doubt on the balance of her conclusions.  As an advocate of conflict-resolution education, did she choose to omit obstacles and failures?  In addition, the article does not provide any quantitative data about learning outcomes.  Overall, however, the article is a helpful introduction to conflict-resolution education and its application in the classroom.

Selected Quotes:

“Conflict education usually includes understanding the causes of conflict, the role of conflict in relationships, and the inevitable choices that conflict presents. Finally, conflict education should strengthen a person’s capacity to create alternative solutions in response to problems. By cooperatively identifying problems and their solutions, children can develop skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond (Hodges, 1995)” (84).

“In the field of peace psychology, conflict management and peace building are now considered to be basic skills for human well-being and survival, given today’s pervasive threats to security and violation of human rights (Christie, Tint, Wagner, & Winter, 2008)” (84).

“The need for conflict resolution education is apparent in the amount of time teachers spend on disciplinary issues in the classroom (Mayorga & Oliver, 2006). Stressful school settings often demand that students cope by suppressing anger and other emotions, which paradoxically can lead to violence” (84-85).

“Bibliotherapy is useful in a classroom setting to safely illuminate and alleviate stressful situations that affect children’s lives (Jackson, 2006). Literature can foster emotional growth and healing because stories contain memorable protagonists, engaging plots, and powerful thematic material. These elements can become catalysts for change, modeling fresh options for thought and feeling (Heath, Leavy, Money, Sheen, & Young, 2005)” (85).

“The merging of the book, the story portrayed through role-play, and the students’ real-life dramas was a phenomenon that seemed to indicate assimilation of the material being learned. When the directive asked the students to use their mandalas” (86).

“Creativity is crucial to developing positive coping skills for these students because it empowers the individual, promotes new ways of thinking, bridges different learning styles, and heals the effects of cultural trauma (Bruce, 2001). The goal of the Circle Justice group was to offer a creative arts approach to conflict resolution that could be incorporated with classroom learning” (88).

Selected Sources:

Bickmore, K. (1999). Elementary curriculum about conflict resolution: Can children handle global politics? Theory and Research in Social Education, 27(1), 45–69.

Bruce, J. (2001). Crisis and creativity in developing communities. Retrieved from

Heath, M., Leavy, D., Money, K., Sheen, D., & Young, E. (2005). Bibliotherapy: A resource to facilitate emotional healing and growth. Journal of School Psychology International, 26(5), 563–580.

Mayorga, M., & Oliver, M. (2006). Conflict resolution education: Component of peer programs. Perspectives in Peer Programs, 20(2), 32–39.

Mikaelsen, B. (2001). Touching spirit bear. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Riley, S. (2001). Group process made visible. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge.


Alejandra Padilla said...

As a Psychologist, I have used books in therapy many times, but I had never heard the term Bibliotherapy before. It is very interesting to me because it is a really powerful way to work with children, specially small kids. I would love to read the full text of this article, since conflict resolution and peace education are a big part of my school's philosophy. Thank you for a very detailed and thoughtful annotation.

Ashley DeGrano said...


I'm struck by the topic of the article. Conflict resolution is extremely important in a middle school setting. I feel as though a lot of my work in 8th grade is about prevention rather than triage. This put into perspective how one can create a unit or project about perspective taking and help students understand conflict resolution between themselves and others.

I'm wondering if the author left out any "cautionary tales" because they were trying to simply have the reader understand conflict resolution through the eyes of the unit or project. By leaving out the resistance, the reader can understand the procedure rather than the pitfalls.

Thanks for being so thorough, Paul. The article sounds interesting!

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