Fishbowl: Student-led “Forum” Discussions

Fishbowl

Think of people standing around a free-standing tank at an aquarium. There may be a few fish in the tank, and there may be a lot more people standing around than there are fish. The people are watching everything the fish do, even discussing what the fish are doing. The fish are swimming around, possibly communicating in subtle ways that are beyond the watchers. But there is basically no communication between the fish inside the tank and the people observing them. That is the general idea behind Fishbowl.

Fishbowl for WP

Three or four “fish” sit facing each other in the center of the classroom. They form the fishbowl. The rest of the students position their seats around the fishbowl as observers. The “fish” discuss the assigned topic, while outside the tank the observers listen to what the fish are saying, take notes, and jot down questions to ask the fish later. As in any discussion, the fish make supportable statements, ask each other questions, request clarification, respond to remarks, extrapolate, etc.

At the conclusion of the discussion, observers interact with the fish, unlike with real fish in real aquaria. The observers ask for clarification on points made by certain fish or respond to statements made by any fish; they comment on any question or discussion point, or add examples of their own that support or refute a fish’s comments. In addition, the observers comment on the mechanics of the discussion, and offer ways to improve fish interaction.

To get started, the instructor can introduce the concept of Fishbowl to the class the day before. The topic of discussion is presented, and reading (or research) is assigned. Students prepare for the discussion, as none of them know who will be a fish. The next day, the instructor announces the fish, and the observers move their seats into a circle around the fish in the center.

The first time or two, ask for volunteers. After that, select students of mixed ability levels, or a mixture of less talkative and more talkative students to be the fish.

So what happens during Fishbowl?

The instructor is not the one doing the teaching. The instructor may moderate and sum up, but the teaching is done by the students.

  • Students learn that there is not necessarily one right answer.
  • Students learn that they have something to share, and that they can learn from each other.
  • Students learn to critique and to take constructive criticism.

How can Fishbowl be used with younger learners?

In Kindergarten through third grade, Fishbowl could be used for Show-and-Tell activities. As the Fish discuss each other’s Show-and-Tell, the Observers might find they have more questions. The discussions might stimulate Show-and-Tell ideas for students who have difficulty coming up with something to share.

Fishbowl can be used to discuss a reading passage or a story the teacher just read. It can be used to discuss history or science concepts, and even explaining how to do an arithmetic skill or solve a word problem.

Implementation

Fishbowl is easy to implement, but may take several tries before all students are comfortable with it and are learning together. However, the possibilities of Fishbowl and other collaborative learning techniques are only limited by the combined imaginations of the teacher and students. And the best part is, collaborative learning techniques make the teacher’s job a lot easier in the long run.

Some parameters:

  1. Make certain there are “rules” of participation in place, such as talking out of turn, watchers not interrupting fishbowl participants, showing respect for each other, tolerating different views, etc.
  2. Older children can participate in discussions for longer periods, but it is OK to limit the time in the fishbowl to 15 to 20 minutes. Even with discussion afterwards, it is still possible to get in a second round of “fishbowl” with fresh participants. Just leave enough time at the end of the class period for summation and closure.
  3. Younger children may need only 5 minutes per “fishbowl” activity group, allowing either more fishbowls to be formed or time for follow-up or different activities.
  4. If older students can “tolerate” more than one fishbowl occurring simultaneously, that’s fine–as long as the teaching staff is willing to split its attention among multiple groups.
  5. Often, special education students–especially those with attention and/or behavior problems–need closer monitoring. It is a good idea for a classroom adult to be standing/sitting near the most problematic student(s) to provide behavior cues, if needed.

Fishbowl works as well at the university level as it does at the pre-school level, with certain adjustments–such as number of independent groups, length of discussion period, age-appropriate and lesson-appropriate topics. You as the class educator know your students best and know what the students can handle.

Outcomes:

Students are more apt to come to class prepared. Students are responsible for reviewing material before class, and will often be more prepared than if all they have to do is sit through a lecture. Few students want to undergo the embarrassment of being “clueless” if they are part of the discussion.

Students practice discussion techniques and general forms of inquiry as they participate inside the fishbowl or outside.

Students develop listening and questioning skills.

Students learn aspects of critical thinking skills as they learn to question certain assertions, especially if what a fishbowl participant says is not the interpretation of the material that another student–within or outside the fishbowl–understood during preparation (or even listening).

After a while, students develop self-confidence in their academic work, whether related to the reading/preparation material or from the proposition of a new idea.

Creative thinking might follow, as long as ideas flow from the preparatory material or from internet/library searches. Outside material should be backed up with references and, if possible, examples.

And there are more positive outcomes that are too numerous to mention.

Fishbowl encourages freedom of expression. This is a single technique among many that allow students to freely discuss and academic/school-related social topics. It leads to exploration without a teacher intervening and telling the student he/she is wrong. So long as the discussion is on topic, allowing the students to monitor the rules to the greatest extent possible can help more shy students gain some confidence in what they know, even if it comes from personal experience or something seen on the TV or internet.

Feel free to contact me with questions about Fishbowl. Other techniques will be posted in the future.

 

#educ_dr

I’m Ba-ack!

This post is an explanation of my absence, and a preview to anticipated changes over the next several months.  Read on…

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything.  A few days ago, when I tried to enter a new post, I discovered it had disappeared.  All I could think about was years’ worth of data down the tubes.  Quite a bit of activity involving this site occurred during the past several months, it turns out, which collectively resulted in the site “going away” temporarily.  No, I didn’t miss any payments; and no, I didn’t accidentally wreck it myself. Here’s what happened.

Recently, this site was to be updated by someone, a professional site developer and marketing person who also happens to be a relative. Instead of being updated, the site was basically destroyed.  My suspicion is that the updater was less familiar with the site configuration than she believed herself to be.  Unfortunately, she did not want to admit this and made the classic “young person’s” mistake of not backing up the site before “updating” it.  I was afraid I would need to start all over again.  However, between WordPress and GoDaddy (where I host this site), enough backup information was available from the last successful post on this site that everything was restored.  (Hooray for WordPress and GoDaddy!!)  From now on, all changes will be done by me, regardless of my limited computing skills. Both companies offer plenty of resources and certified web site developers that, if I get frustrated, professional help is available.

Another reason for no activity here: a month or two ago, a serious illness knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me unable to work much on the computer at all, much less at almost anything else.  Although I still have more “off” days than “on” ones, I’ve made the decision to concentrate on my blogs and the distribution of information related to education, and stop worrying about consulting.  There will be some changes to the way the site looks as well as the way the site operates.  However, the information will be as up to date as possible, and I hope to reach not only education professionals, but also parents and other professionals who work with children.  Features I hope to add include webinars and recorded videos targeted at learning problems and behavioral issues.  There will be guest blogging professionals, both in text and visual media.  Links to related reading and other materials and resources will be increased for your convenience.  These changes will take place gradually, so don’t expect everything at once.  As I said, I’m no longer a professional computing person, and it will take some time to get everything up to speed.  But updating this site will be as much a learning experience for me as a way to share what I know, especially about special education and behavioral issues.

So please bear with me as this site gradually develops into something more useful to all of us.  Thanks for your patience with me and support for the posts to date.  Without your readership, this blog would have folded long ago.

Watch for the changes!

Mostly, watch for my next posts that might be important to you and your students or offspring.

#educ_dr

Dangerous Speakers

It’s been another long time since I’ve blogged at all. Here’s something that I simply cannot ignore. It’s a post I shared on Facebook, so anyone following me there will remember reading it. Right now I’m a bit too bogged down to do more than share an experience I wrote about elsewhere. It deals with seminars that are presented by people who do not know their topic–in this case, special education in general and dyslexia in particular. Sadly, out of perhaps 50 or 60 attendees, 2 were “just parents” (who were the intended audience to start with) and the rest were equally diviided between practicing teachers (some of whom I recognized and know they are talented teachers struggling with special needs children in their own classes) and pre-service teachers who are anxious to learn more about dyslexia. Well, you can figure out the rest of the problem. I’m also going to post this on my other blog site to widen the audience. This is really a sad situation that is becoming sadder. If you want to read about any chatter from my Facebook friends related to this, I believe I publically shared my observations; hopefully you can see the responses as well. I’m Dr.EllieM on Facebook, and have a page called EMiller Education Consulting. Feel free to comment here or on the other venues. Right now, I’m not in the States; I’m in the new country of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. Sint Maarten is the Dutch half of the island; St. Martin is the French half (If you ask a St. Martiner their nationality, you will always get “French.”).

Again, this is the start of a whole new phase for me. I will be using the educational system in Sint Maarten as an example of what politics can do to education in a country with a total population of roughly 50,000. And yes, that’s tens of thousands.

So… Have to share this: As you know, I have been trying to understand the educational system here on Sint Maarten, specifically special education. I’ve been volunteering services in what in California would be called a non-public school–a privately run school supported by public education funds. Because of the public funding, the school I am “helping” has to follow all curricular work as set out by the government for fully public schools. Wow, am I learning a lot, but that’s not what I want to share. What I want to share sheds some light on why education here is so screwed up.
Last night, my neighbor and I attended (or maybe “visited” is the better word) a seminar on dyslexia in the Caribbean. The event, intended for parents, was populated with teachers and teachers-in-training here on the island. Only 2 parents were in the audience that filled the room so thoroughly that we ended up sitting on a table at the back of the room with several other attendees. (I was execting the tables to collapse at any moment, since there were about 8 of us sitting “Indian style” in two rows, as there was no floor space to stand.) The speaker claims to have taught special education for 20 years, and spent the summer island hopping to become an “expert” in dyslexia. Since schools are shut down during the six-week summer break, and since there were many islands visited, I can only surmise that the expertise was gained primarily from seminars. Deon, my neighbor, has a daughter who was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and other problems that contributed to her learning difficulties, and–since the special education services on the island are minimal (if you can call some of them services at all)–his children and their mother moved back to South Africa so that the daughter could reap the benefits of a real special education program. So Deon knows quite a bit about dyslexia, learning disabilities and difficulties, ADD/ADHD, etc. OK. That’s background info on him, and most of you already know mine. So here’s the story–a really sad one, if you ask me.
Within 5 minutes of listening to this dynamic speaker give her schpiel, Deon became very restless and stood up as well as he could next to the table. By then, I was already reviewing my notes on a child I’ve been observing. But he didn’t say anything about leaving, so I just kept organizing notes. Then I thought I misheard an explanation about dyslexic children being unable to translate a photograph into anything more than a two-dimentianal depiction. Since raising my hand to ask a question was impossible, I just blurted out, “Excuse me, I was writing and may have missed something. Are you still talking about dyslexia?” She responded, “Yes, that’s how dyslexic children see the world.” That was it. I thanked her for her response, apologized again for the interruption, closed my notebook and stuffed it in my purse, told Deon I needed to go out and have a smoke, if I could wade through the sea of seated educators/future educators. Deon said he had no further reason to stay, and would I mind going home? All I could do was feel grateful that I he, too, had had enough.
From almost the first sentence that came out of the speaker’s mouth, it was clear that she had no idea what she was talking about–not in her capacity of general special education teacher, and least of all in her “expertise” in dyslexia. In that first 5 minutes, more misinformation was delivered than even Fox News could spew. (Apologies to those who enjoy Fox News; I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Stewart, Colbert, and Maher critiquing their news items.) Yet, the teachers and pre-service teachers ate up every word, because 1) she was an outstanding and engaging presenter; and 2) the need by island educators for information on any special education is so great that they will lap up anything.
This is how Sint Maarten operates. That a total charlatan can misinform the very people who are responsible for helping children with special needs is an affront to education anywhere in the free world. The school system here–despite many wonderful and caring teachers who are limited in what they can do by a frigging script (!) that must be followed to the letter if the teachers want to continue teaching–scrapped the plan instituted by The Netherlands long before the Sint Maarten gained its independence on 10/10/10, and has yet to publish anything online that addresses policies, by-laws, objectives and goals, or even a solid vision statement. I personally went to an agency the other day to learn what its role is in special education placement, and was told that there is nothing in writing. When I asked for copies of the forms that are used for referral, I was told that each school had been sent 10 copies a year ago, and that I should procure one from them. When I asked how long a referral takes, I was told that REFERRALS ARE ONLY ACCEPTED IN NOVEMBER!!!!! A bit more discussion yielded the information that the department doesn’t have any real idea of what services it can actually provide and how decisions are made!!!
The Parliament last week finally passed a balanced budget. Any guesses where the money eventually came from? Had I mentioned previously that the Ministry of Education and Other Stuff could not provide an audit trail for where Dutch funds specifically earmarked for education had gone?
Is there any doubt about why I, even as an outsider, am so frustrated?
Feel free to make up your own mind about education–and specifically special education–in Sint Maarten. As for me, last night I decided that I will very shortly becvome a thorn in the side of this educational system. Time to brush off the old college political activist loafers. For better or worse, Everyone who has anything to do with schools on this island will know my name before I’m either kicked off the island or leave on my own. I am all about education. More, I am all about the education of children, especially those who have special needs–even if the need is merely for a little boost of self confidence.
Sint Maarten Ministry of Education (and other things), you stand warned.