It is that time of year when many of our students are starting to be ready for even bigger cognitive challenges—some are even craving them. At the same time, it's also that time of year when teachers are ready for Spring Break (or is that just me?), and thereby are struggling with their own zapped energy and their stacks of end-of-quarter grading. One teaching strategy that helps address both of these universal truths is that of the Fishbowl Discussion (sometimes referred to as a Socratic Seminar)—this strategy creates opportunities for students to think deeply, while simultaneously relying on student energy (not teacher energy) and remaining simple in its feedback possibilities.
Shared here are the basics of Fishbowl Discussions, combined with many of the alterations I have had the pleasure of observing district-wide.
Green = ‘Contributor+’ comments (give students a majority of these pieces)
Red = ‘Contributor’ comments
Yellow = ‘Supporter/Peacekeeper/Gatekeeper’ comments (give students 1-2 of these)
* Put a blanket down in the center of the circle to keep the disks from bouncing/making noise--
it also makes clean-up easier
** When coding by color/suit, the first few times students try it you may want to hold up the color coinciding with each comment made so they develop an understanding of differences
- Co-piloting: Create copilots where each outer circle person silently assists an inner circle person by writing a possible question/point/quote on a note card/ sticky note and passing to their assigned person in the ‘Bowl’—in most cases there may be two students assigned to each inner-circle participant
- Tapping-In: Create partnerships of 2-3 students. ‘Partner A’ begins in the inner circle—after she’s made at least 2 comments but no more than 5 comments ‘Partner B/C’ taps and takes her place: this rotation continues until the conversation is over (a variation of this is shown in the above two videos)
- Feedback Providers: Have students in the outer circle provide feedback to those in the inner circle. Two common methods:
- Give students the same tally sheet that the teacher might use and have them tally during the discussion: this often provides a great conversation starter, as many students will not have the same results and you can discuss the subjectivity and difficulty of scoring a discussion
- Have students analyze only one inner circle student. Provide the observers with a few areas to focus on and/or questions to answer, and then after the discussion is over he/she gives feedback to the speaker he/she observed (consider pairing stronger discussants with weaker discussants)
- Back-Channeling: Set outside participants up with a “back channel”—a digital conversation that runs concurrently with the face-to-face activity—that they can use to silently discuss the topic-at-hand while the inner circle discusses aloud...just be sure to set up parameters ahead of time.* (Should you wish to try this strategy, don't let the logistics be your stumbling block--reach out to one of our Instructional Technologists. )
Some common back-channels are:
* It’s often a good idea for the teacher to be one of the active participants in these discussions
You can see in this short Fishbowl Sample video that teacher Matt Baier has his students using a Back Channel .
Ideas for Providing Feedback
Inner Circle Feedback
- Teacher Checklist: Have a teacher checklist where the teacher tallies each student’s contributions by noting what type of contribution he/she is making.**
- Video Reflection: Videotape the discussion and then share it with students. Then, have each student analyze his/her own contributions to the discussion. (Students can use the same categories as on the teacher checklist and/or a simple 3-2-1 reflection.)**
- A Quick-Write: Ask students one question pertaining to each inner circle over-arching topic/problem and/or text—have them draft a short paragraph answering each question.
Outer & Inner Circle Feedback
- Personal Metacognition: Have students complete a quick questionnaire or 3-2-1 reflection after they complete their Fishbowl discussion.
Question 1: What is a rich mathematical task?
I performed an internet search using the following query, "What is the definition of a rich task?" The query yielded these webpage descriptors:
- A Rich Task is a project that connects different subjects (interdisciplinary) and involves a variety of teaching and learning methods. In a Rich Task, students are encouraged to display their learning throughout the task...
- Rich tasks open up mathematics. They transform the subject from a collection of memorized procedures and facts into a living, connected whole...
- A well-written rich task will stimulate interest and enthusiasm in all learners and can provide the means for gifted learners to...
When reading these three webpage descriptors I asked myself, What teachers wouldn't want their lessons to encourage students to display their learning, perform tasks that are beyond memorization, and generate enthusiasm for learning? The answer: none.
Questions 2: What are the hurdles that slow a teacher's implementation of rich tasks?
Instead of listing all the hurdles, let's focus on getting over the first one. For me, the first hurdle was always the initial experiment. Once I tried a method and found that it had merit, I would proceed forward towards the next hurdle. What I am saying is that the only way to get over a hurdle, is to take a run at it. I have been encouraged by many classroom teachers who are taking a run at the first hurdle and are trying rich mathematical tasks. Our teachers are incorporating a variety of rich tasks in their classrooms and helping students to struggle productively through the use of these tasks. The feedback that I have been receiving from the teachers has been positive: they often find that their students are engaged in meaningful discussions that help to develop conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts.
Question 3: Where can I find the resources I need to take a run at it?
For your convenience, the Secondary Curriculum and Instruction team continues to add links to many high quality websites containing rich mathematical tasks on this website. You can also check out this PDF that succinctly describes the what, where, why, and how to for rich tasks.
Question 4: So, what's keeping you from giving rich tasks a try?
It is often best to make decisions based upon research, so take the time to look into it and then give it a try...you may just find that pot of gold. Now, Go N-Eiri An T-Adh Leat (Good luck) and Slainte (Good health/cheers) to you.
Where should I start?
First, you should consider creating a profile that will help describe who you are and what you do. For a professional Twitter account, always use your real name. Do you really want people tweeting at you using a Twitter handle like '@SweetiePie15'? Using your name as part of your Twitter handle will help students, parents, staff members, and others around the world know who you are and help them find you with ease. For example, my twitter handle is '@InstTechKate'. My hope, when someone sees my Twitter handle, is that they see I like Instructional Technology and that my name is Kate. Pretty straightforward, right? What if you are a teacher and want your students to call you Mrs. or Mr. so and so. Great! Create a twitter handle that incorporates that (for example, '@MrsHanleyTech'). You can also consider adding your grade level, subject area, or even 'RPS' to your Twitter handle, such as '@InstTechRPS' or '@MrsHanleyMath'.
In your Twitter bio, add information that will give the reader insights into what you will tweet about. For example, I kept my bio short and sweet: 'Instructional tech is my jam'.
Once you have your Twitter profile up and running, start following other tweeters. Using the Explore section of Twitter (look for the magnifying glass), search for topics that relate to you. Try typing in your content area or grade level. You can use hashtags to find information too. For example, '#kindergarten', '#535edtech', or if you’re reading a book in class may search for the title of the book to see what other teachers or students are learning about '#oldyeller'.
Using Twitter for your Professional Learning Network (PLN)
One of the best things about Twitter is connecting with other educators or professionals. There are many great Twitter chats that you can follow along or participate in. Here is a link to a sheet with hundreds of Twitter chat hashtags organized by date, time, content, and hashtag. To follow along with a Twitter chat, search for the hashtag. To participate in a Twitter chat, type your response to a question or another participant; make sure to include the chat’s hashtag to your tweet. (Join local teachers for '#RPSLead' on Wednesday nights at 8:30 PM!)
You can also ask for advice by using hashtags. Have a project you’re working on but don’t know how to facilitate a fun, engaging, or innovating lesson? Crowdsource an answer. Or, better yet, attend an educational conference via hashtag to garner new ideas! For instance, '#sxswedu' just wrapped up last week – check out the hashtag to see all the great comments, ideas, and resources from the conference.
If nothing else, follow other teachers who work within RPS – we have amazing things happening in our schools all day, every day. By following other staff members, you can see what they are doing and can potentially begin taking steps toward collaborating with them. Here is a list that has a few schools' and staff members’ hashtags and handles: consider adding yours to the list!
Using Twitter in the Classroom
- At the end of the day, recap and summarize what has been learned in the classroom, encouraging reflection and discussion between students.
- Connect with other classrooms – here is a great list of teachers who actively use Twitter
- There are many Twitter accounts set up that share the lives and personalities of historical figures or events, and students can follow them for fun and learning. Try following President Abraham Lincoln or follow the journey of the fateful Titanic voyage.
- High school students who want to explore their career options can talk to professionals in the paths they’re interested in or considering.
- Students in a foreign language class can build their reading skills and stay on top of current events with a foreign language news stream.
- Local and national political figures have Twitter feeds and students in the classroom can track their progress or tweet at them asking questions.
Whether you are a novice user who is a little nervous getting started or you are an avid user who is just looking to expand your use, find others to follow who will challenge and inspire you to think differently. Once you've done that, share what you're doing in your classroom so you can challenge and inspire others.
This post brought to you by Kate Hanley, Instructional Technology Specialist. Feel free to connect with Kate via email.
Content from this post was curated by the Instructional Technology Department. Follow them on Twitter:
Kate Hanley @InstTechKate, Jennifer Hennes @jennyhennes, James McCormick @JMcCormickRPS, Chrissie McKinnon @ChrisseMcKinnon
I was wrong.
Needless to say, this has been an eye-opening, learning experience. It has changed my thinking. Soon, when I return to “my own” classroom next year, it will change my actions. Here are some things I now plan to do:
Have a one-page summary of class policies and procedures.
If I were to go by what students tell me as a substitute, the teacher never collects homework, students work in groups while laying on the floor, nobody ever brings paper or pencil to class, they always work outside or in the hall, restroom passes are given freely to anyone and everyone multiple times, friends from other classes are welcome to join at any time, they always line up at the door 10 minutes before class ends, they always use phones and iPads, and the teacher plays music for them throughout the entire class period.
I know I won't be able to keep my students from trying to bend the rules, but it won’t be hard to create a list that includes the following:
- My definition of tardy (in the door, in the seat, a one–minute grace period, etc.)
- What materials students access through me (where I keep the classroom set of textbooks/iPads/calculators, where I keep extra pencils and paper should they be provided, etc.)
- My policy with passes (not given out during first/last ten minutes of class, written in back of the student planner, accessed via QR code on their iPad, etc.)
- My standards for how students do daily work (in pairs, groups, with/without ear-buds in, etc.)
- My flexibility with student movement around the room (there's a group that sits in the corner during work time, I don't allow students to work in the hallway, students can switch seats during work time but not before that, etc.)
- How I have my students turn in materials (basket on the front table, folder attached to the whiteboard, pile on the corner of my desk, etc.)
- Where my students find materials handed out previous days (on my website www. .com, in the binder at the front of the room, from their 'class buddy', etc.)
- A list of areas in my classroom that are off limits to students (my desk, a computer at the front of the room, the art supplies in the cupboard, etc.): believe me, students know where you hide your candy and they will take it or attempt to convince the sub that the teacher hands it out generously.
Have an up-to-date, marked or highlighted seating chart--with pictures.
Attendance is a nightmare for a sub. (Don't believe me, check out the Comedy Central skit "Substitute Teacher" by Key and Peele...) Names are difficult to pronounce. Calling roll is time-consuming and emphasizes the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, and gives the students a perfect chance to start the hour by playing all kinds of name-changing games. On the other hand, a great seating chart can be a sub’s best-friend. With a great seating chart I can get attendance taken in under a minute and know a variety of information about the students in the class.
When I return to the classroom, my seating chart will certainly include:
- Pictures (this is a must)
- Some markings on the chart (where the desks are in relation to the windows, my teacher desk, the podium, etc.) so the sub can get oriented: this is especially important should I have tables or desks that aren’t in simple rows
- Notes of any seating changes made since the chart was printed
- A key with marks to let the sub know:
- Special Ed students
- Students who can be trusted to answer policy and procedure questions
- Students who are most likely to need some redirection
- Potential conflicts between students
Have an assignment that is relevant to the class and for which students will be accountable.
This is perhaps my biggest takeaway from my experience. In the past I would either ask the sub to play a DVD of the TV show Numbers or tell the students to work on any missing assignments. There are problems with both of these: showing a video requires turning off the lights and it often becomes impossible for students to work on missing assignments because they have either finished it, left it at home, need the teacher to explain it, or have to work with a partner who isn’t in the class that day. Even if a class is not a management problem and the students talk quietly all hour, there is nothing slower than the minute hand of a clock when a sub is just sitting at a desk watching students talk with each other (plus, what learning is happening then?). Okay, there is one other thing slower--the clock when it is the fifth time the sub has watched that same episode of Numbers...
In the future, I’ll just ask the sub to continue with whatever assignment is next in my lesson plan. It may be a little rough, but if I teach the same course more than once, the sub will be great after the first time through. If it is just not possible, see my next suggestion.
Have a set of folders with a variety of stand-alone assignments.
When I return to my own classroom, I’ll be sure to have a variety of stand-alone tasks, and I'll mark each as 10-minute, 25-minute, or a full class period in length. For math, these will be an assortment of logic puzzles or real-world use of math that is at least somewhat connected to the course. It won’t fit perfectly with the day and current standard, but it will be something the students can turn in at the end of the hour for feedback that I can give them later. On the front of each folder will be the time needed for the assignment and a chance for the sub to record the date and hour it was used so I know what can be set out again in the future. (These are also great for when your absence is sudden and you have no opportunity to prepare for a sub ahead of time.)
Foster a respectful classroom environment.
I know this sounds like a cliché, but a class doesn’t change overnight. If I have a class that is built on positive relationships and consistency, I won’t have to threaten them to get them to behave for a sub. On the other hand, if class management is based on fear or there is no consistency, the class won’t respect the sub even if I, the classroom teacher, threatens to write up or assign double detention to every name the sub writes down. A sub can come in and work with any class that has a respectful classroom environment already established, but she'll surely struggle if there is not such an environment already present.
Oh, and one last thing: I’ll hide some chocolate and let the sub know where it is.
Feel free to connect with Dave Pugh via email
When I visit co-taught classrooms, I notice telltale signs of effective planning. Teachers are both fully present in the lesson, moving fluidly between leading and supporting roles. Students respond equally well to directions given by both teachers. Well-designed lessons meet the students’ needs, so they're engaged.
These classrooms don’t reach this level by chance. They are intentionally designed through focused planning. To paraphrase Beninghof, these teams decided how to decide, and that decision made the difference.
Three Decisions to Make with Your Co-Teacher
Think about the strengths each of you brings to the table and decide how to structure your class so that you both can shine. I observed in a secondary classroom with a math teacher and a special education teacher. Their shared vision was that the students would learn to self-monitor their learning processes, draw on strategies to persevere through challenges, and advocate effectively when they were stuck. By learning these skills, the students would be able to learn the math content at deeper levels. With this vision in mind, the co-teachers identified that the math teacher would take the lead in delivering the math content; the special education teacher would focus on the metacognitive aspects of the lessons. When I visited the class, I could see how this decision played out: the math teacher introduced a new concept while the special education teacher modeled how to ask questions. As the lesson progressed, students began to form and ask their own questions. Students left feeling like they understood the new concept because they were empowered to ask questions that were meaningful and timely. Both teachers’ instructional goals were met.
What routines and procedures will you have?
I liken this to the difference between setting up a shared space together and inviting a guest to come to your space. When you set something up together, you both know where things belong, and you can both easily retrieve things. When you're a guest in someone’s space, you have to ask for permission and directions (e.g. Is it alright if I use the blahblahblah? Where do you keep it? ). In the middle of a lesson, it is disruptive and wastes time if the guest teacher has to wait for the classroom owner to reach a good stopping point to ask for help with basic management details. There is a direct correlation here: the more detailed discussions about routines and procedures at the beginning of the partnership, the more smoothly the class can run later. It is worth taking time to discuss everything from how students sharpen pencils to how to connect with parents.
How will you keep each other on track?
Let's be honest. Life happens. We may have had grand plans for our vision in August, but we got busy and now it's March. This decision is like having an “emergency preparedness plan”—a way to reset if the need arises, but also having a monitoring plan in place to prevent disaster. I recommend having three plans in place:
- A regularly scheduled co-planning time (shorter check-ins)
- Occasional blocks of time to map out upcoming units (e.g. quarterly planning)
- A mid-course reflection to return to your shared vision and reset if necessary
Here are a couple tips to help you stick to your plan. When you meet regularly for co-planning, plan first. Talk about individual students last. If you start your planning sessions by telling stories or sharing concerns about individual students, you’ll go down a rabbit hole of conversation and you’ll run out of time. The next tip? Tell your co-teacher how to bring up concerns. Try this sentence frame: If you're feeling like I’m falling away from our shared vision, you can let me know by . I promise that when I hear this from you, I will .
Take the time to decide: it's worth the investment. Happy co-teaching!
If you’d like more information about co-teaching, check out Anne Beninghof’s website, Ideas for Educators. Here’s the article "Co-teaching Isn't Taking Turns, It's Teaching Together" to get you started.
- Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO)
- Concurrent Enrollment/College in the Schools (CIS)
- Articulated Credit
- Project Lead the Way (PLTW)
- Advanced Placement (AP)
So, how did you do? The various ways for students to participate in dual enrollment options (meaning credit for achievement in the course is being recorded on both high school and college/university transcript while the student is in the course) include PSEO and concurrent enrollment (CIS is the University of MN’s brand of concurrent enrollment). Articulated credit, PLTW and AP are credits that can be obtained in the future when needed conditional are met.
Two real time, credit bearing options that are available to students in Rochester Public Schools. Information on the other three can be found in the RPS publication Dual Enrollment Options, located in high school counseling offices or by contacting Jayne Gibson in C and I.
First, Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) – this is the option that students and families are most familiar with. To participate in the PSEO option, high school students attend college courses at the college campus of their choice. High school students are in class taught by college professors with college students.
Secondly, Concurrent Enrollment/College in the Schools (CIS) – this option is gaining popularity in Rochester Public Schools. We currently have partnerships with Riverland Community College, Rochester Community and Technical College, and the University of Minnesota. Students have the opportunity to participate in college level courses while remaining in their high school. Credits obtained in these courses are recorded on both the high school and the college transcript simultaneously. These courses are taught by high school teachers who have been approved by the institute of higher education. Teachers for these courses often receive additional training from the college/university, are skilled in working with high school aged learners and have access to the university’s technology.
Connect with Jayne Gibson via email or by calling 507.328.4301
What is the definition of refugee and immigrant? According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRCR) “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” Refugees often cannot return to their home country for many years, or they may never return. An immigrant is a person who makes a conscious decision for several different reasons to leave their home country and live in a different country. They may return to their home country any time that they choose. Refugees and immigrants are both learning how to live in a new country and learning a new language. They are also learning how to navigate new cultural norms that may be very different from their own.
The Ted Ed video “What does it mean to be a refugee?” is a great video to understand more about refugees.
So how do I support my refugee students in my classroom? The articles How to Support Refugee Students in the ELL Classroom from the Colorín Colorado website and Ways Teachers Can Help Refugee Students: Some Suggestions from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network provide a few key strategies to support refugees:
- Learn about your students – Learn about their cultures and invite them to share with others if they feel comfortable.
- Help students and families find resources they need – Gather information regarding community supports for things such as food, clothing, and health care. Be prepared to provide this information to families if they request it.
- Get to know families by having regular meetings – Seek out the best time for families to meet. Their work schedule may not allow them to attend during regular conference hours so you may need to find alternative times that work well for you, the family and the bilingual. At RPS, we have bilinguals who can assist in following languages: Arabic, Bosnia, Cambodian, Chinese, Lao, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. They are a wonderful resource to learn about cultures, languages and how to support students and families.
- Remember that families are under a lot of stress – Even though refugees are settling into their new country, they may have other family members still in their home country. They may be thinking of them and concerned for their welfare. Be conscious of students’ stress levels and seek out social workers or counselors who could help.
- Pair students with trained peers who can serve as “buddies” – These buddies can assist students in navigating the school system.
- Provide a stable, comforting environment and be available to listen – Students may want to talk about their experiences or ask questions. Provide time with counselors or social workers who can help as needed.
- Show that diversity is welcomed and appreciated – Display welcoming signs in different languages, display photographs/items from different countries, or bring in curricular materials that display diversity and multiple perspectives.
- Be consistent with rules and expectations – Students often have to learn about the American school routines. These may be very different from what they are used to. Patiently and clearly model and explain rules and expectations to students.
- Students may act out or withdraw – Students may react to a situation by acting out or withdrawing due to previous experiences. Be sure to pay as much attention to the withdrawn student as the student who is acting out.
If you have any questions or would like to workshop some ideas regarding our refugee students , please reach out to me.
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective