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.
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