Students Creating Conversations for Learning with the Fishbowl

The Inspiration

About a year ago, I was inspired by a blog post, Fishbowl 101″,  that offered an exciting chronicle of how one teacher used this medium for student-centered discussions for student engagement and for building a community of learners using face to face conversations as well as virtual tools for supporting and extending these discussions.   When I initially shared this medium for learning with our faculty last year,  I did not receive any responses, but when I approached  Lisa Kennedy and Susan Lester, two of our English teachers, at the beginning of this academic year about trying the Fishbowl, both eagerly agreed to give it a try to see if it could be a medium for increasing student engagement in the context of content area study.

Context and Purpose for the Fishbowl

Kennedy has just finished incorporating the Fishbowl method into her unit on Romanticism with her Honors American Literature juniors; I’ve embedded her student handout with guidelines for groups, guiding questions she provided the groups, and her rubrics; these materials were based on the document created by Anne and posted from the Learning and Laptops blog entry.

Kennedy Fishbowl Discussion Points System September-October 2011

We have just started using it with Lester’s class to support mixed literature circle/inquiry groups of students who are reading a variety of novels and nonfiction texts.  While I have not had the opportunity to observe Kennedy’s students, I actually had the pleasure of facilitating one of two groups from Lester’s class this past Friday;  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the students and watching them connect ideas as they engaged in conversation.  I was impressed with the way students interacted and the directions they took with the conversation once they relaxed and opened up the discussion.  Below I’ve embedded the initial document Lester and I created together to prepare them in advance of the first Fishbowl meeting that we had this past Friday.

Initial Student Feedback and Future Variations for Extending Fishbowl Talk

The initial student responses from both classes (11th Honors American Literature/Composition and 10th Honors American Literature/Composition) have been favorable, and we are looking closely at student work and feedback to tweak the process.  You can see the initial round of feedback from Kennedy’s students embedded below; Lester’s students will complete their initial responses to our first fishbowl meeting on Tuesday via our class blog.

Kennedy is contemplating incorporating live blogging into the next round of Fishbowl discussions as her students seem to enjoy incorporating visual elements into their conversations and have indicated having an archive of the discussions could be helpful; we’re looking at using CoverItLive or Google Docs as the liveblogging and archiving tool (see the great photo below from Dean Shareski’s photostream).

CC image via

My cohort that I facilitated in Lester’s class is interested in having a “cohort” blog for extending and sustaining conversations outside of the face to face fishbowl meeting.    Although I would be the administrator of these blogs, the two cohort blogs for Lester’s class would be set up so that students could take ownership of initiating discussion threads and moderating the discussions.   I hope to have more to share about these spaces for learning for both course sections  in the upcoming weeks.

Challenge:  The Tension of Teacher Directed Discussion and Student Generated Discourse

One of the initial major challenges I’ve observed/experienced in helping facilitate the classes from a planning standpoint and from personal observation is the tension between a desire to scaffold students’ conversation in an effort to “guide” them to a meaningful conversation and the desire to give students more ownership of the discussions (in terms of content, questions, talking points) is one that is not always easy to negotiate.  In my research on incorporating the Fishbowl method as a part of classroom discourse, I discovered this challenge  is not unique.   There is a fine line between “coaching” and modeling for students and not leaving enough openness for authentic discussion.    As some of my colleagues on Twitter also pointed out, we as teachers sometimes find it difficult to let go and let students learn from failure and/or missteps as they learn by doing.   This challenge is one I hope to further explore  with Kennedy and Lester as we try to “let go” and make our instruction and approach to learning more student-led and inquiry driven.

Your Experiences?

If you have been or are using the Fishbowl for class discussions and networked learning, I’d love to hear about what is working for your students and any insights you could share from your experiences.   If you have resources to recommend for my resource list on the Fishbowl, I welcome your suggestions.

Oh, the Places We Hope to Go: Mapping Program and Learning Themes 2010-11 FTW!

Unquiet Library Learning and Program Themes, 2010-11

Once again, I am using Mindomo to help me pull together the swirling mass of ideas for 2010-11 that have been simmering in my mind throughout the summer.    You can see the working draft (which is subject to change and evolution throughout the next ten months) of the map that outlines the major program and learning initiatives for The Unquiet Library in 2010-11.     These goals and initiatives will take place against the backdrop of reduced staff as our district lost all of its media clerks for the 2010-11 year; protecting instructional services is our priority as is minimizing the ease and flow of access to the physical library space.

In a nutshell, here is where I hope to see the library program grow and go in 2010-11:

Media 21

This learning model will once again be the centerpiece of the program and will be the vehicle for a mini-pilot of the embedded librarian model.    Details will not be finalized until August 2, but tentatively, I have a team of four English teachers and one science teacher who are looking to scale out the work that Susan Lester and I did with our students in 2009-10. I will be writing a separate blog post outlining the goals, framework, tools, themes, and challenges of Media 21 for the upcoming year within the next two weeks;  I’ll also be outlining how I plan to grow my own instructional literacy and my past and present interests in looking at what happens next year through an anthropological lens, so please watch for that impending post.  This year, I hope to frame the Media 21 work as action research and/or ethnography to better understand and analyze student learning and the dynamics of what I hope will be a mini professional learning community.  In addition, I will also compose an additional post outlining and exploring my working conceptualization of participation literacy and its overarching influence on the design of Media 21.


This goal feels very much like a moving target in spite of my best efforts to approach our first efforts to roll out ereaders in a methodical and thoughtful way.   I’ll be meeting with the stakeholders who will be helping me in this process over the next weeks, but the preliminary plan at this time is to start with a small set of Kindles for circulation to students and faculty and hopefully expand the menu to include iPads and/or some other tablet device.   I want to have a mix so that students and teachers have options; in addition, I want a mix of dedicated ereaders as well as tablet devices with educational and productivity apps for learning.  The waters feel muddy as the library community grapples with digital rights management issues and the blitz of devices that are either in development or are on the brink of release, such as the Pandigital Novel. I definitely plan to continue collaboration with my personal learning network as we try to share our knowledge and criteria for evaluating these resources that will best fit the needs of our patrons.

I should also add that the initial plan is to purchase Kindles (and possibly Nooks) and to collect a considerable amount of student feedback and qualitative data from the students who use the initial set of devices.  I’ll be using student feedback and the results of their experiences to drive additional purchases and future directions with ereaders.


The Unquiet Library will be purchasing additional board games using Libraries Got Game as one of our compasses for purchasing materials that are engaging and aligned to the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners.  In addition, Kimberly Hirsh has been doing some cool work in aligning games to the standards as well, and her work will inform the decision making process; Justin Hoenke is another friend and colleague whose experience and wisdom I’ll be calling upon to help me develop my gaming collection.   I am also working on assembling a team of gaming bloggers who will post directly to The Unquiet Library blog and share their insights and experiences on games of their choosing.

Student Virtual Collection

I want to step up last year’s focus on student content creation while providing a virtual space for hosting student learning artifacts that they may create either in collaboration with teachers and the library or that they may create out of their own learning interests.  I feel this student virtual collection is a way of celebrating student learning while providing an archive and space to explore the evolution and diversity of student learning.

Community/Tribe Building

I’ll be exploring and crowdsourcing strategies for stepping up our current degree of transparency as well as for  inviting even more participation in 2010-11 not only from students, but from parents, administrators, faculty, and other community stakeholders.     I’m working to recruit a team of stakeholders who will be guest bloggers for The Unquiet Library blog as well as finding more ways to crowdsource library policies, events, purchases, and learning experiences that better reflect the needs and wishes of all of our patrons.  In addition, I’m working with other educators to hopefully implement more learning experiences that tap into a larger global network to connect our learning community with others outside of our corner of the world.  My goal is to get more voices participating in the conversations we’re having in and outside of our learning space in the library.

Mobile Learning and Library Services

I plan for the library to lead the way in increasing integration of mobile devices and computing into instruction while finding ways to better tap into students’ mobile devices for access to library services and materials.  In addition, I’m planning on incorporating essential educational apps into our catalog.

Bring It

Although I don’t report back to work officially until July 27, my summer has been a hive of activity and thinking although I certainly wish I could have a few more weeks for collaboration, contemplation, reading, listening, and reflection.   Each of these initiatives presents its own challenges, but I will once again use this blog space to share the journey with you in hopes that others can not only learn from my successes and failures, but  also help me problem solve the challenges along the way and inform my thinking, which I plan to keep fluid and open throughout the next school year.     I am excited to see where we’ll go this year and what we’ll all learn together!