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.

Webinar: Creating Subject Guides for the 21st Century Library

Creating Subject Guides for the 21st-Century Library (ALA TechSource Workshop) – Books / Professional Development – eLearning – New Products – ALA Store via kwout

I am delighted to be presenting a 90 minute workshop, “Creating Subject Guides for the 21st Century Library”, this Tuesday, September 20, at 4PM EST for ALA TechSource.   If you are interested in registering for the webinar, please visit the ALA Store page for more information.  Here is an overview of the webinar:

The subject guide has been a valuable tool for school and academic librarians for decades, first as a print resource and more recently as web pages and web-based documents. In this ALA TechSource Workshop, Buffy Hamilton of The Unquiet Library will show how to revitalize the subject guide as a dynamic, customizable, social resource by integrating it into the web.

Topics include:

  • Understanding the concept of social scholarship and the implications for networked learning
  • How to use free resources such as widgets, RSS feeds, mashups, cloud computing, videos, and social bookmarking to create streams of quality information
  • How to use non-traditional social media sources of information such as blogs, Twitter streams, podcasts, and YouTube in your subject guides
  • Free and subscription-based tools you can use to host these information portals/research guides

Comparing Database Platform Features for Sharing, Bookmarking, and Exporting Bibliographic Data

A few weeks ago, I created a video outlining some of the challenges of bookmarking and sharing database sources to services like Tumblr and  After exploring options for exporting database information source bibliographic data to services like EasyBib and NoodleTools for the last two weeks, I realized that not all vendors provide this information (nor is the integrity of the data always flawless—more on that in a future blog post).  I thought it might be helpful to create a chart and something visual to compare the features of the databases we use most frequently at The Unquiet Library-–if you use any of these databases, you might find these resources I’ve created helpful as well.

I’m probably most frustrated by the fact that there are huge gaps in the consistency of sharing/citation tools (not to mention the design and organization) across Gale database platforms and that some databases for K12 (like Student Research Center from EBSCOhost) don’t offer ANY of these options for students.  It’s difficult to pitch the value of database resources on “authority” alone when the search interfaces and sharing/posting/exporting options are so vastly different and confusing to young learners.

Why does this matter?  Take a look at these skills in the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner:

  • 1.2.2 Demonstrate confidence and self-direction by making independent choices in the selection of resources and information.
  • 3.1 Participate and collaborate as members of a social and intellectual network of learners.
  • 3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
  • 4.1.6 Organize personal knowledge in a way that can be called upon easily.
  • 4.1.7 Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information.

If database platforms aren’t consistent in basic features for sharing, bookmarking, and exporting bibliographic data, students will experience greater difficulty in utilizing these resources as they create personal learning environments and utilize contemporary curation and bookmarking tools (as well as social media tools for reflection and discussion of learning/research experiences).  I’m trying to teach our students how to harness the power of tools we have readily available and to be transparent, reflective networked learners, yet the inconsistencies outlined below make that charge much more challenging as we try to teach skills like those from our AASL standards and processes for taking control and responsibility of their learning.

As we try to incorporate these social media and cloud computing tools for organizing information, sharing information, and creating content, we as librarians must be vocal in letting our vendors know our expectations so that the databases can better interface with these tools for learning and navigating and managing the information landscape.  What features are missing or are problematic with your favorite databases?

Invasion of Participatory Culture

The concept of networked individualism reconfigures users’ access to information, people and other resources allows them to move across, undermine, and go beyond the boundaries of existing institutions to seek and enforce new levels of institutional and personal transparency.

~William Dutton~

I’ve written and spoken pretty regularly in the last year about libraries as sites of participatory culture, so I was immediately intrigued by this terrific slidedeck I discovered this afternoon.  Take a look:

Although designed for a business audience, the content is teeming with implications and relevance for our practice as librarians and educators.  The slidedeck emphasizes the shift from “command and  control to collaboration and co-creation.” I especially like the six participatory principles for today’s “associations” (and then insert libraries and learning spaces):
1. Participatory members

2.  Presumed authority to collective credibility

3.  Horizontal structures

4. Variety of formal and informal learning opportunities

5.  Networked learning ( as you readers know, a topic close to my heart and practice)

6.  Interactive and without walls

How are you incorporating these principles of participatory culture into your library programming and instructional design?