How to using the Fish Bowl Exercise to Share Group Learning
Like all teachers, I’m still learning. In our knowledge rich, time poor lives, how do we maximise learning between us as practitioners?
Once in a while it’s nice to try a different format in a meeting (or for INSET). Turn it into a mini workshop instead. The knowledge you gather in your day-to-day teaching practice, experience, learning, reading, training etc can feed into and enrich a meeting between you and fellow practitioners if you have an active social learning group to meet with (not one assigned to you by a boss though, just a naturally emerging one that arises bottom up).
One idea for a group learning format for practitioners might be to also combine the use of extracts from a personal reflective diary of sorts as the basis for a Fishbowl discussion together:
Basic Principles: This is a type of group discussion that can be utilized when there are two distinct groups. Each group has an opportunity to discuss the issue while the other group observes, much like looking at the fish in a fish bowl. The facilitator is responsible for encouraging discussion during the small group discussion, keeping the discussion only among the inner circle, and then drawing out individual and group reactions during the combined discussion later. The goal of this technique is for one group to experience the other’s discussion, but it is not discussed until the group discussion time. This technique can be utilized to create “buy-in” by two opposing sides.
Chairs are positioned in two circles – an inner circle facing each other and an outer circle surrounding the inner circle. One group takes their position in the inner set of chairs; the other group takes their position in the outer circle. The facilitator initiates discussion of the issue among members of the inner circle. Members of the outer circle are able to view the discussion but are asked not to discuss anything among themselves. The inner circle discussion is limited to a set time (20 minutes). At the end of the designated time, the groups trade places and the same format is followed for the second group. After completing the second discussion, the inner chairs are added to the outer circle so that both groups are seated in one circle. The facilitator initiates a discussion between the two groups about their observations of the other group. The facilitator encourages discovery of “the other group’s” point of view. The concept of a “fish bowl” is to observe, discover, and analyze another group’s thought process. The combined group discussion should focus on bringing out discoveries about the other group. The facilitator must focus the discussion on facts rather than presumptions. This technique can be used in problem solving by assisting groups to gather insight about another group. Fish bowl discussion can be used as a consensus building technique in a planning or problem–solving process ( uilding Dynamic Groups Developed by Ohio State University Extension, 2000)
Questions used to lead the discussion in the fishbowl could be chosen by the group in advance, and have relevance to the teaching practice issues of those in the group. Individuals might also want to prepare and distribute handouts that contain the key points relevant to the main issue, and also presenting any key ideas relevant to the topic at hand and how this applies to your teaching practice and/or educational environment in the wider sense. If you do not meet with others in a group, then perhaps you could prepare such handouts anyway and present your line manager with them and engage in discussion with him/her on this topic. Such conversations will add value to your mutual understanding of this topic and your insights will gain depth if you apply them to real teaching practice.
Make a note of any learning points in your diary or reflective log.
Consider the value of this activity and what learning comes out of it and what gaps are identified for future learning and share these in comments below.