Whenever I notice problems in the classroom, I pull out one of my favorite instructional strategies, the fishbowl.

The fishbowl strategy is an awesome way to showcase model behaviors in ANY subject. I particularly like to use it when I notice students are skipping steps or struggling with a certain activity. I have used it to model word work strategies, reading behaviors, problem solving, computation and even science class behaviors.

Here is an example of how I used a fishbowl last week to help model effective problem solving and group work behavior.

We are working on some collaborative problem solving, which requires an intense amount of group work. The problems are differentiated so they are just right for the groups, but that means they require some really tough thinking. Often, I’ve noticed that the behaviors of group work can get in the way when they are pushed like this. In an effort to prevent this, I set up the fishbowl before even beginning to problem solve collaboratively.

1. First I put up a t-chart that had 2 columns. We filled in the left column as a whole group activity. I recorded their answers on the board as they shared them with the group, and they recorded them on their paper. I purposefully left the right column covered until the next part of the activity.

2. I asked my strongest problem solvers (I know they are strong problem solvers, the other students do not) to go into the middle of the circle, while the rest of us surrounded them. I told them that they were going to be solving a very difficult level four problem, and that the rest of us were going to take notes on their behaviors. The students taking notes had their t-charts in front of them, ready to go.

3. As the students in the middle began to problem solve, the observers on the outside of the fishbowl started writing down everything they did. They wrote what they did with their bodies, how they sat, what they said, the voice levels they used, etc.

4. Then, after a few minutes, we debriefed and shared what we noticed up on the t-chart.

5. The rest of the students were now dismissed to work on their problem, with the expectations all laid out for them. I explained that if a group encountered problems working together, they could call a “timeout” and recheck the board to see how they were doing.

As they began working, it started out great. Students were problem solving, everyone was engaged. Then, like usual, I noticed in a few groups a couple of students starting to drift off and let the others do the work. In other groups the voice level was rising. That is when I called a timeout and asked them to look at the board. They quickly adjusted their voice levels, how they were sitting and re-engaged themselves in the activity. They very badly wanted to be just like those students they watched in the fishbowl. Peer accountability is huge!

I love this technique, and the best part is that it becomes an anchor chart for the wall whenever we do any collaborative problem solving!

I read about this strategy in a book. You explanation was much more clear! Just put this up on my FB page. Thanks.

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Reblogged this on mathinc and commented:

I love the list of behaviors that students can use to monitor themselves and to develop some level of meta cognition about their own problem solving. The student behaviors are also a great starting point for teachers to develop lessons that explicitly focus on problem solving and model those behaviors. You see the strong links between the behaviors and The Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Excellent topic and so timely as my homeroom is struggling with their behaviors when working together! Thanks so much!!

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Noticing the need for the timeout and regrouping, and refocusing … that’s the teacher moment that is so important …

Kevin