Students in Mr. Van Loon’s AP Literature class participate in weekly “fishbowl” discussions. In a fishbowl, a group of eight to ten students lead the class in a discussion of the week’s reading. This week, students discussed the first section of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
“I like the ‘fishbowl’ format because it puts the students in control of the discussion,” said Mr. Van Loon. “My students frequently surprise and impress me with the details of their discussions.”
As students in the inner circle debate the meaning and details from the text, students in the outer circle record their questions and monitor their adherence to agreed-upon discussion rules and norms. All students are required to read the section of the text prior to the discussion, but the students in the inner “fishbowl” must be prepared with text-dependent questions to demonstrate their proficient understanding of the selection.
“We’re reading a book about a book,” said senior Argenis Hernandez. “It’s self-referential.”
“Did you notice that Hitchhiker’s Guide has the conventions of a reference book?” asked senior Alexandra Villalpando.
“In Chapter 7, we learn that Vogon poetry is the third worst in the galaxy,” said senior Jessica Robinson. “What does that really mean? And why is Earth poetry considered the worst?”
For Mr. Van Loon, the fishbowl is a chance to make sure that every voice in the classroom is heard.
“I rotate the fishbowl groups every week, so every student has a chance to participate each month,” said Van Loon. “The fishbowl also gives me insight into how well they’re grasping the material, and how I should adjust my instruction.”