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Liam Cole’s Engaging Fishbowl

I had the joy of observing Liam’s lesson at Merrivale Primary School in Victoria. In Liam’s classroom, I observed that student engagement reaches well beyond the 3 seconds of a goldfish! Liam has redesigned his classroom furniture to enable a fishbowl style of restorative learning circles. That coupled with an interchange of collaboration and independent work, his Year 5/6 class were fully engaged for the entirety of a 45-minute reading lesson.

What is a fishbowl? In Liam’s case, a fishbowl set up is where all the tables wrap around the classroom walls, and the chairs are on the inside. Students, working independently at their desks, are essentially facing a wall. When they turn their chair 180 degrees, their back is to the table, and they are now in a circle facing their peers. Students understand the expectations of each position and share thoughts in collaboration but work quietly and independently with their chairs tucked in at their desks.

It was satisfying to observe Liam’s lesson and watch students engage, collaborate and ride through the lesson with a laser focus on the task and a preparedness to contribute to the discussion. Liam would have students in the collaborative circle read a passage, get them to turn and talk and then share their visualisations. Once a swirl of ideas and concepts was shared collaboratively, students turned to their tables to complete a mind map of the concepts in the chapter.

After the observation, I asked him a few questions:

1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a fishbowl set-up?

“For something as simple as tables in a circle, or squircle as we call it in Room 4, the advantages are huge! I find myself being able to give instant feedback to students, as I can check in quickly and easily in the circle. I spend less time on behaviour management, as everyone is accountable for their actions as there is nowhere to hide in the circle.”

2. Learning circles have various key aims, engagement, explicit instruction, collaboration, and focussed independent work. Can you comment on any of these?

“I can engage more with students as I become part of the class discussion more naturally when I am in the circle. I also have had an increase in students sharing their ideas with their peers. And finally, as there are fewer distractions for the students, the classroom is more focussed.”

3. Have you asked the students what they think of the format?

“I have checked in with some of my students, who told me they think it works well. We change seats every week, so we don’t have the same spot for too long, and I have noticed that my students aren’t asking for the room to be changed around, unlike other years where they wanted to change every two weeks! No news is good news!”

A big shout out to Liam for sharing his experience. He now uses this format for all his lessons and is a self-confessed fishbowl convert.


Check out other articles Sheila has written here.