Home' Teacher : November 2010 Contents 18 TEACHER NOVEMBER 2010
interpretive discussion: a question that
involved interpretation of data and ques-
tions that were similar to the test. Could I
engage all my students in a nonthreatening
way? Would they be able to transfer their
learning into this format?
'Please form a circle Year 11s.'
'Not this again,' they groaned, collec-
This time I had some revised instruc-
tions. 'If you're in the inner circle, please ask
questions and share ideas until you agree on
a response. Don't just accept what a person
says. Think about how you can develop an
idea or challenge it. Use this as revision,' I
'If you're in the outer circle, record some
responses. Don't speak because you'll inter-
rupt the others. Let's begin.'
This time, no one read out their response.
Students took turns. They listened to each
other and tried to follow with a relevant
comment. Outside participants did tend
to throw in a question from time to time
followed by, 'Oops, I'm not supposed to
I found myself interrupting when a stu-
dent made a relevant com ment that was
ignored. 'Oops, I'm not supposed to speak
either,' I thought, but I kept going anyway.
This time, I thought the discussion had
been fruitful because all students were tak-
ing part even if some were less active than
others and even if we hadn't followed all
After the discussion, we went on to the
written test. At the test's conclusion, I asked
how many students felt the discussion had
assisted their thinking about the analysis
questions. All but three out of 24 students
agreed that it had. Later, I spoke to the three
who responded negatively. 'Why didn't you
think our discussion was useful?' I asked.
'I don't learn anything that way. I prefer
to read and learn from that information,'
'I didn't know how long the gestation of
the possum was so I didn't feel I could say
anything,' said the second.
'I just think discussion is a waste of time,'
the third admitted.
Interestingly, though, no student left
the analysis questions out, unlike previous
tests, where the tendency has been for many
students to leave interpretive discussion or
analysis questions unanswered.
Overall, using the fishbowl discussion
technique has been a useful learning experi-
ence for my students and me. More impor-
tantly, though, I've come to realise that the
crucial thing is not that I apply the technique
exactly as I've experienced it in my profes-
sional learning, but that I have the confi-
dence to adapt the technique to suit the par-
ticular requirements of my context and my
students. That's when its real value can be
Julie Barnhoorn teaches science at Padua
College, Melbour n e.
A version of this article first appeared in
Looking into Practice: Cases of science
teachers' professional growth, published by
Monash Print Services/Catholic Education
Office, Melbourne, as part of the Com-
monwealth government's Quality Teacher
Program. Reproduced with kind permis-
sion. For the full set of cases on which this
series draws, see Berry, A., & Keast, S.
(Eds). (2009). Looking into Practice: Cases
of science teachers' professional growth
Melbourne: Monash Print Services/Catho-
lic Education Office, Melbourne.
There are several issues that teachers grap-
ple with on a regular basis, one of them
being that some teachers teach the way
they were taught or they way they like to
learn, as Julie Barnhoorn notes. Doing
otherwise takes a great deal of courage
as it require s te achers to work outside
their comfort zone. This can have a flow
on effect of unsettling the students as
they shift from doing what they usually
do to doing something that they haven't
Many students are very good at learn-
ing each of their teachers 'rules' or ways
of doing things, so even the slightest shift
from this can be very disruptive for them.
When Barnhoorn changes the way she con-
ducts one of her classes, using the 'fishbowl'
activity, she finds at first that her students
resort to reading prepared responses, and
the opportunity to swap and expand ideas
through discussion never really gets going.
Despite feeling deflated by the initial
experience, though, Barnhoorn has another
go at the fishbowl, only this time she's willing
to bend the rules of the activity to better suit
her students. This ability to adjust the activity
to allow it to work more effectively for her
students is only a small part of what it is that
teacher's 'know.' The work of Lee Shulman
provides us with some insight into the knowl-
edge that teacher's have when he describes the
knowledge domains of teachers as: content
knowledge; knowledge of pedagogy; knowl-
edge of pedagogical content knowledge or the
way science knowledge is known and used
What is it that teachers know?
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT TEACHERS 'KNOW,' YOU REALISE THAT THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF
KNOWLEDGE, AS STEPHEN KEAST AND REBECCA COOPER EXPLAIN.
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