The Fishbowl

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to experiment with a few teaching methodologies within a preaching setting at our Sunday evening, young adults service.

One of the techniques used was that of a “fishbowl” whereby you create an interactive, discussion-oriented platform within the flow a traditional, monologue-driven sermon.

The fishbowl is traditionally used within the academic setting when an instructor desires dialogue, yet is challenged with a large number of students within a lecture hall setting.  Typically, the instructor would have a small number of students engaged in a conversation at the front of the class during the time discussion or buzz groups would occur, while the rest of the class listens in.  The students observing, would then take notes and jot down reflections, with time at the end of the class to hear about their impressions, and if they would add anything else to the conversation.

The way I used it within the preaching setting was to take a former lesson I taught within a “Sunday School context” and during the time of my lesson’s buzz group section, shift our attention to a group of four individuals discussing the text on stage, while the rest of the congregation observed.

A few lessons learned from experiencing this technique, while also attaining strong feedback from several evaluation forms I dispersed:

  • There is a balance of having your group naturally discuss the subject, while ensuring they are prepped enough to have initial thoughts and comments ready to go in the discussion. (*Since this was my first time attempt, I played it safe with fairly good prep and very simple discussion questions).
  • Watching a discussion occur on stage while listening in as a congregational member allows you to have a sense of interaction and dialogue within yourself as you vicariously listen in.
  • The more natural the discussion, the more revealing it is to observers that interaction doesn’t have to be consistently riveting or bantering, but can simply be plain, yet still allow for internal processing over a subject. Most commented that the first fishbowl experience was flat, however, that is how buzz groups can sometimes be. It wasn’t until the second breakout, fishbowl did the vulnerability and group dynamics heighten, which I thought revealed more of a natural-like discussion group image.
  • It is sometimes beneficial to enter into discussion on implications and applications of a text before stages of interpretation. This flow will sometimes place your learners in a position where they are then challenged with not knowing how to properly apply a passage due to the unknown issues of interpretation. This can then surface a true need for your learners to want to know the text’s meaning, thereby allowing the teacher to then address interpretation issues with greater student engagement.
  • Careful in trying something new without properly informing and preparing your learners. I have always assumed that this young adult service was progressive in the sense of regularly embracing playful experimentation. I made the dangerous assumption that they had a culture of variety, but after further discussion and feedback, realized this worship service has more patterned routine than any other of my church community’s worship services.
  • There are a variety of approaches to the fishbowl that will allow you to have more or less control. After further feedback and insight, numerous ideas where given to enhance the process such as playing the role of moderator within the discussion, video taping a past discussion to then be viewed while the participants react to their dialogue within a panel on stage, etc.

Above all, it was one of those teaching theories I have taught on for a number of years, but have never really got out there and attempted within a preaching setting.  Sometimes you have to just get out there an attempt something to then have a better idea of how to improve it next time.


~ by Dave Smith on April 4, 2009.

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