Are you suffering from Fisheye Syndrome? There’s a cure!

Nicole Grant

The bell rings and your students start to gather their things together as you quickly wrap things up. Your lesson on fractions went really well; students were engaged and contributing to the discussion. In fact, you couldn’t hold them back and didn’t realize time was passing so quickly. You dismiss your students for their next class and silently congratulate yourself on an amazing lesson.   

Ever have one of those days/class periods/lessons where you are a rock star, class discussion is rich, and time flies by? I sure did, until one day I really thought about my lessons and my students, who I heard from and - more importantly - who I did not hear from. That’s when it hit me. I was only ever hearing from the same handful of students, the ones who are “smart” or “confident” or “outgoing” or “comfortable” or “risk takers”. What I wasn’t seeing, what I was losing sight of, was the rest of my class. The shy ones. The disengaged ones. The students who wanted to participate but didn’t have the confidence to take that risk for fear of being wrong. I wasn’t doing this purposefully, I realize. I was getting caught up in the energy in the room. Sound familiar? Regardless, I no longer felt like a rock star.

Research reminds us of the benefit of getting our students involved in classroom discussions. It’s an easy instructional practice. It’s straightforward and expected. It helps students reach learning goals.  Need more convincing? Participation makes lessons more interesting (ever teach a lesson that bores even you?). It provides feedback - both teacher and student. Discussions help students with their speaking skills - Gotta, wanna, umm? No thank you! Check out number 7 and then read on.

Fast forward years later, I discover I was suffering from fisheye syndrome. Jennifer Gonzalez, the author of  The Fisheye Syndrome, explains this far better than I can, but the idea is the same. I started to see my students through a peephole (like the one in a hotel room door), with the students in the “outer circle” distorting my vision of reality. I was doing my students, all of them, a huge disservice. I wish I knew then what I know now.

As educators, it’s hard to let go of “being in charge” but if we don’t, we aren’t doing our jobs properly. We need to talk less, listen more, put our students in the driver’s seat, and give them the confidence they need to become active participants in the classroom. Check out Gonzalez’s The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies and be the change your students need. Then, we ALL can be rock stars.

PS... here are just a few of my favorites…


Snowball Discussion

Talk Moves

Curious what these mean? Click on the link above to find out more!


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