From the 2016 Archives: Thoughts on the Fish-eye Effect

Updated: Feb 3

Lately I’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking on what implications the fish-eye effect has on our classrooms. If you haven’t heard already, this effect identifies the tendency of a facilitator to frequently focus on a few gifted/disruptive students at the ‘expense’ of ignoring or neglecting a less vocal or better - behaved student.

We certainly tend to assume to a certain extent, that quieter students, who do reasonable well, are ‘okay’ and can 'take care of themselves’. Each classroom seems to have set expectations as to which group of students will answer, often over and over again, and which ones will generally not. The establishment of unspoken classroom norms like these have always fascinated me. What is more interesting, however, is how the teacher often subconsciously picks up on these norms and then proceeds to co-opt, reinforce, or play into them.

Quietness is no measure of classroom management. It is disconcerting to think about the possibility that relative quietness and consistent 'non - deviant’ behaviour may actually be symptomatic of something gone wrong, whether that something has to do with flawed teaching methodology that fails to take personality types into account or personal issues the student may silently be struggling with. Passive behaviour has to ring alarm bells in our head as much as attention - seeking. I’d like to think that a fair amount of disruptiveness and silliness goes with healthy adolescent development. As teachers, I think we ought to keep our eyes on 'nice kids’ as much as we pay attention to the others.

Acknowledging or paying attention to a quieter student who prefers to 'wallpaper’ comes less easily than paying attention to someone more outgoing or you tend to have more natural eye contact with. I am in no way suggesting, however, that it is somehow abnormal to be introverted. Introversion is something to be understood and respected. I am merely indicating that introverted students perhaps need our attention as well, perhaps in a more discreet, one on one manner, and not one that attempts to shame them or draws attention to them in ways that they’d be uncomfortable.

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