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Collaborative Culture: Protocols

How can a protocol support my classroom instruction?

"Protocol" is the term we use for a related, well-defined set of actions in a classroom used for a specific academic purpose. Protocols are usually structured in a step-by-step procedure (as in, "First, find a partner. Then, take turns reading the provided paragraph aloud."), and can be used in multiple ways: a small sample of these uses includes sharing information, peer editing, or brainstorming; addressing complex social and academic challenges; sharing successes and points of view; heading off typical errors in learning; or introducing a new and engaging topic.

Ironically, a leader has to follow the rules. Criss Jami

Learning Target

I can describe the structure and implementation of a strong academic protocol.

Protocols are important in many situations. Courtesy CC – Creative Commons.

Practice: What is a strong academic protocol?

Learning Target

I can describe the characteristics of a strong academic protocol. 

What It Is 

The skeleton that shapes any strong academic protocol includes the following:

  • organized steps for the procedure (what participants must do)
  • timeframes for each step (when participants do each step and for how long)
  • norms for participants (who participates and how they treat each other)

Protocols provide the skeleton upon which students can safely build their own ideas:  helping shy students to participate, reining in overly enthusiastic learners, and in general leveling the playing ground so that neither student personality nor academic confusion define the results of the protocol. Instead, the content of students’ minds is allowed to shine.

For lists of resources, see the Dig Deeper section below. 

What It Looks Like

Watch the video below of students engaging in an academic protocol called a “Science Talk” and consider the following questions.

  1. Where do you see organized steps, timeframes, and norms for participants?
  2. How does this science talk protocol allow for equity of voices?
  3. How did the timeframes contribute to students building and deepening meaning?

Why It Matters

When everyone understands and agrees to using a protocol, participants are able to work more effectively both independently and collaboratively, often in ways they are not in the habit of doing. Protocols are a powerful way to scaffold learning for students who need extra assistance. The collaborative nature of protocols also build in a natural level of challenge for advanced students, asking them to share, teach, and build on their knowledge through the contributions of their peers.

Practice: How should I teach an academic protocol?

Learning Target

I can describe the successful implementation of an academic protocol. 

What It Is 

The first time a protocol is used, it must be explicitly taught and rehearsed. During successive uses, it will need to be reinforced multiple times. Teachers are often most successful when they choose three to five protocols that anchor their instruction and focus on these. Providing table tents, graphic organizers, or an anchor chart with the bulleted steps of the protocol, and/or “role cards” that describe each person’s role in the protocol, will help students stay on task and do the protocol with fidelity. 

What It Looks Like

Below, you will see a video of Rich Richardson’s 8th grade conducting the protocol “Praise, Question, Suggestion.” Note how the protocol is first modeled and reviewed in front of the students, and then supported with a graphic organizer. Rich has built in this continual support for perfecting the protocol even after the students are capable of smoothly enacting the steps.

Why It Matters

The structured, consistent nature of practicing protocols removes unnecessary procedural mystery from the classroom experience, allowing students to relax and focus on what matters. 

Dig Deeper

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. Identify an upcoming lesson, or a routine academic activity in your classroom, that would benefit from the structure of a formal protocol. How would this protocol meet your academic needs?
  2. Spend some time reviewing the protocols at the National School Reform Faculty website to see if one might might your needs as defined in Question 1. Or, alternatively, draft an original protocol of your own. 
  3. During your next lesson planning session, develop concrete steps for introducing, reflecting upon, and practicing this protocol.

For School Leaders...

  1. Consider a prioritized academic need in your school or district: for more rigorous conversations amongst students, for example, or collaborative work. Spend some time reviewing the protocols at the National School Reform Faculty website to see if one might might your needs.
  2. How might you go about identifying and recruiting “early adopters” amongst your faculty who would be willing to give this new protocol a try?
  3. How might you measure the effectiveness of this protocol for your teachers and students?