Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Protocol

I first heard about "protocols" in the classroom from The National School Reform Faculty. They created a number of protocols to be used in the classroom through workshops called "The Critical Friends." Their ideas were adopted by The Coalition of Essential Schools and introduced to me during my years with the Carnegie Foundation. The protocols were simply a set of criteria or a schedule used by the teacher in the class. A structured plan of jobs by each member of a group to be done in a prescribed amount of time. There are many protocols. Some are strict while others are a little more lose. Each in its own way was a different way of attacking, fleshing out, deconstructing a problem, a question, a situation. Each scholar in each group has a specific task: recorder, timer, presenter, etc. They are assigned specific amounts of time devoted to each stage in each protocol. In each of my classes I'd adjust the time according to the total number of minutes I had in class. The students rotated jobs each new session. I used an old darkroom timer.

One of my favorite protocols has been the Final Word. This protocol is useful in assessing homework, introducing new material, and reviewing classwork. I use it often. Here is the procedure:



To expand the interpretation of one or more texts by encouraging the emergence of a variety of interests, viewpoints, and voices.


Unlimited number of groups of 3 to 5. Participants highlight passages that have special meaning for them. Copies of text have been distributed before or during meeting. Thirty to 60 minutes depending on group size and time available.


1. Introduction and selection. Facilitator explains all steps briefly. Text is read in advance if possible—time for review given in any case. Participants (as individuals) identify passages that have meaning for them.

2. Arrangement. Tight circles of 3 to 5 members are formed. The order of presentation for participants is established and a timekeeper is identified.

3. Presentation. First participant shares the selected passage and explains why it is meaningful. (2–3 minutes)

4. Reflecting back. Each listener in turn has 1 minute to reflect back on what they understand the presenter to have said about the passage and its personal significance.

5. Final word. First round ends with 1 minute for presenter to reflect on what has been said by others.

6. Round repeats. Each participant has a turn to start a new round as described in previous steps.

7. Written reflection. Following the completion of all rounds, participants write for 5 minutes and then share in a Go-Round (time permitting). Reflection prompts can include things learned from rounds, challenges and advantages of protocol, applications.

While the scholars are working, I'm able to move from group to group, to listen and to observe to what is happening in each group. I can keep notes for student conferences and for grading. The buzz of the classroom was healthy and good. All the scholars were engaged. The reports were animated and the scholars who were listening had good questions based on good listening and thinking. The classes were productive. They were scholar oriented and run and served as a good preparation for me as I moved into my computer classroom. These protocols were constructive in nature, scholar oriented, and introduced me to the notion of being the "guide by the side, not sage on the stage."

Here are some good resources:

Articles about Protocols

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