A Review of Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, and Collaborate

One of the funny things about parenting as an educator is that often, your children teach you a great deal about things you think you already know a few things about. Take, for instance, protocols.

“We’re doing these things called modules in my English class,” my daughter Nina explained over dinner one autumn evening at the beginning of her eighth grade year. And I’ll admit, my stomach clenched. I wasn’t well acquainted with the New York State English Language Arts curriculum modules at that point, but I’d heard enough grousing to pique my interest, and this made me even more eager to hear her opinion.

“I kind of love them,” she said.

I asked why.

“It’s the way we talk to one another in our groups,” she told me. “You know how when teachers put you in groups and one person does all the work and the others screw around or just put their heads down or whatever? Yeah, well that’s not happening anymore.”

“It’s the protocols,” I told my husband later that night. “They change everything. That curriculum is packed with them.”

I’ve been a long time supporter of the use of protocols for all kinds of learning purposes. I was first introduced to them through my participation in a professional learning community faciltiated by Dr. Giselle Martin Kniep in Albany, New York. The work that I began there evolved into something different and something more, and I found myself remaining connected to her and others much like her as a fellow of Communities for Learning: Leading Lasting Change for several years. Here, my understanding of what protocols were and how they could shape the culture of a community became deeper and more refined.

When I founded the WNY Young Writers’ Studio in the spring of 2008, I was determined to bring the best of what I was learning about protocols to the children and teachers who were a part of that organization. Peer review became the bedrock of our thinking, learning, and work, and each session that I facilitated included protocols that helped us understand text, challenge one another’s thinking, elevate our own writing, and provide better feedback.

So, when Terra Lynch told me she was co-authoring a new book on this topic, I put it at the top of my wish list.

I received my copy of Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, and Collaborate over the summer, and I’ve read it cover to cover several times since. Now that my new year has started and I’m finding myself facilitating lesson studies inside of classrooms and workshops for teachers, I’m putting much of what I’ve learned into practice and documenting my learning along the way.

I’ll begin blogging about this tomorrow.

In the mean time, here’s my quick review of this essential text that I truly feel every educator should own: It’s a powerful primer for those who are not yet acquainted with protocols and a guide for experienced practitioners who are eager to improve their own practices. I appreciate the fact that Allen, Blythe, Dichter, and Lynch include a few of the basic protocols that have served our field so well, but what inspired me most was their attention to other essential details. For instance, protocols can be tricky to facilitate well, and the authors do such a beautiful job of helping readers anticipate potential glitches and plan proactively. This book goes far beyond the basics for those of us who are eager to understand how one protocol compares to another or to other approaches we’ve tried in recent years. As I read, I found myself reflecting on my own experiences facilitating protocols and appreciating the troubleshooting tips provided.  I found myself eager to try a few new things, too. I’m glad that I have.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been leading curriculum and assessment design sessions with K-12 English Language Arts teachers and the administrators who support them. I’ve also been doing week-long lesson studies in K-5 writing workshops and middle school classrooms as well. This work will continue into next week. Each experience has been powered, at least to some degree, by the protocols I encountered in this great little book.

I hope you’ll drop by to have a closer look at this work and how it unfolded as I share it over the next series of posts. If you plan to do that, please leave me a comment, and let me know. Everyone who does will be in the running to win a copy of the book. I’ll draw a name from the list of those who leave a message3 here next Friday, October 26th.

This one is definitely worth your time, all.

I’m excited to share how its influencing my work.

3 Comments

  1. Ordered it. Trust you! Love ❤️

  2. Lynnette Werner says:

    I’m very interested to learn how I can use protocols in my Grade 2 classroom beyond those that I use for number talks and partner picture talks. I’ve used protocols in my previous work as an Instructional Program Leader (e.g., Collaborative Analysis of Student Work, CILM) but haven’t really thought through the use of protocols in the classroom. Excited to learn!

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