Protocols are tools that can be used to facilitate learning in formal or informal settings, whether it be a class on executive function strategies or a meeting with the purpose of product brainstorming.
Developed by school reformers in the 1990s, protocols consist of a set of agreed-upon guidelines for conversation that groups use when exploring ideas. According to EL Education (link opens in new tab/window), using protocols as a routine of every independent reading time, discussion, or collaboration will allow students to learn effectively and develop the habit of taking responsibility for their own learning.
The Pros of Protocols
Protocols have many benefits because they teach important skills such as:
- Giving and receiving safe and honest feedback
- Analyzing complex problems carefully without rushing to judgment
- Grounding interpretations of complex texts on evidence
Ready to Give Protocols a Try?
Here are four of our favorite protocols:
- Carousel Brainstorm(link opens in new tab/window): Students are divided into four groups and walk around the room to respond to open-ended prompts together on poster paper.
- Fishbowl(link opens in new tab/window): A small group of students discusses a topic while the rest of the class observes the process or takes turns entering the “fishbowl” to participate.
- Tuning Protocol(link opens in new tab/window): One or more students share an artifact of work to be discussed and the other students provide warm and cool feedback.
- Think-Pair-Share(link opens in new tab/window): Students take time to individually reflect on their response before sharing it with one other student. Pairs report on their conversations to the larger group.
Drawbacks and Suggestions
Common criticisms of protocols are that they may have too much structure and lead to limits in creativity and organic conversations. Additionally, protocols could unintentionally reinforce inequities in participation in a group discussion if someone constantly dominates the discussion. In these cases, the facilitator or teacher can modify the protocol to address the needs of students and the activity.
Remember to Reflect
Reflections at the end of a protocol allow students to develop their metacognitive skills. Encourage small groups or the entire class to reflect by asking, What worked well? What might we do differently the next time? Through using protocols and carving out time for reflection, educators can help students elevate their ability to think critically and shift flexibly.
- Andrea Foo, SMARTS Intern
SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org
Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org
The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org