Protocols in the Classroom as Learning Strategies

By: David Paperno
Upper School Science

In many of the classrooms at the Mount VernonSchool, learning protocols are implemented in order to help facilitate student learning, promote discussion, provide new insights, and allow students to discover new ideas from a different perspective. Though not a new idea in education, protocols help students achieve success such as annotating text, building background knowledge, and thoroughly analyzing different readings. Classroom restrictions caused by Covid-19 have allowed teachers the opportunity to try new things in order to best help students learn.

Mount Vernon faculty have found that protocols, used both in a virtual classroom or in in-person settings, have helped students focus on the task at hand and find productivity. They also found that students worked more efficiently, both independently and collaboratively, This has also allowed classrooms to become more equitable by allowing equal sharing time for both those online and in-person.

In the STEM classrooms, students are utilizing the Final Word protocol to discuss their research and analysis of climate change while presenting a call to action for the global crisis. In this class, students researched different policies dealing with climate change throughout the world. In one of the major summative assessments for this class, students were tasked with designing a climate change policy for their chosen city. Student groups first selected a facilitator or time-keeper. Then a presenter from the group shared their project as well as what struck them the most from their research. The speaker shared for roughly three minutes, and once the presenter shared their initial thoughts, the group members responded in two minutes or less to the presentation. After the group members shared their ideas and feedback, the presenter took one more minute to respond to the group members with the “final word” about the presentation and discussion.

While using a protocol to establish classroom norms and create a more equitable learning space can be helpful, using protocols to share ideas does not come without some pitfalls. Initially, when introducing these learning strategies to students, some of the students may be reluctant to share. However, after an initial walk through of the protocol, students become much more comfortable since creating a learning community of trust and support inside of the classroom is part of the process. When providing feedback, some students felt they could not share everything that they would have liked to due to time constraints. This is easily remedied, however, by adjusting the amount of time that students have for each step in any given protocol. Another issue would arise if a student was unprepared for the discussion. Providing the framework ahead of time will allow students to actively participate and share their ideas, projects, or presentations.

When thinking about using a new protocol in the classroom, it is important to remember that some protocols work better than others, and it is oftentimes entirely dependent on the goal. Each protocol should allow students to follow a concise set of steps, time frame, and classroom norms (such as being respectful towards one another’s ideas). Overall, protocols also allow students to develop into advocates for their own learning.

Over the past year at Mount Vernon, the use of protocols has proven to be extremely beneficial. These strategies have helped facilitate student interaction and have made classrooms with both remote and in-person learners much more student centered. Students now, whether in-person or online, are much more comfortable talking with one another and sharing ideas. This has led to an increase in how many risks students are willing to take when sharing with one another as well as how much students take ownership of their own learning.

Additional Protocols used at Mount Vernon

By: Ben Potter
Upper School Humanities

1. Connect, Extend, Challenge is a great protocol especially with looking at primary resources.

Connect: “How do the ideas and information in the reading connect to what you already know about _________?”

Extend: “How does this reading extend or broaden your understanding of ____________? What new questions does it raise for you?

Challenge: “Does this reading challenge or complicate your understanding of _________? What new questions does it raise for you?”

By: Lower School Teachers

2. Concept/Thought Mapping
Often used as a great learning strategy, thought or concept mapping can also be used as a brainstorming strategy especially at the beginning of a design thinking challenge. 

  • Write an idea or concept that you want to brainstorm in the center of your writable surface and draw a circle around it. Begin generating ideas that are related to the original word and capture each new one in its own circle with a connected line back to the center. Go for volume! This can be done individually or in a team of students.
  • Now switch maps. Have individuals or teams add on to other groups’ maps to increase the number of ideas generated.

By: Meg Brooks
Upper School Humanities

3. The 4C’s: Concepts, Connections, Challenges, and Changes -.This scaffolds the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – comprehension to analysis to application – in a way that is accessible for students. It’s also really flexible in terms of implementation. Students talk through the 4 C’s with a partner and then share out to the class. It can also be used as an individual formative assessment in written form. This can be adapted for virtual students using break out rooms, or even the chat feature, and could easily be adapted for any discipline.

By: Larissa Pender-Healy
Upper School STEM

4. Claim – Evidence – Reasoning – a great protocol to support students making connections with science concepts.

Start with a question. The student’s response should consist of 3 parts:

  • Claim – A one-sentence statement that answers the question without any reasoning or evidence. The sentence should not include the word, “because.”
  • Evidence – The student then provides data that directly supports the statement made. This can either quantitative or qualitative.
  • Reasoning – this part explains the “why and how” of how the data supports the claim. This should include the big-picture concepts that produced the data and evidence.

By: Dave Leflar
Middle School Humanities

5. Collaborative Assessment Conference – a great tool to evaluate not only mastery but all discover a student’s strengths, interests and struggles. Originally created for teachers to work together to evaluate a student’s work, this can be used with a group of students evaluating a completed project by another student or group of students.

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