Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, and Collaborate
reviewed by Raquel Wood - May 10, 2019
Title: Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, and Collaborate
Author(s): David Allen, Tina Blythe, Alan Dichter, & Terra Lynch
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775904X, Pages: 160, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com
At first glance, the target audience for Protocols in the Classroom appears to be new teachers as it distinctly walks through how to plan and implement protocols in the classroom. While this audience will greatly benefit from reading this book, they are not the only ones who will find it useful. Integrated into each of the three sections are ideas, approaches, and examples that add something new to the concept of protocols and can help more experienced teachers reexamine their use of them. However, the cognitive and reflective work done while reading may look quite different for each audience. For those who may not be familiar with classroom protocols, the book can open a new and exciting system of teaching as they explore the guided plans for introducing protocols into the classroom. For those who may already use classroom protocols, parts of the book may cover ideas that they already know, and they will have to do a bit more work reflecting on their practices, what may or may not be working, and then search for those elements that they might incorporate into their protocols.
The book is divided into three sections that build upon each other, moving the reader from the concept of protocols and background information to the protocols themselves, and finally to how to adapt protocols and distinguish them from other dialogic practices. The first section, Getting Going with Protocols, helps the reader establish foundational knowledge about protocols and how they differ from a question-answer style discussion. These distinctions are what make protocols recognizable and unique, something that teachers often forget when lesson planning. The model of classroom protocol created by the authors moves beyond planning discussion questions and instead aims to make the learning process something more purposeful, transparent, collaborative, and active. Moreover, the protocol is not only about learning the content being discussed, but is also an opportunity to cultivate habits of mind such as listening with understanding and empathy, thinking and communicating with clarity, clarifying thinking, being open to learning, managing impulsivity, and questioning. The authors point out that it is important to know more than the plan for the discussion; a teacher must also know their students, understand their learning needs, and then know which protocols to select and adapt. While this may seem simple conceptually, some may not take the additional steps of integrating goals and activities that go beyond developing content knowledge.
The second section, The Protocols, introduces 11 unique protocols that can be used to help students (a) reflect individual and group learning styles, preferences, and expectations; (b) explore, develop, and reflect on questions; and (c) give and receive feedback. While there are a couple example protocols in each category, the majority of them were centered on exploring questions, which left me wanting more examples. As for the protocol descriptions, the reader is walked through each one, beginning with a general description of the protocol then moving onto the planning. This includes the purpose, habits cultivated, timeline, preparation, a step-by-step guide for how to facilitate the protocol, and an example of a real case of the protocol being used in the classroom. What is unique about the structure in this section is that it clearly lays out the protocol information so that the reader walks through a description of what they will be doing, a well-structured plan for how to do it, and what this actually looks like in a real setting. This will be very helpful for new teachers who are learning to create lesson plans and develop new content activities. While the step-by-step template may not be as helpful for more experienced teachers, there could nevertheless be some new steps or approaches that they may find helpful.
While it would be easy to stop with the templates and let teachers discover for themselves how to adapt them or make them more impactful in the classroom, the authors took it one step further by focusing on how a teacher can make the protocols and facilitation better. The third section, Getting Better with Protocols, helps the reader build on their existing knowledge of how protocols work in the classroom to address possible challenges, link them to other classroom activities, and help fine-tune the protocols to make them more beneficial to students. They begin by stressing the importance of debriefing with students so that they have an opportunity to better understand what they were doing and how that contributed to their learning. Beyond helping students understand what they are doing to facilitate their own learning, it is also important to document what learning is actually occurring since the protocols are mostly discussion-based. Helping students take a meta-learning approach in which they understand and capture their own learning can take a bit more structured guidance, which often comes with more classroom experience. While that is not to say that one must have experience for this section to be meaningful, I believe that these other considerations are what will appeal to teachers with experience. It can help them build on what they may be doing in their classrooms already, linking different protocols and activities, or possibly introduce an element that has been missing from their practices.
Overall, the book has something for everyone, regardless of their amount of experience in the classroom. It introduces concepts and strategies that will help facilitate classroom discussions and activities that are transparent, collaborative, and aimed at cultivating skills and knowledge that go beyond course content.