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by Lois Brown Easton
Table of Contents
The protocols in this chapter are especially useful for examining student work, which usually leads to considering the professional practice that affected the work. The following protocols are featured:
Source: Joseph McDonald, David Allen, and others; the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), which grants permission for its use.
Overview: This is the classic protocol upon which most of the others are based. It is also the most frequently used protocol for examining student work. The Tuning Protocol features time for the presenter to talk while participants are silent, and time for the participants to talk while the presenter is silent. It provides three levels of depth: presentation, participant discussion, and presenter reflection, finalized by a general debriefing that can extend the conversation.
Other Uses: This protocol can be used for examining teacher/educator practice; classroom, school, district, and other policies and practice; and plans, proposals, or ideas that are fairly well thought out and represented in written form.
Number of Participants: 8–10 participants, a presenter, and a facilitator
Time Required: Typically 1 hour; can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours
Steps (suggested times based on a 60-minute session):
Step 1: Introduction (first time only, 5 minutes)
Step 2: Presentation (15 minutes)
Step 3: Clarifying Questions (5 minutes)
Step 4: Individual Writing (5 minutes). Both the presenter and the participants write about the presentation, addressing the key question(s). This step helps each participant focus and have something to say during the participant discussion.
Step 5: Participant Discussion (15 minutes)
Step 6: Presenter Reflection (15 minutes)
Step 7: Debriefing (5 minutes)
Note: Ultimately, the person/group in charge of a particular step in the protocol is in charge of moving the process along, as well. When that person/group has no more to say, then that person/group can announce that it's all right to move to the next step.
Tips for the Facilitator: It might be helpful for participants to address the protocol process midway through the participant discussion. At that point, the facilitator may ask participants to assess how they are doing on the following:
Source: This protocol is a variation on The Descriptive Review of a Child by Pat Carini at the Prospect Center in Bennington, Vermont, for reflecting on students and their work, as described by Kelly (1996). This protocol is also based on ideas from Marilyn Wentworth and others at The Fulton Academy of Geographic and Life Sciences and Fort Pitt Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Vanessa Turpin, Trish Rygalski, and Jerome Morris of the Summer 1997 CFG Coaches Training Workshop; Steve Hoffman of the Alternative Community School in Ithaca, New York; and Steve Strull of DuSable High School in Chicago.
Overview: This protocol is very similar to the Tuning Protocol, except for the participant discussion, which consists of three rounds. During the first round, participants simply describe what they've seen in the student work examined. During the second round, participants reach some conclusions or generalizations about what they have described. During the third and final round, participants base a set of recommendations (both cool and warm in nature) on what they have concluded and generalized from the second round. Note that the descriptions in the first round of discussion should be objective. It is often hard for educators to describe rather than evaluate a work.
Other Uses: This protocol can also be used to understand a student through his or her work; in fact, this was the purpose of the Descriptive Review of a Child, on which this protocol is based.
Number of Participants: 8–10 participants, a presenter, and a facilitator. This protocol can also be done with multiple concurrent groups, each with its own presenter and facilitator, or with one presenter and multiple concurrent groups.
Time Required: Typically 45 minutes to 1 hour
Step 2: Presentation (10 minutes)
Step 5: Participant Discussion (15 minutes). The participants move through the following rounds. If possible, a recorder writes what participants say on chart paper. The presenter remains silent and takes notes throughout.
During the participant discussion, the facilitator may also help the participants to stick to nonevaluative descriptions in the first round, and base both generalizations and recommendations on these descriptions. If participants make generalizations or recommendations that are not based on previously made descriptions, the facilitator should encourage them to come up with relevant descriptions.
Tips for the Facilitator: One of the best activities the facilitator can engage participants in before starting this protocol is practice with description. For example, the facilitator could start by asking participants to describe the room they are in. If a participant says, "It's crowded," the facilitator could gently point out that this is a generalization. Participants should simply describe the size of the room, its furnishings, the number of people in it, and so forth before concluding that it's crowded. Similarly, if participants say that the room is cold, they should first establish the temperature; if they volunteer that the room is noisy, they should first describe all the noises in the room. As further practice, they might then try describing a piece of student work that is not being used for the protocol.
Source: In 1996, the Bush Educational Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota worked with the Prairieville, Minnesota, school district to create the Vertical Slice (also known as the Minnesota Slice), which it used to capture student data for use in analyzing the purposes of education. Variations on this process include the Albuquerque Slice, created by school coaches from the National School Reform Faculty of the Annenberg Institute for the 1996 Fall Forum of the Coalition of Essential Schools; the Longfellow Slice; the Columbus Family Academy Slice; the "Day in the Life" Slice; the South Bend Slice; and the Hempstead Slice.
Overview: This protocol focuses on an examination of all the student work produced during a narrow time period by a sample of students in a particular school or district.
Other Uses: The Vertical Slice Protocol can be used for a variety of purposes, depending entirely on what the group engaged in the slice wants to know. It can be used to help educators understand students' perceptions of the school, some aspect of a problem or issue, how rigorous classroom work is, how interdisciplinary curriculum functions, and so forth.
Number of Participants: Any number of people can participate in this protocol, but groups of 20 or more might work better if broken into groups of 10 or so. If groups are broken up, it is important for them to consolidate their learning. The Vertical Slice can involve a single grade level or adjacent grade levels; subject area teachers; an entire school staff, including counselors and administrators; educators across schools, alongside district administrators; and parents and community members.
Time Required: Typically 1–2 hours for the planning meeting and 3–4 hours for analysis.
Part 1—Planning Meeting: The planning meeting involves either the entire group that will be participating in analysis or a representative group. The steps for the planning meeting are as follows:
Step 1: Determining the Purpose of the Slice (up to 15 minutes)
Step 2: Determining a Guiding Question Related to the Purpose of the Slice (up to 15 minutes)
Step 3: Determining How Student Work Is to Be Obtained (up to 15 minutes). Each group will need to think of its own needs and design its own type of student work to collect. Here are some examples:
Step 4: Identifying Other Aspects of the Work to Be Collected (up to 15 minutes).
These aspects include the following:
Step 5: Deciding on the Duration of the Slice (up to 15 minutes). Although slices usually consist of a day's worth of work, consider collecting during a particular hour or a certain period of the day; alternatively, consider examining work that has been collected over a longer period of time (a week, for example) and then randomly selected for the analysis. Be careful not to collect too much work.
Step 6: Attending to the Logistics of the Collection Process (up to 15 minutes)
Step 7: Determining How the Analysis Will Be Conducted (up to 15 minutes). Will participants scan all of the material and then focus on representative pieces? Will the dialogue be Socratic? Will groups be large or small?
Step 8: Determining Questions to Ask During the Protocol (up to 15 minutes). Here are some examples from the National School Reform Faculty ("Sample Sets of Questions for School/Grade Level Slice," n.d.):
Part 2—Analysis (suggested times based on a 130-minute session):
Step 1: Preparation (up to 15 minutes). The facilitator establishes norms, facilitates introductions, and explains the process.
Step 2: Examining the Work (up to 50 minutes). Participants examine the work and take notes in silence. Small groups may examine different blocks of evidence in order to cover all the work presented.
Step 3: Discussion (up to 90 minutes)
Step 4: Framing Answers (up to 55 minutes). The whole group works together to frame some answers to the guiding question and to questions designed during the planning process.
Step 5: Debriefing (up to 15 minutes). The facilitator leads the whole group in debriefing. What have participants learned through this process, and why? What could be improved? The group identifies potential next steps for deepening the student work related to the guiding questions.
Critical Element: Guiding questions that are clear and focused. The questions under Step 8 of the first part of the process are clear and focused.
Tips for the Facilitator: This is a complex protocol and succeeds to the extent that it has been well prepared for. The facilitator needs help from individuals or groups, such as a representative design team, to plan the protocol so that its results are meaningful. The facilitator needs logistical support to make sure the process is smooth and efficient.
Source: Steve Seidel, Director of Project Zero at Harvard, devised this protocol for a group of educators that gathered each weekend to look at student work. The protocol is described in Blythe, Allen, and Powell (1997) and McDonald, Mohr, Dichter, and McDonald (2003).
Overview: This protocol is unique because it does not feature information about context (assignment, classroom, student, etc.) at the beginning; instead, participants are encouraged to look at the work by itself. Steve Seidel describes the four main purposes of the protocol as follows:
The first is to enhance teachers' perceptions of all their students' work by honing the teachers' perceptual skills. A second is to encourage depth of perception by demonstrating all that can be seen in a single student's work. A third is to encourage a balance in perception—the habit of looking for strength as well as need. The assumption behind this purpose is that a teacher can address need only by building on strength. A fourth purpose is to encourage conversation among teachers about what the work shows and how they can act individually and collectively on what it shows in order to benefit their students. (McDonald et al., 2003, p. 77)
The National School Reform Faculty elaborates on the key ideas behind the protocol ("Collaborative Assessment Conference," n.d.):
First, students use school assignments, especially open-ended ones, to tackle important problems in which they are personally interested. Sometimes these problems are the same ones that the teacher has assigned them to work on, sometimes not.
Second, we can only begin to see and understand the serious work that students undertake if we suspend judgment long enough to look carefully and closely at what is actually in the work rather than what we hope to see in it.
Third, we need the perspective of others—especially those who are not intimate with our goals for our students—to help us to see aspects of the student and the work that would otherwise escape us, and we need others to help us generate ideas about how to use this information to shape our daily practice. (pp. 3–4)
Number of Participants: 5–15 participants, a presenter, and a facilitator
Time Required: 45–90 minutes
Steps (suggested times based on an 85-minute session):
Step 1: Introduction (5 minutes). The facilitator makes sure that everyone knows everyone else and explains the protocol, including the suggested time for each step.
Step 2: Sharing the Work (5 minutes). The presenter shares the student work with the participants but says nothing about the piece, the conditions under which it was produced, or the student.
Step 3: Examining the Work (10 minutes). Participants silently examine and take notes on the work.
Step 4: Describing the Work (10 minutes)
Step 5: Raising Questions (10 minutes)
Step 6: Speculation (10 minutes)
Step 7: Presenter Reflection (10 minutes)
Step 8: Implications of the Work (15 minutes)
Step 9: Debriefing (10 minutes). The facilitator invites the whole group to debrief the experience—both the content of the conference as well as the process—after thanking the presenter and offering him or her a chance to reflect.
Critical Elements: Participants may have difficulty sticking to nonevaluative descriptions of the work and may need help rephrasing their comments. Similarly, they may be unsure about what kinds of questions they can raise; almost any question about the work, its context, or the student is appropriate. Finally, it is extremely important for participants to see beyond the particular student and work being examined to general teaching and learning strategies.
Tips for the Facilitator: The facilitator plays a very active role in this protocol; steps 4–6 in particular require the facilitator to provide prompts and probably examples. The facilitator may need to have participants practice making nonevaluative descriptions before the process begins by surveying the room (see the tips for the facilitator under the Rounds Protocol) or analyzing a piece of writing or artwork.
The facilitator may also need to reassure participants that they can, indeed, do this protocol without knowing the context of the student work.
MacDonald and colleagues (2003) suggest that facilitators also need to "press participants to go deeply into the work, to raise more questions and make more speculations collectively than any one member imagined possible" (p. 79). Facilitators need to help participants surmount superficiality. For example, when asked what a student seems to be working on, a participant might say, "a math problem." The facilitator should prod the speaker to think about the learning the student is going through to do the math problem.
Although some approximate times are given above, the facilitator must have a keen sense of when a group is finished and ready to move on or needs to stay on a step and push thinking deeper.
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