The Power of Protocols in Facilitating Learning

Students having a conversation sitting around a computer

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:

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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: