Lecturer Sarah Leibel finds protocols to be invaluable teaching tools that can serve to promote equity, supply structure, and infuse energy into the classroom. She notes, “Protocols can really democratize a space, ensuring that everyone has a voice and has access to the conversation.” She finds that protocols scaffold conversations such that they unfold in an efficient manner that allows students to interact with readings and each other in deeper ways. Leibel also appreciates the way that certain protocols get students up and moving. “I want to build community quickly in the room, have many different people interact, and have many ideas surface.”
Leibel recommends developing a go-to set of protocols to use consistently throughout a course so that students become familiar with them and can jump right into the activity. Starting from the learning objectives, she selects a protocol that will serve her purpose. She almost always modifies it to fit the particular needs of the class session, and she makes sure to convey clearly to students the protocol’s key aspects such that they know the “rules, roles, turns, and time”—language about group learning that she learned from HGSE Adjunct Lecturer Rhonda Bondie.
Among Leibel’s favorites is the Final Word, a text-based protocol that supports students in engaging deeply with key passages. Individuals are first given a few minutes to select a passage that fits a given prompt, ranging from a general “whatever was most important to you” to a specific “something that connects to this part of today’s learning objective.” They then form groups of 3-4, with one student leading off by reading their passage and briefly sharing why it stood out. Moving around the circle, each student responds to the passage and the initial presenter’s thoughts, keeping comments under one minute in length. Once all group members have spoken, the presenter gets the final word: a chance to react to the comments and share how his/her thinking may have evolved in response. Other group members then take turns presenting their passages, following the same Final Word protocol. While these discussions unfold, Leibel sees her role as “looking, listening, and circulating,” gathering tidbits from small group discussions with the goal of sharing individual student voices with the whole class. She uses this opportunity for formative assessment, homing in on what students do and do not understand. Leibel closes the activity with a crisp, clear share-out that surfaces connections groups have made to the major ideas of the text.