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PCM Text-Based Protocols

Protocols: Background Information

What are protocols?

A protocol consists of agreed upon guidelines for a conversation, and it is the existence of this structure -- which everyone understands and has agreed to -- that permits a certain kind of professional and productive conversation to occur.

As such, protocols become vehicles for building the skills and culture necessary for collaborative work. Put another way, using protocols often allows groups to build trust by actually doing substantive work together.

Protocols were originally designed by the Annenberg Schools to assess student work.  Currently, they are being used by the same organization and others to evaluate and assess the complex process of teaching and learning.

Why use a protocol?

A protocol creates a structure that: (1) makes it safe to ask challenging questions of each other, and (2) ensures that there is some equity and parity in terms of how each person’s issues are attended. The presenter has the opportunity not only to reflect on and describe an issue or a dilemma, but also to have interesting questions asked of him or her, AND to gain differing perspectives and new insights. Protocols build in time for listening, and often give people a license to listen, without having to continuously respond.

Protocols also make efficient use of time.  In schools, many people say that time is of the essence.  Thus, protocols-- which are a set of guidelines with specific time allocations -- are a way to make the most of the time that people do have.

What does a typical protocol look like?

A small group of teachers and/or administrators gather in a circle or around a table.  Different protocols require different group sizes, ranging from 6-12 members.  One member has brought samples of his or her students’ work or a lesson to present. A facilitator gets the discussion going and makes sure that the guidelines and agenda for the protocol are followed. The protocol specifies that time be allotted for different purposes, which may include asking a focusing question, presenting the instructional context (or standards) for the student work, description of the student work, asking clarifying questions, asking “probing” questions, providing feedback on the work, reflecting on the feedback, etc. The protocol may last from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. A listing of different protocols ( will provide readers with a clear idea of the variety of guided conversations that are available to practitioners.

Text-Based Discussion Protocol

The text-based discussion format is one that can be used by practitioners who want to develop a deeper understanding of any text, including the Parallel Curriculum Model.  The procedure for this protocol is described below.


The purpose of this protocol is the understanding of a text.  It is not designed to achieve a common, particular, or "right" understanding, but rather a deeper understanding of the author’s meaning.


  1. Facilitator: Participant who is responsible for keeping time.
  2. Recorder:  The recorder will record information as the discussion proceeds and will organize information as it related to the initiating question. The recorder does not participate in the discussion.

Protocol Guidelines

  1. Listen actively.
  2. Build on what others say.
  3. Silences and pauses are legitimate.
  4. Let the conversation flow as much as possible without using hands or using a speaker list.
  5. Make the assumptions underlying comments as explicit as possible.
  6. Emphasize clarification, amplification, and the implication of ideas.
  7. Watch your own air time, both in terms of how often you speak and how much you say when you speak.
  8. Refer to the ext and challenge others to go to the text.


Step 1 (5 minutes)

  1. Facilitator selects a text (e.g., whole article, chapter, chapter section) and targets the initial, overarching question to the group. With respect to the Parallel Curriculum Model distance learning opportunity, many questions are listed on the PowerPoint slides and accompanying notes.  The group is then given time to look at the text with the question in mind.
  2. Participants may underline or highlight sections that are important to their understanding of the text as it related to the question.

Step 2 (45 minutes)

  1. Participants discuss the text in an open forum, using the ground rules as a basis for monitoring their participation.
  2. Each speaker should indicate the page and paragraph before beginning to read the passage aloud.  The text should be referenced often when reading.
  3. During Step 2, the goal of the discussion is to challenge their understanding of what the author says in order to develop a deeper understanding.

Step 3 (10 minutes)

  1. The recorder debriefs the process by restating the initial question and summarizing the running record of the conversation.
  2. The entire group discusses the new learning (1) about the text and (2) use of the protocol.


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