Speaking of the need for protocols….a few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend who decided to put a group of students in charge of selecting pieces for their annual student anthology last year. He imagined that these kids–true student leaders in every sense of the word–would be eager to share what they knew about the craft and the process of writing, serve as encouraging role models to their peers, and work collaboratively to identify stellar pieces of writing.

Only this isn’t what happened.

Much to my friend’s dismay, the kids who were given the power to approve submissions for the anthology began exercising that power pretty ruthlessly. Selection sessions quickly deviated away from criteria-based conversation about which pieces were strongest. Instead, they blossomed into judgment-driven ego-fests that served no one, including the judges themselves, very well. In the end, some of them decided to abandon their duties and leave the group because the conversations that took place there were so miserable to sit through.

When I asked my friend if he planned to disband the group, he said this wasn’t his intention. He had a different plan in mind for this year. He intended to train his students to use a meaningful protocol that would steer them away from their rush to judge and toward the criteria that could help them make meaningful selections that were less biased.

This entire conversation and his experiences gave me much food for thought.

I sometimes wonder if in our quest to help students grow, we focus on their deficits so often that this is what they think it means to teach. When my friend asked these students why they focused only on the weaknesses in each piece of writing submitted, one told him that he thought this was his job–to separate the wheat from the chafe. “If someone isn’t a good writer, we aren’t doing anyone any favors in letting them think so, after all,” he said.

My friend was mystified by the fact that these leaders had misconstrued their charge: they were asked to identify great pieces of writing for a student anthology. They were not asked to openly criticize anyone’s work. Yet, this is how they spent most of their time together.

Protocols can prevent this sort of thing from happening, particularly when teachers and students are trained to use them skillfully. I’m looking forward to seeing what this teacher-friend of mine puts into place. Do you use protocols with students? If so, which do you value most? Why?



  1. I was JUST talking to teachers about this today, in terms of using protocols for Peer Review and having them be metacognitive about their comments and less opinionated. This post is PERFECT timing. I can’t wait to share it with the teachers I’m working with tomorrow! (Actually–can I post a link to it on their wiki? I’d love for them to have access to it!) I also shared the Protocols book with their in-house Literacy Coach. She took it home tonight to read over. These protocols are great for kids AND adults and really help to set the tone and nature of appropriate feedback.

  2. Of course you can, Mike. Thanks–I appreciate your sharing. When it comes to peer review, I find it’s often helpful to make sure that everyone has the established criteria for what quality can look like in front of them. For example, when kids in Studio are participating in peer review around writer’s craft, we ask students to consider the criteria of the rubric to frame their feedback around the element they are considering. This enriches their understanding of the Traits, and it also helps them construct meaningful and criteria-specific feedback, I find. Our protocol is a modified version of what is used by Communities for Learning, and folks can take a peek at those resources here.

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