Using the Microlab protocol in my high school History class

Guest post by Deb Christenson

Teachers are so lucky! We get two new year’s celebrations each year: the traditional beginning of a new calendar year in January AND the start of a new school year in September. As a reflective practitioner, I’m thinking about both right now.

Every year, on the first day of my 11th grade history class, the lesson plan is a Microlab protocol. In triads, students respond to questions about how they define a learning community, what they are excited about as they start a new year, their goals for the course, and, my favorite question: “what is the relationship between collaboration and learning?” We debrief their conversations and, in addition to the suggested debrief questions in the protocol, I ask them what they learned about themselves, their peers, and me through the use of the protocol. My students identify that listening to one another and learning from each other will be central to the course. They seem to understand that lesson in an intuitive way and from prior experiences, but often wonder what their triad conversation means about me, their teacher.

What does it mean when teachers use NSRF protocols with students?

In so many ways, the goals and meaning of adult work in Critical Friends Group communities is mirrored when protocols are used with students. Protocols become another tool for learning. Protocols establish equity of voice in conversation; all voices are heard, not just the dominant extroverted voices; collaboration builds trust among students. Students learn that the classroom is safe to take risks. That’s one of the answers I share when students are not quite sure what to say to that first day question about what a Microlab tells them about me.

Here, in this classroom, we will listen to each other; we will learn from each other. Every day, we will look at primary documents, think critically about that evidence and collaborate to make intellectual rigor and risk-taking safe for every voice. That’s the power of protocols!

Guest post by Deb Christenson,  Senior Institute History Teacher/Advisor at Wildwood School in Los Angeles, California. She has been a National Facilitator for NSRF since 2009 and a CFG coach since 2002. She will be co-facilitating an open training for new Critical Friends Group coaches at Wildwood in July 2019 — check this link for details: