Preparing to Look at Student Work

Basic Protocol

Tuning Protocol

Atlas – Learning From Student Work

Examining Student Work: A Constructivist Protocol


It is beneficial for teams of teachers to look at student work together. Collaboration enables teachers to overcome their biases about students and to more effectively find evidence in student work to justify grading choices.  In addition, looking at student work collaboratively allows teachers to become more reflective about the ways in which they assess student work and it also provides an opportunity for schools to be more consistent in their expectations and grading.

Read about protocols.

What are Protocols?

Why use a protocol?

“A protocol creates a structure that makes it safe to ask challenging questions of each other; it also ensures that there is some equity and parity in terms of how each person’s issue is attended to. 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 a space for listening, and often give people a license to listen, without having to continually respond.  In schools, many people say that time is of the essence, and time is the one resource that no one seems to have enough of. We have been experimenting with protocols as a way to make the most of the time people do have. (Have you ever been to a meeting where you have a burning issue you want to discuss, and what happens is that everyone “dumps” his or her issue, and feeds off each other, but you walk away from the meeting feeling unsatisfied, not really having anything new of significance that will help you with your issue? A protocol guards against this.)

Finally, it is important to remember that the point is not to do the protocol well, but to have an in-depth, insightful conversation about teaching and learning.”

National School Reform Faculty available online 

Select an appropriate protocol for looking at student work. Decide which one is best based on the description below.

Basic Protocol

  1. What do you see? (10 minutes)

  1. What does this student know how to do? (10  minutes)

  1. What is the next thing this student needs to learn? (10 minutes)


  1. What will the teacher do to move the student along? (15 minutes)

Tuning Protocol

Developed by Joseph McDonald and David Allen

  1. Introduction (5 minutes)

  1. Presentation (15 minutes)

  1. Clarifying Questions (5 minutes)

  1. Examination of Student Work Samples (15 minutes)

  1. Pause to reflect on warm and cool feedback (2-3 minutes)

  1. Warm and Cool Feedback (15 minutes)

  1. Reflection (5 minutes)

  1. Debrief (5 minutes)


National School Reform Faculty available online

Atlas – Learning From Student Work

Revised November 2000 by Gene Thompson-Grove for NSRF

  1. Getting Started

Note:  Each of the next four steps should be about 10 minutes in length. The presenter is silent until the “Reflecting on the Process,” step 5.  The group should avoid talking to the presenter during steps 2-4.  It is sometimes helpful for the presenter to pull away from the table and take notes.

Note:  After the group becomes more familiar with this process for looking at student work, you may find it useful to hear the educator’s expectations.  However, this information will focus more of the group’s attention on the design of the assignment, the instruction, and the assessment, rather than on seeing what is actually present in the student’s work.

  1. Describing the Student Work

  1. Interpreting the Student Work

  1. Implications for Classroom Practice

_What steps could the teacher take next with this student?

_What teaching strategies might be most effective?

_ What else would you like to see in the student work? What kind of assignments or assessments could provide this information?

_What does this conversation make you think about in terms of your own practice? About teaching and learning in general?

  1. Reflecting on the ATLAS

  1. Debriefing the Process


National School Reform Faculty available online

Examining Student Work: A Constructivist Protocol

Examining Student Work Developed by Daniel Baron

What makes students and teachers really care about their work?  This self-assessment tool is aimed at generating new insights and increasing that investment.  The protocol can be used both for assessment and for planning, and it can be done individually or in groups.

  1. Students bring to class an example of the best work they have ever done.  The work can come from any source, medium, or setting.

  1. Students look carefully at their own work and come up with a list of three to five qualities they believe exist in the work and contribute to making it their best.

  1. The whole class brainstorms the qualities they found, then condense the list to three to five qualities everyone agrees are essential to good work.

  1. The teacher gives an assignment to the class, asking that students attempt to build those qualities into their work. Students should make five copies of their completed assignment.

  1. When the assignment is completed, small groups of three or four students look at each other’s work in search of evidence that the agreed-on qualities are present.  (The tuning protocol makes an excellent vehicle for the student to present such evidence.)


National School Reform Faculty available online