Preparing to Write a Synthesis Essay Day 2: Group Consultancy Protocol

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SWBAT use multiple sources in learning how to synthesize information for entering a discourse about a given topic by a presentation and discussion with peers.

Big Idea

Discussing complicated topics with peers can open up new avenues of discourse.


Today students will participate in a modified version of a group consultancy protocol developed for use in professional learning communities from the National School Reform Faculty website (  I've used these protocols a number of times in the past with great success; they are not unlike group activities often done in classrooms or in faculty meetings, but they have a bit more structure that yields more rigorous discourse.  Besides having students spend a few days developing topics for writing a synthesis essay, I also want to teach students how to prepare for and engage in rigorous academic discourse.  There are always a few kids who are adept at thinking on their feet in an academic way and comfortable enough to share those thoughts, but most are not yet at that point.  By having students come in having read and responded in writing to their peers' topic summaries and questions, everyone will be on a relatively level playing field.  Additionally, the time restrictions for the protocol and requirements for specific roles in the activity also allow for maximum participation, and show students how to engage in group conversations in this manner.

To assure that students have a strong learning experience, I will model the protocol with the class first, so they have a sense of how it works (because there are twelve in the class, I will model it with the whole class; if the class was bigger, I'd ask for volunteers before hand and model in a fishbowl format).

Finally, the last fifteen minutes will be dedicated to having students reflect on the process in their journals.

Model Consultancy Protocol

15 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Modeling

Before students workshop their topics for the synthesis essay in the consultancy protocol, I want to take the time to model the protocol so they can get a strong sense of how the process should go, and also the level of rigor expected in the process.  I will present an issue to the class that I have prepared (that I'm confident no student would choose).  They took my summary (Synthesis problem model.docx) along with their group members' summaries home and were required to read them and respond in note form to the questions (Synthesis prep instructions.docx).  This work was to teach students how to prepare for group discussions, and also to make sure all students have had some time to think about the issues before hand and have responses; it is the unusual student who is good at responding to rigorous and complex issues like the ones they are working with in the moment, and to have instant access to all the materials they've read the last two weeks.  So, after I've read my summary and questions, I will ask the class to ask any clarifying questions (I may write these on the board if I feel like a visual model makes sense, and also may offer some additional questions if I feel like more need to be modeled than the ones the students present).

After the clarifying questions, I will tell the group that at this point I, as the presenter, will slide back with notebook in hand, and listen as the rest of the group discusses my topic and questions, and act as facilitator to keep the discussion on task.  The students will go ahead and discuss the topic for a few minutes and I will facilitate as necessary, including asking for references to the texts from the class (since one of the goals is specifically to use multiple sources to synthesize information), to model the discussion portion.  Once I feel like the students understand the process, they will break into their small groups and begin the process with their own work.


Consultancy Protocol

45 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Complex Tasks

After I have modeled the expectations for the Consultancy Protocol to workshop the education issue they plan to write about in their synthesis essay, they will break into groups to work on their own essay plans.

Students will work in groups of 4 (I will create the groups to make sure their is equity in the discussions, including at least one student who has stronger leadership qualities).  The students will follow the instructions outlined on the second page of the consultancy protocol instructions: Consultancy protocol instructions.pdf. One student will be the presenter, and there will also be a timekeeper in the group.  The presenter will take no more than five minutes to present their team with an overview of their topic, and frame one to three questions regarding the issue that they would like the group to address.

After the presentation, the other members of the team will ask clarifying questions of the presenter.

Once all questions have been asked, the presenter will remain silent as the group members discuss the issue and questions of the presenter (the presenter will move their chair slightly back so they can comfortably listen to the conversation).  They will also have to make specific references to texts read in class as they discuss the topic.  This discussion will last no more than ten minutes.

At the end of the discussion, the presenter will "return" to the group, ask questions about what he or she heard, and summarize the discussion.  At this point, all members can talk as part of an open discussion.  This will last for about five minutes.

Once all the steps have been completed, a new presenter will take their turn in the process.

As groups engage in this, I will circulate to listen to the discussions, though I will only intervene if the group is really off task--I am more listening to get a sense of what the issues are, and how rigorous the preparation and discussion is.  If I intervene too much in this kind of protocol, it takes away the ownership of the students--we've done a lot of preparation for this, so I want the students to really take the reigns and fight through some dead time to learn how to have this kind of rigorous academic discourse.  I will also watch the time; we are not likely to get through all the discussions, and I want to leave some time for written reflection, so I will make sure the groups don't start a new session with too little time left in class (fifteen minutes or so).

Free-Writing: Reflection on Discussion

20 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Student- Self Assessment

Even though all of the students won't be presenters today, I think its important for them to debrief; even if they weren't a presenter, they probably will have some new ideas for their own topic.  Given this, students will free-write in their journals about the process itself, and also about their topic and new insights they may have.  This will give me another way to assess where they are with their topics, and also how well this protocol works (since I've never tried it before!).  Students who presented will write about their experience, as well as new ideas they have now that they've listened to their peers' discussion.  The students who weren't presenters will likely have some new ideas about their own topics based on the discussions (I will state this to them as part of the instructions), so they too are to write new ideas they might have regarding their essay topics.  Additionally, I will ask that all of the students reflect on the process--what they thought of the protocol, if it seemed helpful, and how they might improve it.  This could give me some good additional feedback for the future.