The Protocol for Language Arts Teaching Observation (PLATO)
What is PLATO?
The Protocol for Language Arts Teaching Observations (PLATO) is a classroom observation protocol designed to capture features of English/Language Arts (ELA) instruction. It was originally developed for a study of the relationship between teachers' classroom practices and their impact on student achievement. It is currently being used as a professional development tool to support teachers' use of rigorous, research-based teaching practices. PLATO is designed to work across a variety of curricula and instructional approaches.
Structure of PLATO
The PLATO protocol covers 4 instructional domains- Disciplinary Demand of Classroom Talk & Activity, Contextualizing and Representing Content, Instructional Scaffolding, and Classroom Environment- and 13 elements of instruction identified by research on adolescent literacy and effective instruction in ELA. Each element is scored separately on a 1-4 scale. Because the elements are designed to capture different aspects of ELA instruction, teachers are not expected to score high on every element for every 15-minute segment. In addition, PLATO captures the content of instruction (writing, reading, literature, grammar, etc.) and activity structures (whole group, small group, independent work, etc.) for each 15 minute segment.
Scoring with PLATO
PLATO is designed to be used over multiple segments of instruction in each lesson; each observation cycle captures 15 minutes of instruction. PLATO focuses on the classroom experience of the "average" student, and tries to weigh the balance of evidence across a segment in scoring each element.
Raters are asked to use all evidence available when scoring a segment. Because the elements are designed to capture a wide range of ELA content, it would be extremely rare for a teacher to score high in every PLATO element within a 15-minute observation cycle. For example, even the most effective teachers would not "model" during all instructional segments. We do not include N/A as a scoring option, and unlike other instruments, a score of 1 is not necessarily negative. A score of 1 is used both when there is no evidence of a practice and when we see low levels of that practice.
Our previous studies have demonstrated that there is variation in teachers' scores on PLATO elements across the course of a lesson. Each segment is scored independently, and raters look for evidence only within those 15 minutes.
What PLATO does not Address
While the PLATO protocol is designed to capture many important features of ELA classroom instruction, some central aspects of instruction are not addressed such as a teacher's emotional relationships with students, and/or a teacher's planning and reflection outside of the classroom.