*Note that the example has three main parts that you should include in your group’s workshop.I would plan for 90-120 minute workshop for other teachers

A. An agenda
B. A section that contains the details- i.e what your content is, what you would say, notes etc. Think of this like an “input” section of a lesson plan.
C. Resource links- which would include handouts and weblinks.

Shared Inquiry Workshop 5/3/10 (Agenda)

2 Hours

I. Introductions (10 minutes)

  • Presenter intro and background
  • Goals
  • What workshop is about
  • Review agenda
  • Handouts- Communication Workshop Agenda; Communication Workshop Details
  • Media- Powerpoint

II. Ladder of Inference

  • Intro Ladder of Inference (10 minutes)
    • What is an inference?
    • How is Ladder used?
  • Limitations & Consequences (15 minutes)
    • Self-fulfilling prophesy
    • Confirmation Bias
  • Using Ladder as a communication tool
    • Walking up & down (10 minutes)
    • Activity 1 (10 minutes)
    • Share out
  • Handouts- Senge Fieldbook Mental Models; Communication Workshop Activities

Break (10 minutes)

III. Theories in Action

  • Espoused theories verses Theories-in-Use (10 minutes)
  • Unilateral Control
  • Mutual Learning or Shared Inquiry
  • Inquiry Protocols (20 minutes)
    • Activity 2
    • Share out
  • Advocacy Inquiry Palette (5 minutes)
  • Concluding remarks (10 minutes)
  • Evaluation (5 minutes)
  • Handouts- Senge Fieldbook Productive Conversations; Evaluation Form

*Handouts (see bottom of page for downloads):

Communication Workshop Agenda
Communication Workshop Details
Communication Workshop Activities
Senge Fieldbook Productive Conversations
Evaluation Form

*Media (see bottom of page for downloads):

Powerpoint presentation

Communication Workshop Details (Details)

Goal: Introduce you to some research that I think could be useful to you as educators. It’s been immensely helpful to me in my professional as well as personal life. It’s up to you as to whether you think it’s valuable and worthy of your use.

What workshop is about: The research I’ll be presenting has to do with human perception and how it influences our thinking and helps and limits our ability to make sound decisions and take useful action. And what I mean by sound decisions and useful action is that we get the consequences that we want.

  • Introductions
  • Ladder of Inference - Model for human perception
  • Limitations & Consequences of Perception
  • Using the Ladder- Activity
  • Break
  • Mental Models- Theory in Action
  • Activity
  • Communication Palette
  • Evaluation

Ladder of Inference (show model)

This is a model developed by Argyris and Schon, researchers at Harvard and MIT respectively, that depict the mental pathway of inferences that people use to make sense of the world.

Inferences are conclusions about what you don’t know on the basis of things you do know.
(Example: Walk into room with shoulders slumped, head down, monotone voice and ask students what they just observed).

This ladder is about how we make inferences about other people. Most of it takes place inside our heads.

Directly observable data . In a conversation, you are faced with a lot of directly observable data. Including what people are saying and their nonverbal behavior. I think of directly observable data as whatever a video camera can record.

Observe and select data . You can’t attend to everything, so at the first rung of the ladder you observe and select certain data to pay attention to while ignoring other data. Some of what you choose to pay attention to is selected consciously but much of it happens out of your awareness.

Translate and label data . At the second rung, you begin to infer meaning from the data by translating it into your own words and labeling it. You say to yourself, “What does it really mean when this person says or does this?”

Evaluate and explain . At the third rung, you evaluate and explain what you have translated and labeled at the second rung - meaning you judge it and create a causal explanation. What is leading the person to say or do this? And ask yourself “Is this positive or negative?
Decide how to respond. On the fourth rung, you decide whether and how to respond. What should I do?

You go up the ladder in milliseconds without usually being aware that you are doing do. We do this throughout the day and act without being aware of doing so. The problem is not that you make inferences; you must do that to make sense out of what people are saying and doing. Rather it is how you make inferences and what you do with them.

1) You’re usually unaware that you are making inferences so you consider them facts rather than hypotheses to explore.
2) You do not test out with the people about whom you’re making the inferences whether it is accurate; you simply act on it as if it is true.
3) The inferences you make are often high-level inferences (greatly removed from the data). Therefore, there is a logical gap in the steps of reasoning, which you are typically unaware of.

2 examples here to illustrate ladder
Rung one: Mrs. Johnson’s using another worksheet again.
Rung 2: Worksheets are boring for students
Rung 3: Worksheets don’t challenge students. Students aren’t going to learn much from this.
Rung 4: Mrs. Johnson doesn’t care about student learning
Rung 5: Teachers who use worksheets are lazy and unimaginative
Rung 6: I’m going to speak with my friends about how bad this teacher is.
The next day you come in and you aren’t very energized, somewhat distant and passive

Rung 1: Jessie is late for class.
Rung 2: He doesn’t care enough to be on time.
Rung 3: Jessie was probably messing around with his friends in the hall.
Rung 4: Jessie considers school a low priority
Rung 5: Student’s like Jessie won’t be very successful in life.
Action: I’m not going to encourage Jessie to join the after school program.

In one study, Argyris and Schon gave participants a written scenario of a manager giving feedback to an employee and then asked them to give their feedback about the manager. A little over 50% described the manager as being too authoritative and just under 50% described the manager as being non-directive.

These facts then influence what you observe or notice and this becomes the basis for further inference.

Confirmation bias

Researchers have found that once we’ve formed an impression about someone, or made a judgment, we tend to confirm our judgments or impression. We tend to notice and interpret confirming behavior more. Snyder conducted study by having pairs of participants take part in a getting acquainted interview. In each pair, one participant was supposed to interview the other. But first, that participant was falsely led to believe that that his or her partner was introverted or extroverted (actually assigned randomly). Those participants that thought they were interviewing an introverted partner tended to ask introvert-oriented questions. Such as “Have you ever felt left out of some social group?” Conversely, those that thought they were interviewing an extrovert asked extrover-oriented questions such as “What do you do to liven up a party?” Thus neutral observers who later listened to the tapes also had the mistaken impression that the interviewees were really introverted or extroverted.

Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

In this landmark study at Oak School Elementary. Rosenthal and Jacobsen selected eighteen classes, three in each grade from first through sixth. Students were chosen at random and divided into experimental and control groups. Teachers of those classes were then given false information––that some of the students (the experimental group) would “bloom” during the year, as predicted by The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition, a fictitiously named, but authentic, nonverbal test of intelligence (Flanagan’s Test of General Ability).
Results overall showed a positive trend, (there was increasing expectancy from grades six to grade one) but the “bloomer” children in the lower grades posted a statistically significant gain in IQ compared to the control group, thereby confirming an expectancy effect. In addition, the children in the experimental group were rated more favorably than the children in the control group by the teachers; the pattern was similar to the rat handlers’ post-experiment ratings mentioned previously. Thus, the researchers concluded that the teachers’ expectations that their special students would bloom created a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Use the ladder to test inferences: Show student how to walk up and down ladder.
Your CT asks you if you have finished grading the student papers yet, and you think that by her tone of voice that she is irritated with you.
1) Notice your inference
2) Decide to check it out
3) I’d like to check something out. Just now when you asked me if I had finished grading the papers, I thought by the tone of your voice that you might be irritated with me. Did I interpret that right?

Walking down the ladder:
When you said that I’m not pulling my weight, could you give me some more info about what I haven’t done.
I have a judgment about someone. Stop and reflect upon the data you’ve used to make that judgment. What inferences have you made?

Have students get into groups of 3 and give each group a handout with 4 or 5 scenarios. Ask them to come up with ways to test their inferences and walk down the ladder.
e.g. My CT told me today that she doesn’t think I’m prepared.

Share out



“Theory of Action” is a concept that comes from research in the field of organizational learning.
For over thirty years, Argyris (Harvard) and Schon (MIT) have been studying “theory of action.” They define it as a set of mental rules that provide guidance for how to act effectively in different types of situations. These rules are learned early in life and are tacit and automatic. Their research suggests that people have an espoused theory of action (what they say they do) verses a theory-in-use (what they actually do). Additionally, they are unaware of the inconsistency between their espoused behavior and their actual behavior.

Espoused Theory is what you say you do. It is how you tell others you would act in a given situation. “When I’m in situation X and Y happens, I do Z.”
One way to recognize your espoused theory is to say, “I believe….” And fill in the blank.

Theory-in-Use is reflected what you actually do. Theory-in-use can only be inferred from watching your actual behavior.
Although we all have various espoused theories, Argyris and Schon observed and recorded many meetings and also had people transcribe difficult situations or meetings and found that (in psychologically threatening or embarrassing situations) all of us activate just one theory-in-use to guide our behavior.


Unilateral Control (theory-in-use)

Mutual Learning (espoused theory)


Get people to do what you want
Achieve intended goal


Obtain valid information
Free informed choice


I’m right – those who disagree are wrong
I understand the situation – those who see it differently, don’t understand
I have pure motives – those who disagree have questionable motives
My feelings are justified


I have relevant information, and other people also have relevant information.
Each of us may see things that others do not
I may be contributing to the problem and not seeing it
Differences are opportunities for learning


Advocate position
Keep reasoning private
Don’t inquire into others’ reasoning
Don’t test inferences
Ease in


Share all relevant information
Explain your reasoning
Invite inquiry
Test assumptions and inferences
Disclose intentions


Escalating error


Effective decisions
Reduction of errors
Increased trust
Improved communication

*Handouts (Click to Download): Resources

Communication Workshop for Educators_agenda.doc
Communication for Educators workshop detail.doc
Communication Workshop Activities.doc
Senge_Fieldbook_Mental Models.pdf
Senge_Fieldbook_Productive Conversation.pdf
Communication Workshop_Evaluation.doc

**Media (Click to Download):