Deeper Reason Tool

This protocol helps teams explore the deeper reasons why students might be struggling to make progress

Use this protocol to:

  • Help think deeply about the reasons why students are not yet being successful in the target outcome area
  • Slow down the analysis of the ‘problem that needs to be solved’ to support student progress
  • Identify the underlying reasons that might be holding back student learning


  • Prep

    You need a space suitable for small group work. If space allows, replicate the headings from the template on to chart paper.

  • Step 1

    Generate list of reasons (5 minutes)
    The sprint leader says, “Today we are going to more deeply understand why this group of students is not yet making the desired progress in this learning outcome area. The goal is not to come up with new solutions, but rather to more deeply understand the situation that might be leading to the current pattern of student outcomes.”

    Each team member generates 2-3 reasons why they feel that students are not yet being successful in the target outcome area. Team members should focus on what they perceive to be the most important potential reasons. The sprint leader pushes team members to think of:

    - potential reasons that stem from the student actions, decisions, relationships or past learning
    - potential reasons that are connected to teacher practice, beliefs or resources (e.g. not confident in the materials, unsure about the best teaching strategy, not feeling inspired or motivated to teach this with passion). To put it another way, “How might we as teachers be contributing to the current pattern of student outcomes?”

    Each reason is written on a separate post-it note. For example, “Students don’t understand basic sentence structure”, or “Teachers struggle with motivating students in this target outcome area”.

  • Step 2

    Cluster the reasons (5 minutes)
    The goal of this step is to cluster reasons developed by individual team members into groups. The first team member places their first reason post-it note on a wall poster. The second team member then takes their first post-it note and determines if the reason on the post-it is similar or different. If the reason is similar, they can place it beside the one that is already up. If the reason is different, they can create a new cluster. This is repeated until all of the post-its are up from each of the team members. The sprint leader keeps the group moving quickly to keep the energy high.

    The team looks at the clusters that they have created on the wall and selects what they agree to be the three most important reason clusters. (Note - these might be the biggest, or just the ones that the group collectively decides are the most important).

  • Step 3

    Finding the deeper reason (10 minutes)
    The team writes each of the three reasons in the top box on the template (or on chart paper if space allows). Start with one reason at a time and work down the boxes of the template.

    1. Sprint leader asks “Why do we think this is happening?”, and when the team comes up with a possible deeper reason, then this reason is written down in the next box.

    2. The sprint leader then asks, “Let’s go deeper - why do we think (last answer) is happening?” The team comes up with a deeper reason, which is written underneath.

    3. The sprint leader then asks, “Let’s get to the root of the issue - why do we think (last answer) is happening?” The team comes up with a reason, which is written underneath.

    4. Repeat this process for each of the three top reasons that you originally generated as a team. (Note - for some reasons you will not find it possible or useful to go down to three deeper levels. Just work through as many as you can).

  • Step 4

    Understand and reflect (5 minutes)
    Consider each of the ‘deepest reasons’ you have generated. Discuss as a group:

    - What can we learn from this?
    - How can this inform our understanding of why students are not making sufficient progress?
    - What might this mean for the design of our teaching? (answers to this question can begin to inform the design phase of your sprint).