102: Assumption Ladder





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Assumption Ladder – from bottom rung to the top
  • Available data and experiences
    • Ask questions or report the facts and findings
  • I select data to observe
    • Ask questions or share
      • focus of observations
      • highlights of observations
  • I make assumptions based on what I’ve selected.
    • Ask questions or share
      • Assumptions
      • Possible causes
      • Possible next steps
  • I draw conclusions
    • Ask questions or share
      • Summaries
      • Conclusions
      • Learnings
  • I make actions based on my conclusions
    • Ask questions or share
      • Plan of action
      • Next steps
Uses of ladder:
  • Metaphor for communicating full problem solving train of thought
  • Easier to have a dialogue about the things at the bottom of the ladder
  • Disagreements at the top of the ladder (without knowledge of bottom rungs) are hard to resolve
  • Ladder slows down thinking process and makes it more visible to the individual and team
  • Once a decision is made it becomes a self fulfilling force – hard to change direction
How to use the ladder:
  • Create an Assumption ladder visual and refer to it during discussions
  • Facilitator asks questions and uses cues that indicate to the group what rung of the ladder they are on
  • Use the ladder to settle disagreements – try to diagnose at what rung of the ladder did the disagreement start
  • Do’s:
    • Get people to hold up ladder as you go
    • Open up for multiple viewpoints
    • Invite others to challenge you
    • Practice walking up and down the ladder
    • Listen and inquire versus just advocating
  • Do nots:
    • Use the ladder as a weapon
    • Try to knock others off their ladder
    • Get defensive
    • Expect this to be easy
    • Advocate without inquiry


Students and teachers are constantly making judgements about content and about character.  These lead to next steps related to improving academic  and character skills.  The assumption ladder is a tool that can be used to convey the full train of thought supporting next steps relating to upcoming goals.  This visual can be especially helpful when there are disagreements about next steps and new directions.


Preparation Steps
  • Look at project calendar and list of project actions and identify areas where teams will need to problem solve together to arrive at a consensus about their team or their products
  • Create Assumption Ladder visuals for classrooms and for student folders or notebooks
Early Implementation Steps
  • Model being different roles around a conversation that uses Assumption ladder
  • Scaffold lessons about Assumption ladder – in lesson offer modeling, role playing, discussion and reflection opportunities
  • Brainstorm uses for Assumption ladder with students
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students how to facilitate team discussions using the Assumption ladder
  • Have students identify when its effective to use Assumption Ladder conversations and independently start these as needed

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