Have you ever wished for a magical power that helped you take notes super effectively while conducting CLASS observations? The kind of magical power that would allow you to capture everything you see and hear without missing a beat? The kind of magical power that paints an exact picture of what happened in the classroom without actually being there? Yeah, me too!
The truth is that there is no magic that can transform you into a better notetaker. Luckily, notetaking is a skill that can be mastered with practice. Once mastered, you might still find yourself scratching your head and thinking, “What in the world did I just write?” Or if you are taking notes for a CLASS observation you might find yourself thinking, “What did that teacher just say? Can he say that again? I didn’t get a chance to write down the entire quote.” Yikes! That sounds like an observation I did a couple of weeks ago. The truth is that taking notes can be challenging, but the suggestions below can help you master the art of notetaking, especially for CLASS observations.
Say this with me: I have taken notes before, I have taken notes before, I have taken notes before. Yes! This is true for about 99.1% of people in the world. Almost all of us have taken notes in our life. Remember in the 7th grade when Mr. or Mrs. Such and Such made you take notes? What about the time when you sat in a high school or in a college course capturing the lecture in your notebook? Or what about the anecdotal record you wrote on a student to capture progress? We have all taken notes before, so when we take a CLASS training, we are not learning how to take notes, we are simply learning how to take notes on CLASS-related behaviors. Once you realize that you have done this before, you will have more confidence.
True confession: I learned to take notes by scripting. A college professor told me that in order to catch everything that was happening in a classroom, you must write every single thing down. So that is what I did, I wrote every single thing down (or “scripted”).
Here is an example of scripting a classroom observation:
This can go on for hours. Although this may be effective notetaking for certain observations, it is not the best method for conducting CLASS observations. When I am scripting, I am writing down everything that I see. This is not useful during a CLASS observation because when I go back to sort and judge my notes, only about half of my notes are useful because the other half cover structural features of the classroom (rather than the process-related elements that are pertinent to CLASS). When I review the notes from my observation above, I realize I am taking way more notes than necessary. In fact, when I condense my previous list to include only CLASS-related behaviors, it looks like this:
The lesson? Be careful not to script everything, only note the CLASS-related behaviors. This might seem hard at first, but over time, it gets easier to identify what needs to go down on paper (and what is irrelevant to CLASS).
I am proud to say that I have mastered the art of short-hand. Never will I write the word “teacher” or “child “again! “T” and “C” is good enough for me! Short-hand is great for many reasons, it allows you to write quickly what you saw and heard and doesn’t take up a lot of room. This is great because have you seen the score sheets for CLASS? Enough said! (Hint: They don’t leave a lot of room for notes!) Be cautious though; remember what your shorthand means. Short-hand means nothing if you can’t understand or remember what the letter or word references.
Say this with me: I am not a CLASS expert…I am not a CLASS expert! One day you will be, but not two days after your first observation training and maybe not after a year of being certified. So it is okay if you can’t take notes and sort at the same time. The truth is that many people struggle with taking notes because they are trying to do too many things at the same time, including sorting, judging effectiveness, assessing quality, etc. Be easy on yourself and just take notes. The sorting and evaluating comes after the observation is complete. After all, you have 10 minutes after observations to take your time to sort and assess.
Chapter 2 is my best friend! I love me some Chapter 2! I suggest going back and reading it, especially the “Observing Settings with the CLASS” section. Chapter 2 has saved my life and has really helped me to be a more effective CLASS observer and notetaker. If you haven’t read Chapter 2, you are missing out on some great stuff, my friend.
Well there you have it! My ingredients to the art of notetaking. Don’t be hard on yourself! You’ve got this. Sometimes it’s just a matter of realizing that you have to re-adjust your ingredients or add some additional flavors to get the right mix. Just remember: notetaking is a skill and just like every skill, it has to be practiced.
Have you ever meditated? One of the most challenging aspects of this practice is clearing your mind from day-to-day thoughts that pop into your head. If you meditate, you know that trying to push those thoughts away doesn’t work—in order to free your mind you must first acknowledge those distracting thoughts before you can return to your “moment of zen.”
Have you ever thought that the CLASS tool seemed subjective? Perhaps you’ve coded with another certified observer and come up with very different scores for the same classroom? Maybe you’ve struggled with the reliability test or CLASS Calibration and felt that it was due to you seeing the classroom in a different light or interpreting certain situations differently? You’re not alone. Many observers have been there.
CLASS Specialists at Teachstone all take turns providing reliability support to anxious testers. We often see the same mistakes and misconceptions over and over again about how the CLASS works, and as my story below will share, how the behavioral markers fit into the coding process.