When teachers hear CLASS tool, often the first thought that comes to their mind is asking children open-ended questions. And while asking “how” and “why” questions is extremely important in helping to foster and support language and concept development, we cannot have effective interactions with these questions alone. There is so much more to the CLASS tool!
Let’s think of the CLASS tool like the elements of a beautiful birthday cake. First, we need a recipe to help guide us towards a desired outcome—whether we are talking about a cake or effective interactions between teachers and children. Our recipe for effective interactions is the CLASS Dimension Guide. It gives us the ingredients we need to plan and take advantage of everyday exchanges with children.
Now, let’s think about the specific parts of the CLASS tool. A cake is more than ingredients tossed into a bowl. Throwing flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, butter, and milk together in a haphazard ratio will not reliably produce a cake any more than believing that asking open-ended questions alone will result in desired academic and social outcomes for children. We need all of the various CLASS dimensions just like we need all ingredients to bake a cake.
Understanding exactly what each of the dimensions means is as fundamental as knowing the difference between flour and baking soda. A good teacher reviews and researches these “ingredients” and creates a classroom environment that children enjoy while providing them with the emotional and educational nourishment that supports their growth into healthy, happy individuals.
Just as cooking times vary based on the type of oven, so do classroom dynamics. We need to take into account that what works for one group of children, may need to be altered slightly for different personalities, needs, and backgrounds. A skilled teacher, like a baker, understands when and how each of these dimensions is best implemented and combined with the others.
So there you have it: combining the Dimensions Guide recipe with all the CLASS ingredients is the only way to have high-quality interactions in your classroom. And remember, it takes time to figure out how to incorporate each of the dimensions. Before you know it, your CLASS-cake will be complete.
Time to celebrate!
As I sat in on an Infant Train-the-Trainer session, participants reflected on their previous experiences with CLASS: learning about it, using it to observe classrooms, supporting teachers, and training others to observe. One participant spoke up:
“CLASS is a measure you have to get wrong to get right.”
CLASS Specialists are always thinking about the complexity of the CLASS tool as we prepare for our trainings. As a trained CLASS observer, I am comfortable observing and recognizing quality interactions that fit in the tool. But I needed a strategy to convey this information to those who may not be as familiar with the tool.
As it turns out, using an analogy is a perfect way to make the complex relatable, less overwhelming, and more familiar to our participants.
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.