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Guidance for Conducting CLASS® Observations During COVID-19

02 Jul 2020 by Sarah Hadden

Across the country and around the globe, schools/programs will soon reopen after extended closures due to COVID-19. Those that have remained open are instituting new health and safety practices.. Localities will determine whether to provide in-person, online, or hybrid teaching. Regardless of the model that schools/programs adopt, classrooms will look different now and for the foreseeable future.

This document provides guidance for how to safely and effectively collect CLASS data in schools/programs with in-person teaching during the time of COVID-19. We also recognize the interest from the field in using CLASS® to assess and improve virtual teaching and are working with organizations that are piloting this work. We will share guidance on the use of CLASS in virtual teaching as soon as possible.

Different Classroom Settings

Classrooms will look very different this fall and conditions will vary based on state and local guidance on re-opening. Some states and districts will have more stringent requirements than others. We expect to see the use of these precautions in many schools/programs:

  • Temperature checks at the beginning of each day
  • Strict hand washing and sanitizing procedures
  • Limits on the number of children and adults in a classroom
  • Mask wearing requirements for adults and students based on age
  • Social distancing measures, including a six foot distance between desks and tables
  • Limited class rotation where children will stay in the same classroom with teachers rotating when applicable
  • Limited teacher movement within the classroom with most teaching occurring from the front of the room
  • Small groups made up of the same children each day
  • No sharing of materials among children
  • Closing of common areas such as the cafeteria, library, and gym

Conducting CLASS® Observations

Interactions matter, now more than ever. Teachstone recommends the continued use of CLASS to ensure the quality of classroom interactions and to support educators in their professional development. During these stressful times, children need supportive interactions, and teachers will benefit greatly from helpful feedback around those interactions.

The decision of when to observe in-person will depend on many factors including the impact of the illness rate on a given community. For example:

  • A community may have very few or no COVID-19 cases. Once teachers and children have had time to adjust and establish new routines, classroom observations may proceed.
  • A community may have some cases and opt to conduct observations but only for the purpose of professional development for a given time.
  • A community may have had many cases and experienced widespread effects. Observations may continue to be suspended until adequate time for teachers and students to adjust to being back at school, and then may proceed only for the purpose of professional development for a given time.

Additionally, the impact of the virus goes far beyond the physical illness itself. Even those communities that did not have any confirmed cases suffered from the stress and tension of school closings, the inequitable impact of the pandemic due to systemic racism, and the economic impact of the virus.

These events may affect the transition back to school, and a waiting period may be needed before observations begin. Because circumstances vary by locality, we recommend that wait times be decided at the local level. We typically recommend that formal CLASS observations are not conducted in the first few weeks of school, giving teachers and children an opportunity to adjust to the classroom setting. This advice remains, but we recognize that the length of adjustment time may be longer for some schools/programs depending on how different the classroom settings are from the time prior to the pandemic. In-person CLASS observations may simply not be possible in some localities for longer periods of time as programs work to limit exposure.

Video Observation and Coding

If in-person observations are not possible, video observation is an option that schools/programs may consider to reduce having an additional outside observer in the school setting. CLASS was validated for use in coding videotape of classrooms (Mashburn, Hamre, Downer, & Pianta, 2007), and this method has been widely used in a large number of research studies. Provided that teachers can capture and transfer video footage, coding via videotape is acceptable. Chapter 2 of the CLASS manual includes recommendations for obtaining high-quality video footage. In addition, Teachstone has guidance on how to do this work.

Preparing for Safe CLASS® Observations

When observations will take place in the classroom, observers should:

  • Verify the date and time of the observation and learn what steps are being taken to mitigate the impact of COVID-19
  • Understand the health and safety requirements for being onsite and obtain appropriate personal protective equipment
  • Ask the teachers about:
    • The number of children likely to be present at the time of observation and the number of adults as well as their roles in the classroom
    • The best place to sit or stand, understanding observers may not be able to freely move around the room while observing
    • How their interactions may be changed and in what ways due to the restrictions for health and safety during COVID-19; note: a new resource will be released soon on How CLASS Interactions May Be Different During COVID-19
  • Think about how they will capture interactions they do not fully hear due to teachers speaking through masks and/or the observer’s distance from the teachers and children

Actions to Take During the Observation

While preparation is key to a successful observation at all times, this is even more true during a pandemic. Here are suggestions to prioritize health and safety while maintaining the reliability of the CLASS observations.

  • Observers should follow the required sanitizing procedures upon entering the classroom and maintain the suggested or required physical distance from others, both adults and children, at all times.
  • Observers may need to look for evidence of the CLASS indicators outside of the behavioral markers listed in the manual. Observers should remember the listed behavioral markers are designed to illustrate the kinds of interactions that an observer might see, but they are not exhaustive. Additional behavioral markers, not listed in the manuals, can meet the overarching intent of both the indicators and the dimensions.

For example, observers may not see physical proximity under the indicator of relationships or physical affection under the indicator of positive communication in Positive Climate. They may not see a teacher smile or hug a child, but instead they may observe the emotional connection between the teacher and the children when the teacher intently listens to what a child says, as evidenced by looking at the child and nodding her head.

  • Observers will need to pay close attention to body language to determine the intent and efficacy of interactions given the social distance during observations that may make it more difficult to both see and hear. The use of masks can add complexity if speech is muffled and hard to understand. When observers cannot clearly see or hear, they may miss or misinterpret some interactions. Some examples include:
  • Did the teacher point to a chart on the wall to scaffold a child’s understanding or to provide a variety of modalities and materials?
  • What was the intent of a verbal interaction? Did a teacher ask an open-ended question, or was the teacher repeating and extending something that a child just said? If it was an open-ended question, did it promote analysis and reasoning (Concept Development), or was it designed to elicit elaborated speech (Language Modeling)?
  • Does the teacher lean in slightly towards a child who is talking in order to hear better? If so, this suggests that the teacher is interested in the child.
  • Does the child jump up and vocalize when the teacher asks her something, or does she walk away with her head down?

Comparison of CLASS® Data Before vs. During COVID-19

Just as the decision about whether or not to observe will depend on a community’s experience with the pandemic, the decision about comparing pre (before the COVID-19 pandemic) and post (during the COVID-19 pandemic) data will depend on the circumstances. It may be necessary to suspend comparison of data in an area that was greatly impacted by the virus, as teachers and children may need more time to readjust to school. For example, teachers may need to spend a significant amount of time providing emotional support and establishing classroom organization, and spend less time on instructional support.

We recommend consideration of these factors, in addition to others specific to each school/program, in determining if/how to compare CLASS data:

  • Issues of equity, such as how COVID-19 disproportionately impacted low income, Black, Latinx, and Native American/Alaska Native communities, communities that already experience a larger number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) under non-pandemic circumstances
  • Whether schools/programs closed during the pandemic
  • Length of time of closure, if the school/program was closed. The shorter the closure, the more likely teachers and children will restart, return, and readjust to their former relationships/interactions. Programs that were closed for a long time may need to shore up relationships and re-establish organizational structure after the long absence.
  • If teachers and children are in the same classrooms pre and post. If the teachers and majority of the children are returning to the same classroom, pre-post comparison may be possible provided they have time to readjust to the new school year.

We hope this guidance is helpful in answering some of your most important questions, but we recognize circumstances differ across the education landscape. We have more guidance to come, particularly to address the specific ways CLASS interactions may look different in classrooms across the age levels, and we will post that as soon as it is completed.

In the meantime, please use the CLASS Learning Community as a way to get feedback and dialogue with others about their approaches in this COVID-19 world. If you have thoughts you’d like to share or would like to consult directly with us, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at interactions@teachstone.com.

Additional Resources

Here are some resources for childcare programs and schools reopening during the pandemic: