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Scaffolding Coding with Video Exemplars

04 Aug 2016 by Daniel LaCava

Training participants—especially those new to CLASS—can seem overwhelming at first. Luckily, are plenty of strategies to help clarify difficult concepts portrayed in the exemplar videos that work to ensure that your trainees walk away confidently prepared to pass their reliability test!

Let's begin with three concepts that are important to introduce before you begin reviewing dimensions and showing video exemplars:

Remember that exemplars are not meant to demonstrate any particular score on the CLASS tool.

Participants will see many of the behaviors highlighted in video exemplars later on during full-length training videos, and may be tempted to think, “Aha! I saw that behavior in an exemplar clip, so this video must score in the high range!” We need to see more footage than an exemplar clip before deciding on a score, because there are three variables we need to take into account when coding:

  • The experience of the average child in the classroom. We need to balance evidence across the children in the room- a teacher who only demonstrates evidence of Positive Climate with her two favorite children while ignoring everyone else will score lower on PC than a teacher who demonstrates the same evidence across children.
  • The consistency of evidence across time. A teacher who gives great feedback for 30 seconds, followed by 19 minutes and 30 seconds of no feedback whatsoever, will score lower on QF than a teacher who infuses QF evidence throughout an observation.
  • The quality, or depth of evidence. The CLASS tool isn’t a checklist- we’re not simply deciding whether or not a teacher asked questions, whether or not a teacher used respectful language, or whether or not a teacher noticed children struggling with an activity. CLASS observers make decisions about the quality of all of the observed evidence.


Because we take these three variables into account when coding, we need to complete a full observation of 15-20 minutes in order to assign scores.

Recognize the complexity of the CLASS tool.

The fact that we’re balancing evidence across these three variables (balancing evidence across children in the classroom, across time, and making judgments about quality) makes the CLASS tool complex and challenging for new observers. The CLASS manual uses intentionally vague language such as, “sometimes,” “frequently,” or “consistently.” A new CLASS observer will likely find herself wondering, “How many is some? How often is occasionally?” Because we balance evidence across the above three variables to determine scores, there is almost never a hard, mathematical answer to these questions. The fact that a teacher asked 8 questions during a reading activity tells an observer something about her evidence for Concept Development (the evidence occurred repeatedly), but the observer must also ask- were those 8 questions all directed at one child of the 12 children present? Were those 8 questions rattled off rapid fire before beginning the reading activity, followed by a complete lack of questioning for the remainder of the activity? And finally, were those 8 questions deep, insightful questions that prompted analysis and reasoning, or were they rote recall questions based on a book the children read previously? The answers to these questions will tell the true story of the quality of the interactions that were observed, and thus, the appropriate CLASS score.

Introducing the concepts (complexity and flexibility of the CLASS tool, balancing evidence across multiple variables, and the lack of hard mathematical guidance in scoring) early during day 1 goes a long way towards making life easier for both trainer and participants. Participants now have a better idea of what’s expected of them as observers, and misconceptions about the tool (i.e., “it’s just a check list with some frequency counting, right?”) have been addressed. This will lead to far less frustration, defensiveness, and argumentation later on as observers get the chance to practice coding.

Recognize that video exemplars are an excellent time to start practicing notetaking.

Video exemplars are an excellent time to start practicing note taking. At the end of day 1, participants will be asked to take notes for all of the 10-12 dimensions simultaneously as they watch their first full-length training video. Having just learned all of the dimensions, with their myriad of indicators and behavioral markers, this will be an incredibly challenging exercise in attention and memory. Observers will do their best to sort observed evidence into the appropriate dimension as they see it happen, without missing evidence as the video continues to play. This will be overwhelming initially, especially if it is the observers first attempt at capturing evidence on paper. Having participants take notes on exemplar videos gives them a much more manageable introduction to the idea of taking efficient, detailed notes, a skill that will be invaluable to them in their future observations.

Since note taking is covered in great length towards the end of day one, and you’ve already spent an extra few minutes covering the aforementioned points on exemplar clips, your introduction of note taking here can be brief. Encourage participants to do their best to capture at least one specific, observable piece of evidence from every exemplar clip, and give them a couple of examples and non-examples. Do: “Teacher smiles as child tells story.” Don’t: “Teacher is happy.” Do: “Teacher asks child to explain why he made a tall tower.” Don’t: “Teacher asks great questions.” With even a very brief introduction to note taking, participants will be able to spend most of day one practicing capturing evidence in writing in a quick, efficient way, giving them a significant advantage when the first training video rolls around and it’s time to attempt taking notes on all 10 dimensions simultaneously.    


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