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4 Ways You Might Get CLASS Wrong (And Why That’s Okay!)

14 Nov 2017 by Emily Doyle

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.”

Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the various ways I’ve heard people get CLASS “wrong” – and more importantly, why getting it wrong is okay, and sometimes even a critical part of the process in becoming a better observer, coach, administrator, or teacher.

1. Regard for Student Perspectives: “If you give kids too much freedom, there’s going to be chaos!”

This is one I’ve heard a lot—so much that I’ve written about it before. The point here is that when educators learn about effective behaviors (as defined by the CLASS), they think about those behaviors in the context of their previous experiences—and then make a judgment about them. Most people with experience teaching or raising children will tell you that structure is important; so the idea that teachers should give children freedom, choices, and autonomy can evoke memories of chaos (that is, until they see how behavior management fits into the picture!). This is a common response, and acknowledging skepticism over how CLASS defines quality is important because it opens up the opportunity to discuss how all the dimensions fit together and challenge pre-existing biases. 

2. The scoring process: “This seems totally subjective.”

The idea of assigning a numerical value to the quality of interactions can be a tough pill to swallow. Assigning numbers feels so concrete, while the concept of human interactions feels big and conceptual. But coming to terms with not having a checklist (and learning how to effectively rely on your objective observations and the CLASS manual instead) is an important turning point for every new observer, especially when many are used to other observation tools that are less inferential and just plain easier to “score.”

3. Instructional Support: “I keep kids safe, happy, and engaged. Isn’t that enough?”

Not so long ago, many people thought about early childhood classrooms as glorified babysitting: a place to keep children safe, healthy, and entertained while parents when to work. However, we now know that facilitating children’s cognitive growth, language, and literacy skills in the early years is critical for their success. One reason the dimensions in the Instructional Support domain are challenging for teachers is because the notion that children need this level of cognitive challenge and support is relatively new. Acknowledging 1) “This is hard!” and 2) “No one told me this was important before!” indicates an important step toward teacher readiness in making improvements in this area.

3. Becoming a reliable observer: “I failed the reliability test!”

Failing the CLASS reliability test happens to the best of us. That’s why there are three chances to pass for every new observer. The good news (and yes, I promise there is a silver lining) is that with each new test attempt, your chances of passing the test increase—especially if you take advantage of all the supports we provide and think of each test attempt (preparing for it, taking it, and analyzing your results) as a learning experience.

Do you have any stories to share about “getting it wrong?” How did it turn out? Share your experiences in the comments! 

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