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An Introduction to the CLASS Tool for Parents

14 Jul 2016 by Mary-Margaret Gardiner

We all want what’s best for our children. But how do we know what’s really best for them? There are hundreds of aspects to measure: nutrition, exercise, curriculum, community involvement...the list could go on.

There’s one aspect that you may not know is measurable—that’s the interactions between teachers and students. This is where the CLASS tool comes in.

CLASS stands for the Classroom Assessment Scoring System; it’s a tool that measures the quality of interactions between teachers and students. About 20 states use the CLASS measure in their quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) because strong evidence suggests that the tool is one of the closest predictors of child achievement rates later in life.

So what is CLASS and how does it work?

At the pre-K (ages 3-5) age level, the CLASS tool is divided into three domains. Each domain looks at different kinds of interactions.

            Emotional Support: Emotional Support is all about relationships—how we interact with each other to establish emotional connection. It’s all about creating a warm, positive place where children feel safe to take risks and make friends. 

            Classroom Organization: Think of this domain as measuring how effectively teachers prepare an environment in which children can learn. It looks at how time is spent, ensuring that teachers are making the most of every moment.

            Instructional Support: Often deemed the most difficult domain, Instructional Support measures how well teachers help children learn creatively. Teachers must facilitate conversations in which children begin connecting the dots between what they’re learning with their real life.

*Each domain is broken down further into dimensions, or specific interactions that support the domain.

How does this relate to parents?

While these domains are specific to teachers in a classroom environment you can incorporate these ideas at home. Every interchange during each part of the day results in opportunities for interactions that benefit your child!  

Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a family and link CLASS to our day-to-day experiences:

CLASS Domain/Dimension: Emotional Support -- Positive Climate

What could this look like? Having conversations with children about their day.

Why is this important? Talking with your kids about their day and acknowledging their feelings is crucial to their emotional security. Their response and behavior has a meaning and a message that often tell you more than their words.

Do they seem more anxious about going to a play date? Talk them through why they’re feeling this way and come up with a plan to help them overcome their insecurities.

Creating an environment in which they’re comfortable to tell you how they feel results in happier, more confident children who are ready to learn.

 

CLASS Domain/Dimension: Classroom Organization -- Routines and Transitions

What could this look like? Meals, dressing, getting ready for school or coming home.

Why is this important?  While your home doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have a bell signaling each transition, having predictable and clear routines is important for your children. In fact, you're probably already doing this by having story time before bed or having your children color at the table before dinnertime.

Life is easier for you—and your kids—when everyone is prepared and knows what’s coming up next. By thinking about transitions ahead of time, you'll both be happier and more productive.

 

CLASS Domain/Dimension: Instructional Support -- Open-Ended Questions

What could this look like? Asking a child questions while planning for a vacation.

Why is this important?  Many opportunities happen every day, and just recognizing those moments will do much to help build children’s critical thinking skills. While your child is playing with his toys, ask open-ended questions that get him to “think out loud.” 

For example:  “I see you are dressing the baby in a new outfit. How did you decide to pick that one?” “What kind of clothes would we pack for that baby if we were going to the beach?”

These kind of questions can start interesting conversations that you can contribute to by expanding vocabulary. “We are packing for a trip to the beach, a vacation.”

Or you could ask kids to plan what they want to shop for at the grocery store and ways to cook a meal—the opportunities are endless! Just take a minute and ask yourself, “What could I do in this moment to keep this conversation going in a meaningful way?” 

Now what?

You are in a unique position as a parent to define the types of interactions that matter to you and your child. Here are some next steps you can take to improve the quality of your interactions and to understand the importance your children’s teachers play in their lives. 

  • Learn more about CLASS and the interactions that matter to your child’s development and growth
  • Find out what requirements are in place in your state’s QRIS
  • Choose a child care center that focuses on interactions that really matter to children
  • Talk to your child care provider about the ways they measure quality and encourage that they focus on these interactions as defined by CLASS
  • Start practicing some of the interactions at home with your child
  • Keep us posted on additional resources that would be helpful to you and how we can work together to improve the quality of programs for children

Learn about effective teacher-child interactions in this short video.