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Behavioral Markers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

13 Oct 2016 by Mary-Margaret Gardiner

If anyone has ever spent any time in one of the Observation trainings (or TTT programs) that I facilitate, it becomes quite obvious early on that behavioral markers aren’t my go to for helping learners understand coding. You’ll even see me encouraging learners to cover them up when they are considering ranges on their face pages! That being said, they do have their purpose… but before we get to that, here’s why I’m a bit resistant to rely on behavioral markers during training. Markers are great as an introduction to the tool, but not so great for coding! Here’s why.

The Good

Behavioral Markers are “good” when you are familiarizing learners with the Dimensions and Indicators because they can help frame their thinking. However, they are GUIDELINES, not an exhaustive list.  

The Bad

Behavioral Markers are “bad" if they become a checklist for coding and that can cause problems! Big problems! I’ve seen people jot down “proximity” or “low reactivity” when taking notes. The problem is that those terms don’t tell us specifically what happened. What does proximity mean? Is the teacher sitting at a table with children or holding a child in her lap? The behaviors we see and record can help us score and provide meaningful feedback to teachers…“When you sat with the children and played bingo with them, it really helped build relationships” is more descriptive than, “you had proximity.”

The Ugly

Behavioral Markers are “ugly” if coders don’t consider their evidence and rely on markers to score. I think this is the biggest problem. Or even worse, the coders don’t use the detail descriptors to verify fit. We must gather our evidence (notes on specific behaviors) that we see during an observation cycle.  While the manual is always the “answer” no one could ever foresee every potential scenario in the course of an observation. The goal of coding is to weigh the evidence gathered by the observer, compare it to the measure and find where the description for each range fits BEST. By trying to find a perfect match or checking off a marker, coders spend a lot of time trying to read every descriptor— if we are moving towards coding in 10 minutes, this strategy does not work.

Take a look at page 13 in Chapter Two of the Pre K Manual and read what it says under exemplars:

"...Remember that these are only examples and everything in the example does not have to be true in order for a classroom to fit into a given rating category. In addition, events and situations may occur in classrooms that are not included in the examples but still fit well within a given rating category for a given dimension.”

This is an important part of an important chapter! 

So, when are behavioral markers helpful? They are helpful when you are explaining the overarching definition of the Dimension and the indicators for each. Let’s say you’d like to talk a bit about the indicator for student expression in the Dimension of Regard. Think of what that could look like and share a relatable example when you describe this indicator— HOW would a teacher encourage student talk? HOW would this relate to the dimension as a whole? Perhaps a teacher asks a group of children in the dramatic play center how they plan to go to the store to buy groceries. Does the teacher/child talk balance out? Or does the teacher dominate the conversation? By using your own examples to describe what an indicator may include, you make your examples believable and real for the learners. 

 How the CLASS Dimensions and Domains Work Together - webinar recording