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Challenges & Solutions to Observing in Mixed-Age Classrooms

25 Mar 2015 by Nikki Croasdale

So, you’re dual certified on the Infant and Toddler CLASS tools. Congrats! Not only can you observe in Infant classrooms (birth to 18 months) and Toddler classrooms (15 to 36 months), but you can also observe in classrooms that contain a mix of the two age levels! Observing in mixed age classrooms may seem daunting, but I’m here to tell you that it’s completely doable. If you’re preparing to do Infant/Toddler CLASS observations, read on. This blog presents solutions to three of the most common challenges dual Infant/Toddler observers face when observing in a mixed-age setting.

Challenge 1: Focusing on one age level at a time

Generally speaking, Teachstone recommends that you alternate between two age levels in a mixed-age setting, observing several cycles of each. This way, you can capture the experiences of all the children in the classroom while still producing independent scores for the two age levels.

When you’re observing with the Infant CLASS tool, you should be focused on only the infant-aged children, and when you’re observing with the Toddler CLASS tool, you should be focused on—you guessed it!—only the toddler-aged children. It probably eases your mind a little to know that you won’t need to be picking up on infant and toddler interactions simultaneously. At the same time, it can be difficult to focus on just one age level, especially if you’re observing the infants and happen to see that fabulous Facilitation of Learning and Development interaction happening with a toddler out of the corner of your eye or if you’re observing the toddlers and can’t help but be distracted by a fussy infant lying under a mobile nearby.

As much as possible, try to ignore what’s going on with the other children (I know, this goes against all your CLASS observer instincts) and hone in on what’s happening with the target age level. Interactions with other children outside of the target age level count in scoring only if they enhance or detract from the target children's experiences. For instance, let’s imagine that a teacher is working with a group of toddlers at a sensory table and an infant wakes up from a nap. The teacher goes over to the infant, changes his diaper, and then washes her hands. In the meantime, the toddlers start to squabble and throw toys. In this case, the teacher’s interaction with the infant has detracted from the experience of the toddlers.

Challenge 2: Keeping the tools straight

While the Infant and Toddler CLASS tools are similar in some respects, they also differ in many ways as well. They’re distinct tools that capture the specific behaviors and interactions that matter for the particular age group with which they are meant to be used. When observing in mixed infant/toddler settings and switching back and forth between the Infant and Toddler tools, it’s crucial to keep the tools straight in your mind. Using the score sheet that corresponds to the correct age level for note taking and coding and always referring to your manual throughout the observation process will help with this.

Challenge 3: Timing the cycles

Some might say that naptime is public enemy number one for the CLASS observer. It’s certainly a formidable foe, but with some planning and flexibility, we can defeat the monster. If you can, take a look at or talk to the teacher about the schedule or agenda ahead of time and try to plan out your observation. Of course, we all know that things don’t always go as planned, and that’s why it’s important to adapt if necessary. It’s perfectly okay to break the cycles up if you need to. For example, if you start with Infant and the infants go down for a nap after your first cycle, go ahead and switch to Toddler for a few cycles and come back to finish up your Infant cycles when the infants are awake again. Remember that most other times besides naptime (i.e., outside play, diaper changes, etc.) can and should be coded when using the Infant and Toddler tools.

This blog post highlighted three known obstacles to observing in mixed age settings. Are there other challenges you’re facing? Let us know by leaving a comment below. We’d be happy to help you think through how to handle them!

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