“WOW! What a great job!” says teacher Mary to Abby, who is building with blocks. Abby just succeeded in balancing a big, long block on top of the walls she built with smaller blocks. Abby has been working hard on this structure for at least 20 minutes, a long time in the life of a 4-year-old.
When we hear this kind of statement from a teacher in a video in a CLASS training, some participants visibly cringe. They are responding to one of the many early childhood “edicts” that exist in our world to NEVER say “good job,” ALWAYS say what the child is doing/has done to earn your praise. The edict says that this teacher SHOULD have said something like, “WOW! Look what you are doing! You got that big long block to balance on top of the wall you built with the smaller, shorter blocks! It stayed up and didn’t fall! How did you do that, Abby?”
Is this a more effective statement than “WOW! What a great job?” Yes. It is more specific. It has more information, thus more potential learning for the child.
Is the more effective statement the only statement that could become evidence in the CLASS tool? No.
Those participants who are cringing often discount this shorter statement, and don’t write it down in their notes, thinking it is not worthy of counting. It is true that the better, more specific statement might carry more weight in your score. But as is often true with the CLASS tool, evidence of the efficacy of the interaction depends on what happens next; how the child responds to the teacher.
Let’s pretend that Abby looks up at the teacher who said, “WOW! What a great job!” She smiles, looks back at her building, jumps up excitedly to gets another block and keeps on building.
The two CLASS dimensions that this statement, “WOW! What a great job!” could fit in are Positive Climate (positive communication), and Quality of Feedback (encouragement and affirmation). Because the teacher’s comment leads Abby to play longer, it is also an example of Quality of Feedback. However, because it lacks specificity, it would be considered to be a less effective example of feedback.
Think about it. Quality of Feedback is literally the quality of the feedback a teacher gives a child. At the high level, Quality of Feedback results in deeper understanding and/or continued persistence in the task on the part of a child. The more a child persists at a task, the more they learn from it. Because Abby kept on working, the teacher’s praise (however lacking in specific information) helped Abby persist at the task.
But let’s look at that more effective statement, “WOW! Look what you are doing! You got that big, long block to balance on top of the wall you built with the smaller, shorter blocks! It stayed up and didn’t fall! How did you do that, Abby?” Abby is going to learn more from this and gain even more if the teacher stays to share more insight into what is going on with this play. This longer statement helped Abby be aware of longer and shorter, may have introduced the word “balance” (Language Modeling), and potentially helped Abby see that due to her hard work and persistence she can build a building.
So, where do we put this statement? We can put it both in Quality of Feedback as evidence of encouragement and affirmation, but we can also note it in Positive Climate as well, but Quality of Feedback is the better place. I would draw an arrow up to Positive Climate on my score sheet to remind me that it fits there as well.
To summarize, if you are torn about where to sort evidence between the dimensions of Positive Climate-positive communication, and Quality of Feedback-encouragement and affirmation, your decision should be based on whether or not the purpose was to build relationships (Positive Climate) or whether the purpose was to encourage to child to persist in a task or gain a better understanding of something (Quality of Feedback). And remember – those “good jobs” that we often hear teachers say over and over again can fit in Quality of Feedback, but they are rote and therefore low-level examples.
Teachers everywhere have yet another new challenge—supporting students and their families from home. We know that high-quality interactions, including interesting, hands-on experiences that are facilitated and supported with feedback, scaffolding, and higher-order thinking questions, best support young students' learning. So how do you help your students' caregivers offer the same high-quality interactions while at home? Well, Rachel Giannini has some super fun ideas to share! The following are ideas she shared during her session at our recent InterAct CLASS Summit.
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