I once gave a cohort of student teachers each a magic wand as they approached their graduation. My colleague Maggie and I told the soon-to-be-teachers that their wand wasn’t a tool for summoning a fairy godmother to their respective new classrooms (although they were instructed to keep in touch). The wand was intended to serve as a reminder that there is no magic formula in teaching; however, there is a sound, scientific recipe for success, which they had already become very familiar with: the CLASS tool.
Over the past several years, much of my work around teaching and learning at the University of Missouri-Kansas City has had something to do with CLASS. Whether it was teaching a science methods or infant and toddler development course to pre-service teachers, conducting a research study measuring teacher-student interactions, or providing professional development to in-service teachers on effective teaching practices, you could bet that in one of my many bags you would be able to reach in and find a CLASS manual (or two—okay, three).
I consider CLASS to be a revolutionizing tool within the teacher education classroom. While using the CLASS Dimensions Guide as a supplementary course reading, the CLASS manual as a textbook, or an individual domain or dimension as a classroom observation look-for, I have observed beginning and graduate level teachers uncover the complex life and layers of the classroom. Discussions of theories—that have been central to teacher education—have come alive through analysis with CLASS as the inquiry tool. On-line discussion boards have been transformed to a place where students share observations, while using a common lens and vocabulary. Activity and lesson plans have become a template for prioritizing instructional support goals and pre-planning critical teaching practices to be enacted. This practice-based teaching approach (Vartuli, Snider and Holley, 2015) has fostered teacher development and centralized CLASS as a vehicle for both teacher-learning and learning-to-teach.
CLASS is also a revolutionizing tool within the practicing teacher’s classroom. I now spend the majority of my time with in-service teachers in preschool through fifth grade classrooms. The consistency, yet specialty, of CLASS across ages and grade levels provides a common coaching framework. Several of the research projects conducted within our community (Rohs, Vartuli, & Kindle, 2014; Snider, 2015; Vartuli, Bolz & Wilson, 2014) have revealed that CLASS is an effective tool for improved teaching. As a researcher and coach, I have found that teachers are receptive to a coaching process with CLASS, as teachers are able to really see their teaching and in turn identify the teaching practices they want to intensify and master. For program leaders, they see the research-related benefits of CLASS scores in student outcomes.
From time to time, I still encounter that question, “Karrie, can’t you just tell me how to fix ___________ in my classroom?” (You fill in the blank.) Teachers don’t fix—we work diligently and relentlessly as inquirers—always striving to give the best support to students and each other. And still sometimes, in some moments we are searching for that one thing to be the magic wand. For coaches, researchers, and teacher educators, let’s continue to offer CLASS as the recipe towards revolutionary success.
Rohs, J., Vartuli, S., & Kindle, K. (2014). Teacher preparation with CLASS: Measuring candidates across levels. Federation of North Texas Universities Early Childhood Education Monograph, p. 1-8.
Snider, K. A. (2015). The relationship between in-service teachers’ culturally responsive self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectancy belies, instructional practices (CLASS), and student outcomes in the urban school setting (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest. (3701209).
Vartuli, S., Snider, K., & Holley, M. (2015). Making it real: Practice-based early childhood teacher education program. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(5), 1-14. DOI: 10.1007/s10643-015-0733-2.
Vartuli, S., Bolz, C., & Wilson, C. (2014). A learning combination: Coaching with CLASS and the project approach. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 16(1&2). Retrieved from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v16n1/vartuli.html.
Karrie Snider, Ph.D., is a Research Associate for the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Human Development where she enjoys supporting early childhood and youth program development, technical assistance, and evaluation. She has spent the past twenty years in the field of early childhood and elementary education as a classroom teacher, school administrator, teacher educator and researcher. Karrie is also an Affiliate Pre-K and K-3 CLASS Trainer.
Across the nation, teachers learning about CLASS are asked to narrate their actions and sportscast their children’s experiences in order to support and encourage healthy language development. Hearing this, many teachers may wonder, “Will people think I’m crazy if I start talking to myself in the classroom?”
The answer is no. Self- and parallel talk are beneficial strategies for teachers to engage in because they strengthen language rich environments and enhance vocabulary development, all while supporting effective relationship building between teachers and children.
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.
When I first heard that I was going to have to be observed and coached for my job, I was not thrilled by any means. I immediately thought, Great, someone is going to watch me and tell me how terrible I am. I sincerely thought it was going to be nothing but a negative experience.
I recently heard a great analogy about the CLASS tool and I had to share it. I can’t take credit for the idea. Affiliate Trainer, Teresa Bockes, originated the concept, and I loved it the minute I heard it: CLASS is like a house. Let’s build a house step-by-step to learn more about this metaphor.