CLASS is a research based tool that measures teacher-child interactions in Pre-K-12 classrooms and in settings that serve infants and toddlers. I'm one of the biggest cheerleaders of this tool. I believe if I had had this professional development tool while I was a teacher it would have impacted my teaching implementations and positively affected my students’ learning outcomes.
I taught kindergarten for eight years. I received at least one observation per year by an administrator. Basically, my principal or vice principal would walk into my classroom with a checklist or rubric developed by the district. We would then (sometimes) discuss the rubric and I would shove it in a file folder and never think about it again. They provided minimal feedback and ways to grow as an educator.
CLASS would have changed me as a teacher and it would have been much more effective than a rubric because it measures the interactions teachers have with students. I love that the CLASS allows for student autonomy of learning, fosters a positive and responsive classroom environment, encourages and promotes high levels of language stimulation, and intentionally promotes higher-order thinking skills. I was never observed on the types of interactions I was having with my kids. That would have been game changing.
In fact, I’m so jazzed about the CLASS that I am now a Pre-K CLASS trainer. I get a lot of joy out of spreading the CLASS message to educators across my state. While training other teachers on this tool, I find that they are afraid of the CLASS or angry that they have one more assessment or “thing” they have to deal with as a teacher. I hope I can alleviate some of those fears, encourage educators to embrace what the CLASS is, and help them understand what the CLASS is not.
The CLASS is not an opinion of what type of teacher you are. As a CLASS observer, I must use the lens of the tool. In Pre-K and K-3, there are 10 dimensions with indicators and behavioral markers that help observers make standardized assessments based on the CLASS. I do not come into your room and score based on what I think you are doing right or wrong. I measure you based on the tool.
Classrooms are complex places! CLASS gives educators a snapshot picture of one part of one day in their classroom. This snapshot can provide you with a lot of information about what areas you are doing well in and what areas you have room for growth. Let me use my own classroom as an example. Hypothetically, if a CLASS observation was happening in my classroom during center time I would have typically scored high in Regard for Student Perspectives. My students would have had choice within centers, I would have been talking and eliciting their ideas, and they would have had opportunities for leadership.
During the same observation, if whole group or opening was observed, my scores for Regard for Student Perspectives would have been extremely low. During a whole group format I had little opportunity for students to have ownership or choice of their learning. This is the beauty of the CLASS. I may not have noticed this disparity as a classroom teacher on my own. But with a snapshot picture of my day I could see what I was doing well and what areas could use some improvement.
The CLASS does not measure or observe your curriculum. When I am observing a classroom, I don’t care what the teacher is using as a curriculum. Instead, the CLASS focuses on how the teacher is implementing curriculum, the quality of interactions happening between teacher-students, and the types of interactions between students and their peers.
The CLASS measures your interactions with your students. Before a CLASS observation I do not ask the teacher how many of her students are on IEPs or receive special education services. I am watching how you proactively state your behavioral expectations and how you respond to active misbehavior. The tool also takes into account the average experience of the average child in a classroom. This means if you have one student who is having a hard day and is throwing objects or hitting others, the CLASS observer will not automatically drop your score for Behavior Management. What the certified observer will watch for is how you respond to the situation and if things continue to escalate. Frequency, depth, and duration are important elements that are considered for every indicator of the tool.
Like I mentioned above, this tool is designed to be used as professional development. The tool is not meant to breed a competitive atmosphere between teachers or schools. Please don’t compare your scores to the scores of the teacher next door. It is for you to use as a means of seeing your strengths and realizing ways you can improve. Hopefully your director, principal, or funders can see this tool for what it is—professional development for the teacher or for a team of teachers.
The main reason I fell in love with the CLASS is because of its focus on relationships and interactions. That is really what it all boils down to. I'll continue to spread this CLASSy message to as many educators as possible because I am an advocate for kids and teachers. The CLASS serves both.
Colleen Schmit is a bilingual program evaluator at Munroe-Meyer Institute through the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She loves providing professional development opportunities that help teachers reflect on their teaching practices, recharge their batteries, and rekindle their joy for teaching. She enjoys spreading the message of the CLASS tool as a Pre-K affiliate CLASS trainer with Teachstone.
This post originally appeared on Criss Cross Applesauce.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
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.