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What Is Effective Teaching, Anyway?

07 Aug 2014 by Ginny Vitiello

Twenty-five years ago, quality teaching in early childhood classrooms meant providing a safe place for children to play, with stimulating materials and books to read. Today, we have provided those basics in most early childhood classrooms, and our focus has shifted to the hows of quality—how teachers interact with children, how they use time and materials to get the most out of every moment, and how they ensure that children are engaged and stimulated.

Imagine two classrooms down the hall from each other, both with high-quality resources and materials. In the classroom with more effective interactions, the teachers are actively engaged with the children—being a "challenging customer" in the children’s pretend restaurant, encouraging children in the paint area to experiment with mixing colors, and helping a child brainstorm what to do while waiting for his turn on the computer. The children respond with deep engagement and eagerness to contribute their own ideas, and these everyday activities challenge them to engage in social problem solving, create and test hypotheses about the physical world, and learn to regulate their behavior.

In the less effective classroom, the teachers sit close to the children but take a less active role. Children are comfortable involving them in play, but the teachers miss opportunities to take interactions deeper. Some children pull basket after basket off the shelves, playing with each activity for a minute or two before moving on to the next. Others hover at the edges, not sure what to do. In between brief conversations with children, the teachers discuss their plans for the rest of the school day. The children are safe and comfortable but do not stay engaged with activities for long and seem to wander from one thing to the next.

Teachers face enormous distractions with paperwork, routine care, and packed schedules. But some teachers manage to cut through these distractions to truly connect with children, and research shows that these teachers have significant and lasting effects on outcomes. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation measures were developed to make effective teacher-child interactions objective and measurable. The CLASS framework also serves as a roadmap for improving interactions by defining in detail interactions that matter most for children.

For more on the research about effective teaching, check out our new Research Summary. And be sure to share your thoughts about effective teaching in the comments!

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