In this blog post, I shared some of my personal struggles to master the CLASS® measure and promised to take you on a deeper dive into some of the trickier CLASS concepts I encountered in my CLASS journey.

We’ll start with conversations—what we might consider the vehicle for all of the other Instructional Support dimensions.

Overall, the focus of Language Modeling (LM) is for educators to promote and expand children’s language development and verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

Why Does Language Modeling Matter?

Before I jump into strategies for LM, it’s important to understand this dimension and its impact on children. The goal of LM is to encourage conversations, provide individualized language support, and use varied descriptive language such that children understand and communicate more. Evidence indicates that educators can significantly enhance language development by actively modeling new language, encouraging children's verbal expression through questions and conversations, providing engaging and meaningful lessons, and fostering persistence and attention in learning new concepts, both in the classroom and in the children's home language.

Research has shown that children who experience warm and supportive relationships, engaging lessons, effective feedback, and language modeling are more likely to perform better on measures of vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter-word recognition, and reading comprehension. For children who are dual language learners (DLLs), higher Language Modeling promotes children’s gains in language and literacy skills, specifically receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, and print awareness.

What to Keep in Mind about Language Modeling

So, when observing and coding for LM, I always ask myself these key questions:

  • How successful was the educator at getting children to communicate? Not that much? Kind of? Very?
  • Was there a balance of educator and child communication?
  • Was it obvious that the educator was intentionally modeling more advanced, more complex language for the children?
  • Were the back-and-forth exchanges I observed really conversations or just strings of questions and answers (question-answer-question-answer-question-answer)?

It is important to remember that conversations are dialogues—they include not only questions and responses but also the actual sharing of information between two persons. The CLASS 2008 behavior marker underscores that educators’ responses and follow-up questions should be relevant to what the child has said. Conversationally, children often don’t give us a lot to go on, so we can easily fall into the trap of skipping the responding part and moving straight on to another follow-up question, which results in the question-answer-question-answer type exchange, not an authentic conversation. I call it “peppering a child with questions,” something no child really enjoys. Often, children clam up or walk away rather than engage; they feel like they’re being quizzed.

One coach I recently spoke with said she encourages educators to converse with children “the same way you would while getting your nails done with a friend.” Different content, obviously, but the natural, dialogic flow of the conversation should feel just as comfortable. This means that educators need to be encouraged to “just talk with” children rather than talking “to” them or “at” them.

When coding the Language Modeling dimension, coders must analyze and evaluate the form, frequency, and effectiveness of educator-child conversations. By effectiveness, I mean the extent to which the children talked. It should be at least as much as the educator did.

Remember that a question-answer string will not count as a high-range conversation, as the sharing of information (Responses build on one another) is missing, often resulting in very short responses on the part of the child. With high-range conversations, “Educators often initiate extended exchanges with children, creating a flow that encourages children to engage in conversation and communicates to them that they are valued conversational partners” (Field Guide page 128).

sara-beach.jpgWe are excited to have Sara Beach guest blog. As a former Teachstone Staff Trainer, she frequently presented on topics such as Helping Teachers with Instructional Support through active, adult-learning approaches. She has been an infant-toddler teacher, center director, education specialist, coach-mentor, and early childhood college instructor, and her highest honor has been supporting teachers.