Due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of schools and programs have decided to adopt either a totally online program of instruction or a hybrid model of instruction for the beginning of the 2020 school year. This has prompted questions about whether or not the CLASS measure may be used for observing in virtual classrooms and, if so, what observers need to know prior to conducting observations.

CLASS observations can be conducted in virtual classrooms, as the core CLASS concepts—namely, the importance of teacher-student interactions—hold true regardless of the setting. 

Research on virtual teaching suggests that the quality of interactions between the instructor and the students and among the students are key components of quality (Sherry, 2003). Due to limited research on using CLASS to score the quality of interactions in virtual classrooms, Teachstone recommends that data obtained in this manner be used to provide teachers with feedback and support as they learn how to deliver virtual lessons most effectively.

Observers should take a number of considerations into account when observing teaching outside of traditional classrooms. This document spells out general guidance for observing virtual classrooms with the CLASS measure.* 

* Teachstone recognizes that synchronous, virtual instruction is not the only way that teachers are supporting children and their families as learning moves out of physical classrooms. We will be releasing additional guidance on other out-of-classroom supports. 

Defining the Virtual Observation

There are a variety of virtual learning models, including but not limited to:

  • Asynchronous learning: Videos or online activities are posted for children/families to access without scheduled sessions
  • Synchronous learning: Teachers and students meet in real time via web interface
  • Hybrid model: A combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences

This document focuses on synchronous learning experiences. There are two ways to conduct CLASS observations of synchronous teaching. The first is for the observer to be present during the session. The second is for the observer to code a recording of the lesson. In both of these cases, observers can find some applicable recommendations in Teachstone’s guidelines for observing from video. 

Guidance for Conducting CLASS® Observations


The scheduled length of time for virtual sessions will vary widely as schools and organizations implement their own guidance for virtual instruction. Some programs may have children attend virtual classrooms for 4–6 hours, while others may use shorter sessions, particularly for the youngest learners. Teachstone recommends that observers follow the observation protocol found in Chapter 2 of the CLASS manual to the extent possible (30-minute cycles: 20 minutes of observing and 10 minutes of coding). If the time planned for the virtual session does not allow for a full 30-minute cycle, we suggest observing cycles of at least 10–15 minutes. Prior to beginning the observation, the observer should discuss the schedule with the teacher to determine how long the session will last and establish cycle number and length based on this information. Below are some suggestions of how observation cycles may be completed in a live-streamed session:

  • 30-minute virtual session: Two 10-minute observations cycles consisting of 10 minutes of observation and 10 minutes of coding. The observer assigns codes for the second cycle after the session ends. 
  • 45-minute virtual session: Two 15-minute observation cycles consisting of 15 minutes of observation and 10 minutes of coding. The observer assigns codes for the second cycle after the session ends. 
  • 60-minute virtual session: Two 20-minute observation cycles consisting of 20 minutes of observation and 10 minutes of coding. The observer assigns codes for the second cycle after the session ends. 

While observing in this manner is not in line with the typical observation protocol, it is important to remember that virtual observations should be conducted for the purpose of formative assessment and professional development. Shorter observations are typically sufficient for these purposes. Programs/schools should develop clear protocols for cycle number and length and use these protocols consistently across observations.

The Observer and the Camera

Upon entering a virtual classroom, observers should have their camera on. This will allow observers to introduce themselves to the teacher and ask about the expected number of children for the group, if this information is not already known. Once introductions have been made, observers should turn their camera off. This will help observers to observe discreetly, without distracting the teacher or children. Additionally, observers can mute the session while they are coding, to reduce distraction for themselves.

Observer Focus

Live-streamed observation sessions should be viewed in gallery view, even if not all children are on camera. This helps observers get a sense of how many children are talking and engaged. As observers watch the live video stream, their gaze should move across the screen. If virtual sessions are recorded for later review, we recommend that observers request that the session be set to gallery view by the person recording. 

It is possible that some older children will use chat boxes to respond to teachers’ or peers’ remarks and questions instead of responding verbally. In this instance the observer should also monitor the chat box for conversations that may be happening. 

Beginning an Observation 

In a typical formal observation, 50% of the expected group of children would have to be present before the observation could begin. However, we recognize that the current situation is not typical, and therefore suggest that observers begin as long as at least one child is present. Additionally, it would be ideal for at least 50% of children present to be visible on camera, but observers may continue observing as long as children are audible. If no children are audible, visible, or using tools within the platform that allow them to respond to the teacher, an observer will not be able to code teacher-child interactions. 

Adults and Children in the Home

Observing virtually can provide additional challenges due to the presence of other adults and children in the home. In some cases, an adult or older child may assist with the lesson or technology. The interactions of non-facilitating adults and non-target children should be taken into account in coding only if they observably enhance or detract from children’s experiences. For instance, a parent sitting passively at a child’s side would not lower a score for effective facilitation by being uninvolved. But a parent having an audible conversation next to a child could affect the score for maximizing learning time if children were noticeably distracted.

Mandated Reporting

Observers should be knowledgeable about state and local mandated reporting laws. In the circumstance of any suspected abuse or neglect observed at the time of virtual observation, the observer must report the observed behaviors as mandated by law.

Impacts of Virtual Instruction on Pre-K–K-3 CLASS® Indicators

The following downloadable guidance tool includes a table that outlines at the dimension and indicator level how the move to virtual  settings may impact the evidence for each CLASS dimension. It also discusses some specific interactions to look for that meet the intent of these dimensions and indicators. Like the behavioral markers in the CLASS manual, the list provided here is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather, to help observers think about some different types of evidence they might capture. 

The table addresses indicators and behavioral markers that may look different due to virtual learning. Indicators that are likely to be observable regardless of the virtual learning platform are not included. In instances when children are not visible on screen, observers should still note the types of interactions the teacher sets up and how children respond, whether verbally or by using a chat box, reaction buttons, or emojis within the meeting platform.  

Download Dimension-Specific Guidance

We hope this guidance is helpful in answering some of your most important questions, but we recognize that circumstances differ across the education landscape. Please use the CLASS Learning Community as a way to get feedback and dialogue with others about their approaches in this COVID-19 world. If you have thoughts you’d like to share or would like to consult directly with us, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at interactions@teachstone.com.

Note: We recently published similar guidance for in-person teaching during COVID, that can be found here: Guidance for Conducting CLASS® Observations of In-Person Teaching During COVID-19, Pre-K–K-3