As I entered my 15th year of teaching young children and supporting adult learners, I found myself searching for answers. Answers to why CLASS implementation was so difficult, why teacher buy-in was such a challenge, and why long-term improvement seemed impossible. In my role as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I’m constantly checking the data. Data drives instruction, instruction drives learning, learning drives comprehension, and comprehension equals success!
As an early learning program, we strive daily to provide best practices through a highly engaging program and opportunities for the children and families we serve. Our infant, toddler, and preschool classrooms consist of a three-teacher team (Supervising Teacher, Teacher Assistant I, Teacher Assistant II). Housed in the city of Cleveland, we are one of a few Head Start grantees in the state of Ohio. Our teachers range in experience from being veteran teachers to recent college graduates, with over 50% holding a Bachelor's degree. They bring a wealth of experiences as well as the willingness to learn new and innovative teaching strategies.
So why was increasing our Instructional Support scores such a challenge? We administered CLASS observation training, had our site-level management trained as CLASS reliable, and provided resources to support the indicators within the IS domain. It became evident that we were missing one very important piece—one that we’ve had training on, but never really showed what it would look like on a daily basis. That very important element was intentional daily planning for CLASS using the indicators to guide us. Here’s what we did …
Before: After reviewing the observation data collected from our observation team and identifying our greatest need, I went back to the drawing board: CLASS coaching. In small study groups of three pilot teachers, I coached teachers on the CLASS tool, using videos, planning techniques, and role-play. This helped teachers interact with their peers in an intimate setting where they felt comfortable asking fundamental questions, from “What does analyzing and reasoning look like in a preschool classroom?” to “How do I connect concepts when recalling activities?” and “What exactly is ‘parallel talk?’ Through discussion, sharing, and practice, the teachers were finally up for the challenge of planning for IS daily.
During: We began to use a simple, non-threatening approach of turning the pilot group’s daily lesson plans over and jotting notes on the back about how they would engage children in thought-provoking conversations and ask open-ended questions, all while introducing new, advanced vocabulary. Teachers practiced this during their small-group instructional time. Why SG? I’m glad you asked. The data showed that SG was the time of day with the greatest area for growth, so why not start there? Teachers intentionally planned for SG without ceasing for five months. As our program approached our post-CLASS observations, I was anxious to see the growth of this pilot group compared with other classrooms who had not participated.
Teachers participating in this pilot group grew from a 2.0 overall in IS to a 2.7 within months of practice! They were excited and ready to continue practicing! During the next school year’s pre-CLASS observation, the pilot teachers’ scores increased from a 2.7 to a 3.2.
During our annual all-staff day, score growth was shared with all teaching teams by the pilot teachers. This was the piece we were missing with teacher buy-in. Teachers love trainers and trainings, but they respect their peers! At this time I decided that this was a practice we needed to make agency-wide.
Prior to the post-CLASS observation that school year, I began offering a mix of coaching strategies, including using Teachstone video resources, video observations and feedback, and the dimensions guide to take small groups of teachers through the steps noted above. We began this practice in 2014 and have since added large-group instruction, another time of day where data showed low IS. Teachers that struggled with CLASS are now experiencing IS scores of 4 and above.
AFTER: As we move forward in our pursuit of quality services, our focus will slightly shift to engaging children in meaningful conversation through the Quality Feedback dimension during routines and transitions. Our data shows us that our IS scores need strengthening during times such as restroom transitions, outdoor transitions, and routines that require short waits. We are currently in the brainstorming stage of how we can support our teachers in better practices.
Teachers are still using the daily lesson plan to intentionally plan and prepare for IS implementation. As a program, we are averaging a 3+ in Instructional Support, with some classrooms receiving scores of 5 or higher. Our teachers have worked extremely hard to better their teaching practices so they directly affect our children as they prepare for kindergarten and beyond.
Rozlyn Grant is the Director of Curriculum for Early Learning at The Centers for Families and Children.
Can we talk about structure? When CLASS entered my life, I was 20 years into my career in the field of early childhood education. What I remember most about that initial training, besides the nervousness about an impending reliability test, was a sense of relief. Structure, including State and program standards, curriculum, materials in the classroom, and approaches to childcare and pedagogy, had dominated my working hours. CLASS was a lot to learn, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air. Observing with CLASS meant I could set aside my obsession with all things structural – which encompassed my thoughts every time I walked into an early childhood classroom.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.