By Patti Greenstein, Consultant and Trainer, Foundations for Families

Designated by the Head Start Act as an evaluation requirement of Head Start/Early Head Start grantees, CLASS is one measure the Office of Head Start (OHS) uses to assess program quality. In our work with grantees, and from what we’ve seen in National CLASS reports, Instructional Support continues to be the domain where programs need the most support. Scores continue to be lower in this area than the other CLASS domains (Emotional Support and Classroom Organization).

Here, we take a look at common challenges for dimensions of Instructional Support and we offer tips for how to address those challenges. These small changes could help to make a difference in Instructional Support scores.

Promote children’s higher-order thinking skills through concept development during less structured times of the day – like lunchtime!

In preschool classrooms, circle time, center time, and small group work typically involve more planned activities in which instruction is a central focus and implementing Concept Development strategies seems more natural. During the less structured times of the day – for example, mealtime, transitions, and large group activities – doing so feels less comfortable and can present challenges to enhanced instructional support. Lunchtime is a good example. The norm at lunchtime is to have natural flowing conversation, a valued indicator of Language Modeling though not always inclusive of the other dimensions of Instructional Support.

If the goal is for teaching staff to implement the CLASS standards well all the time, how do you make changes to the way instruction takes place during less formal interactions, like lunchtime?

Envision what lunchtime conversation typically looks like in a preschool classroom. You might hear questions like, “what are you eating today?” Or, “who is going to try their broccoli?”One of the indicators of the Concept Development dimension, however, is providing children with opportunities to classify and compare. So, one way to enhance interactions during lunchtime to ensure teachers are supporting all Instructional Support dimensions would be to ask questions such as, “who has more broccoli?” Or, “how many of our friends said they would try broccoli? How many said they would not? Which is more?” You could go even further to tie in Quality of Feedback by asking “What did each of our friends choose to eat first? Why do you think they chose that first?” thereby creating opportunities for feedback loops and prompting children’s thought processes.

One way to support teachers in this area is to prepare discussion questions in advance that will help move a conversation or interaction from one that is social to one that engages more deeply in all dimensions of Instructional Support. Providing teaching staff with opportunities to practice these enhancement strategies during coaching and professional development will also help them to become more natural and feel more comfortable.

Elevate concept development by drawing connections to activities and learning experiences throughout the day. 

A second trend that we’ve observed within the Concept Development dimension in Instructional Support is challenges with integration. For children to learn, concepts need to be integrated into experiences throughout the day. With this approach, concepts that are taught during circle time would also be explored during small group work and learning centers, for example. When that extension does not take place, however, it is less likely that the concepts introduced will be fully integrated into children’s learning. This integration is essential to improving the overall quality of classroom instruction.

How can teachers create opportunities for follow up when new concepts are introduced?

Integration requires thoughtful planning about the flow and content of activities throughout the day. Teaching staff should be supported to think creatively to plan varied opportunities for follow up about concepts that are introduced to children. Define the new concept that is being introduced. Then, follow that concept from one activity to the next throughout the day. Be sure not to limit integration to planned learning experiences and projects. Ensure materials and equipment available in learning centers and during outdoor play also provide opportunities for children to continue to explore concepts at their own pace.

Allow sufficient time for children to respond to open-ended questions.

Within the Language Modeling dimension of Instructional Support, teachers are encouraged to ask open-ended questions. We’ve observed that many teachers are aware of the importance of open-ended questions and are very good at asking them.

Sometimes, however, before a child can respond to the teacher’s open-ended question, the teacher might follow up with a closed-ended question. For example, “Tell me about what you are making.” And then, before the child responds, “Are you building a house?” In our observations and conversations with teachers it seems that many are unaware of how quickly they introduced the closed-ended question and therefore reduced the child’s opportunity to practice language.

How can teachers be supported to achieve the highest scores related to language modeling, particularly as it relates to asking open-ended questions?

As we described above, the challenge often isn’t asking the open-ended questions, it is allowing enough time for children to respond to those questions. We’ve found that simply pointing this practice out to teachers has led to improvements in this area. Enhancing self-awareness really can be a helpful tool for making a small change with big impacts. Leverage coaching and other support provided to staff to provide feedback on open-ended questions and follow up.

Our team at Foundations for Families understands that preparing for a CLASS review can cause stress. Often, programs find it helpful to have an outside perspective on CLASS before the official review takes place. We offer review preparation support by visiting program and conducting a sample of class reviews. We provide detailed reports to your program to help you improve program quality and prepare for the official CLASS review. Please be in touch if you’re interested to learn more.

Thank you.

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