Classroom Observation Tool
In this era of educational accountability, students with special education needs and the teachers who serve them are often left behind. We began our research by conducting a comprehensive review of existing classroom evaluation tools to start the conversation as to how we can best include special education classrooms in the process. See Mind the Gap: Accountability, Observation, and Special Education published in Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, and Practice.
The RELATE Tool for self-contained special education classroom observation was built from a content analysis of existing classroom observation frameworks, systematic classroom observations of special education classrooms, and interviews and a focus group with dozens of special education teachers, paraeducators, and administrators across three states. The validation process is detailed in a paper that is currently under review.
Further, it is well documented that researchers and practitioners have difficulty observing special education classrooms in meaningful ways. We commented about this very issue in Education Week.
Components are the broadest categories of the RELATE Tool, which define the most important aspects of special education learning environments. Three components include Teacher-Paraeducator Interactions, Accommodations, and Prevention, important extensions to well-established components of classroom quality.
Each component is comprised of elements, well-defined smaller chunks of classroom characteristics and behaviors. For example, accommodations includes three elements: Tiered Support, Instructional Resources, and Flexibility.
The elements of each component are further defined by indicators, or actionable examples of what behaviors and interactions would look like in a classroom. The RELATE Tool is made up of 40 indicators, including student groupings, acknowledging student learning differences, modeling, praising, and encouraging positive student learning behaviors that comprise the Tiered Support element.
Uniquely designed for special education learning environments, the RELATE Tool is organized by a tiered structure of components, elements, and indicators specific to classrooms serving students with special needs. Intended to complement existing classroom observation tools designed for general education learning environments, the RELATE Tool excludes well-established components of classroom quality, such as classroom emotional climate, organizational elements, or curriculum format. The RELATE Tool focuses on interactions between teachers and paraeducators, accommodations to enhance learning, and prevention strategies to monitor and de-escalate challenging behaviors.
The RELATE Tool for special education classroom observation is designed to specifically assess components of classrooms serving student with special education needs. Of the many classroom observation scales available, none of them adequately capture the range of interactions among classroom participants in special education learning environments. Can you RELATE?