Many districts ask themselves– what constitutes quality instruction? What does quality instruction look like and how do you know it when you see it? For districts in California, one of the closest definitions of quality instruction resides in the California Standards for the Teaching Practice (CSTP). Districts often use these standards as a means for teacher evaluation, and the standards imply a set of characteristics for quality instruction.


When a district is defining quality instruction, they may also want to consult with a set of research studies that attempt to explore the elements of quality instruction from more robust angles.  This research could help districts better understand the elements of the CSTPs and potentially enhance their understanding of areas where the CSTPs need bolstering. This post gives brief descriptions of a few frameworks from research exploring quality instruction and how they might enhance a district’s understanding of the CSTPs.


I highlight the Danielson Framework and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) as they are often referenced by practitioners and researchers as measures for quality instruction.  Many frameworks articulating quality instruction overlook issues of equity and access in their domains, and yet these characteristics are important values to teachers working with our most underserved students. Consequently, I also present two frameworks that address these issues within frameworks for quality instruction. Below, I also describe Ball’s framework and the Complex Instruction framework. Both of these frameworks were developed by Stanford professors attempting to address the issue of quality instruction through the lens of equity and access.


Danielson Framework [1]

As seen in figure 1, the Danielson Framework for Teaching is a research-based set of components that define quality instruction. The framework is divided into four domains – planning and preparation, instruction, classroom environment, and professional responsibilities – each with a set of components. As seen in Figure 1, the Danielson framework domains map on well to the CSTPs, and consequently, the tools and resources associated with the Danielson Framework could be helpful to CA districts for enacting the CSTP as their definition of quality instruction.


Figure 1: Domains and sub-domains of Danielson Framework

California Standards for the Teaching Practice

Danielson Framework Domains and Components

  • Standard 3: Understanding and organizing subject matter for student learning
  • Standard 4: Planning instruction and designing learning experiences for all students

Planning and preparation

  • 1a) Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy
  • 1b) Demonstrating knowledge of students
  • 1c) Setting instructional outcomes
  • 1d) Demonstrating knowledge of resources
  • 1e) Designing coherent instruction
  • 1f) Designing student assessments
  • Standard 1: Engaging and supporting all students in learning
  • Standard 5: Assessing students for learning



  • 3a) Communicating with students
  • 3b) Using questioning and discussion techniques
  • 3c) Engaging students in learning
  • 3d) Using assessment in instruction
  • 3e) Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness
  • Standard 2: Creating and maintaining effective environments for student learning


Classroom environment

  • 2a) Creating an environment of respect and rapport
  • 2b) Establishing a culture for learning
  • 2c) Managing Classroom Procedures
  • 2d) Managing Student Behavior
  • 2e) Organizing physical space
  • Standard 6: Developing as a professional educator


Professional responsibilities

  • 4a) Reflecting on teaching
  • 4b) Maintaining accurate records
  • 4c) Communicating with families
  • 4d) Participating in the professional community
  • 4e) Growing and developing professionally
  • 4f) Showing professionalism


The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)

The CLASS is a tool used for observing instruction and focuses in on the interactions in classrooms aimed at improving student learning. Often times, CLASS is used to better understand how to support teachers’ professional development needs for teachers in training or general classroom teachers, but it also has become used in some schools and districts for evaluating teacher instruction. Developed by the University of Virginia, the CLASS is now being use at the pre-K, elementary and secondary levels. The training for using CLASS is very rigorous and centralized, with assessments and reliability tests for all raters. In Figure 2, I list below the domains and sub-domains from the secondary level CLASS observation tool as an example of the elements captured by CLASS.


Figure 2: The Domains and Sub-domains for the CLASS – Secondary [2]

Emotional Support

Positive Climate , reflecting warmth and sense of connectedness in classroom

Negative Climate , reflecting expressed negativity in classroom

Teacher Sensitivity , reflecting responsiveness to student academic/emotional needs

Regard for Adolescent Perspectives , reflecting teacher’s ability to recognize and capitalize on student needs for autonomy, active roles, and peer interaction in the classroom.

Classroom Organization

Behavior Management , reflecting teacher’s ability to use effective method to encourage desirable behavior and prevent/redirect misbehavior

Productivity , reflecting teacher ability to manage the classroom so as to maximize instructional time

Instructional Learning Formats , reflecting teacher use of varied and interesting materials and teaching techniques in an organized fashion.

Instructional Support

Content Understanding , reflecting teacher presentation of content within a broader intellectual framework

Analysis and Problem Solving, reflecting emphasis upon engaging students in higher order thinking skills

Quality of Feedback , reflecting provision of contingent feedback designed to challenge students and expand their understanding of a concept.


The CSTPs, the Danielson framework, and CLASS overlook the area of culturally relevant pedagogy as a facet of quality instruction. The Danielson Framework does talk of “creating an environment of respect and rapport ,” but does not take into account what Ladson-Billings (1995) describes as culturally relevant pedagogy. [3]   This type of teaching rests on the notions that teachers create a connection between students’ home lives and school experiences, utilizing student backgrounds and experiences to inform teachers’ lessons and general instruction. As I mentioned above, I explore this area in more depth by describing two instructional approaches that posit characteristics of quality instruction paying attention to issues of culture, language, race, and issues related to status and power.


Ball’s Teaching in Culturally or Linguistically Complex Classrooms [4]

Ball’s research uses this four-fold theoretical framework to articulate ideal teacher characteristics within culturally and linguistically complex classrooms. These characteristics could help districts explain what characteristics a teacher demonstrates when they participate in culturally and linguistically relevant instruction.

  • Teachers with high levels of metacognitive awareness can help themselves identify their own barriers to learning, change the strategies they are using to attain their goals, and modify their teaching and learning strategies based on awareness of their effectiveness;
  • Teachers  are able to bring together new perspectives, new ideas, and new voices as an essential component to their  personal  growth or “ ideological becoming ”;
  • Teacher learning must involve internalization meaning learning occurs in a social plane and internal plane;
  • Teachers must have self-efficacy or the belief in their potential ability to affect positive change in the lives of students.


Cohen and Lotan’s articulation of Complex Instruction [5]

Cohen and Lotan’s research posits a framework for instruction articulating a set of characteristics that addresses issues of race, power, and status. Known as Complex Instruction (CI), teachers focus on mitigating students’ status in their classrooms by using cooperative learning tasks to influence their own perceptions and students’ perceptions of students’ competence. The list below shows the three components of CI that influence the shift in teachers’ and students’ perceptions.

  • Multiple ability curriculum - Provide curricular tasks that are open-ended, rich in multiple abilities, and support learning important mathematical concepts and skills central to a big idea.
  • Instructional strategies - Develop autonomy of and interdependence within each group through the use of norms, roles, and teacher interventions.
  • Status and accountability - Raise intellectual expectations for all students, hold individuals and small groups accountable for learning, and intervene in status issues .

[1] Danielson, C. (2007) Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, 2 nd Edition. Association for Supervisor and Curriculum Development.

[2] Allen, A.G., Mikami, A., Lun, J., Hamre, B., and Pianta, R.C. “Predicting Adolescent Achievement with the CLASS-S Observation Tool.” Research Brief. University of Virginia CASTL Curry School of Education.

[3] Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dreamkeepers: Successful teaching for African-American students . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[4] Ball, A. (2009). Toward a Theory of Generative Change In Culturally and Linguistically Complex Classrooms. American Education Research Journal, (46 (1).

[5] Cohen, E.G., and Lotan, R.A. (2014) Designing Group Work: Strategies for a Heterogeneous Classroom , third edition . Teachers College Press.

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