Welcome to the Responsive Classroom

Posted by Rebecca Moore - 16 September, 2015

morning meetingBy Henri Helstowski, 2nd Grade Teacher; and Nichole Knapp, 1st Grade Teacher

Close your eyes and imagine the sound of a beautiful chime ringing to signal movement to the classroom carpet. Once students hear the Woodstock Zen Chimes ring, they know it is time for them to gather on the carpet for a daily morning meeting. It is a time to read together. It is a time to greet one another in meaningful ways. It is a time to bond with one another and begin their day anew.

Gone are the days of moving your apple to red.

Gone are the days of moving your apple to red. No longer will a student be publicly marked for hours on end because his/her name has been moved to a specific color. These are the days of an awakening, due to concepts from the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching, a research-based method of education associated with greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate. All of this is part of a new approach to the social and emotional education in the Lower School.

Responsive Classroom emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. This approach focuses on the idea that social-emotional growth and academic improvement are equally important and that learning occurs through social interaction.

The majority of research conducted on the effectiveness of this approach was done from 2008-2011 through the Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study at The University of Virginia. Throughout this study there were many areas of marked improvement in students who engaged in the RC approach. They are as follows: improved student achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher quality instruction in mathematics.

IMG_1185Prior to this specific research study, there have been many positive findings on the importance of teaching social skills to improve student outcomes. In a recent New York Times article, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives”, author David Bornstein discusses one such study that was conducted as part of the Fast Track Project in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and central Pennsylvania. In July 2015, researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke published a study that discussed what had happened with these students in the 13-19 years since kindergarten.

A substantial finding was that students who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low. Bornstein continues, “These findings add to a growing body of evidence—including long-term studies drawn from data in New Zealand and Britain—that have profound implication for educators ... Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness, and social awareness- strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.”

In keeping with the significance of social and emotional education, Randolph's Lower School has adopted the Responsive Classroom approach along with many of its components. This year all teachers in Kindergarten through 4th grade have incorporated one of Responsive Classroom's most celebrated elements, ‘The Daily Morning Meeting.’ Lower School French teacher Tyler Knickelbein, seen above, has just started conducting Morning Meeting for the 2nd Grade entirely in French. During Morning Meeting students and their teacher gather together in a circle for 20–30 minutes and interact with one another using the following four components:

Students and teachers greet each other by name and practice offering hospitality. These activities provide students with experience in communication skills such as, making eye contact, asking questions, and listening skills.

Students share information about important events in their lives; listeners may offer empathetic comments or ask clarifying questions.

Group Activity
Everyone participates in a brief, lively activity that fosters group cohesion and helps reinforce learning (through, for example, poems, songs, and games that incorporate academic or social skills).

Morning Message
Students read and interact with a short message written by their teacher and crafted to help them focus on the work they’ll do in school that day.

In keeping with the Responsive Classroom approach, K-4 teachers are using the CARES social skills to teach and set up classroom expectations. They have given us a foundation for creating this year’s classroom rules. The acronym CARES stands for cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy and self-control. Each of these elements is been explored through Interactive modeling, classroom activities, and book discussions.

Social and emotional skills must be taught, just as we would teach an academic subject.

Interactive Modeling is a key element in the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching. We often assume that children automatically “get” social skills. It is imperative that we understand that children’s social and emotional skills must be taught, just as we would teach an academic subject. These skills must be fostered in a consistent manner and nurturing environment. Appropriate behaviors are modeled for students in meaningful ways. The students are then asked to reflect on the modeled behavior by answering the following questions:

  • What does the behavior sound like?
  • What does the behavior look like?
  • What does the behavior feel like?

In regards to addressing behavior issues, we have introduced a new system, Take A Break, to allow students to take ownership of their emotions. Take A Break, teaches students to identify what emotion they are experiencing, ways to cope with the emotion, and provides an outlet to express how they can resolve any negative feelings they are having. [This approach to discipline aligns with and prepares students for the Middle School's move away from demerits and infractions to an emphasis on natural consequences. Both divisions prepare students for the increased personal accountability of the Honor System required in the Upper School.]

We continue to explore ways to implement the Responsive Classroom approach in Lower School. Fourth grade teacher Susan Short has created as Responsive Classroom Haiku site for us to use as a resource.

Using Responsive Classroom has provided us the opportunity to know our students on deeper level and it has given us the gift of watching them apply their skills while forming meaningful relationships with one another. It is a remarkable way to build the social and emotional skills that are so important to the future success of our students.

If this is the type of classroom approach you want your child to experience, then schedule a time to take a tour of our campus.

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Topics: 1st grade, 2nd grade, Academics, curriculum, interdisciplinary, Lower School, professional development, Program, teachers, training, People

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