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Responsive Classroom Strategies

Using Language to
Encourage and
Empower Children
Part 2

In this four-part series, Ruth Sidney Charney discusses the language of the Responsive Classroom, explains the structures that support encouraging and empowering language, and provides practical examples of each.

As we learned in part one of this series, teachers using a Responsive Classroom approach employ three simple structures -- called "The Three R's" -- to support encouraging and empowering language. The first structure is: to reinforce.


Using Language to Encourage and Empower Children

Part 1: Encouraging and Empowering Language
Part 2: Exploring the First "R": To Reinforce
Part 3: Exploring the Second "R": To Remind
Part 4: Exploring the Third "R": To Redirect

We reinforce children when we notice. We notice the personal detail our children bring to school and we notice their efforts to behave and learn. We take notice of a pesky sibling, family gatherings, team events, hobbies, and interests. We check in regularly about a grandparent's health, a scary accident, a lost pet. We applaud the five correct answers on the math paper (when last week there were only two), the extra sentence in writing, the crisp adjectives, and the ten minutes of fair play in a game. Our strongest attention is given to positive behaviors rather than having our voice consumed by the missteps and "squeaky wheels."

We reinforce by noticing the positive attempts children make to follow the rules and meet class expectations. We reinforce when children are practicing new skills or when they demonstrate behaviors recently modeled. We also want to consistently reinforce appropriate behaviors to sustain and develop constructive habits over time. We can reinforce the group or individuals. When we are addressing individuals, we do so directly and privately, and not as admonition or manipulation for others. "Carla is ready," as a way to motivate others is different from saying to Carla privately, "I noticed that you got ready so quickly. Thanks."

Examples of noticing and reinforcing students include:

"Today's the day, isn't it?" the teacher whispers to Hector. He smiles at her and they share a quick high-five salute, acknowledging Hector's impending solo performance in the church choir.

"Snazzy new boots?" the teacher asks Leila as she struts into class.

"How'd your team do yesterday?" Mrs. W. asks her student.

"Thanks for helping Tessa with her spelling. I noticed you gave her good hints so she could spell some of the words herself."

"I noticed it took much less time today to get on line. What did you notice?"

"I see you remembered your book today. Did the string work?" "Yup," Jess says, smiling. "Thanks for the idea."

"I noticed you got your math done this morning with no interruption. That took lots of good concentration, Jeremy."

Examples of reinforcing classroom expectations include:

"I see so many people ready to start meeting. I see hands in laps, legs crossed, eyes front."

"I noticed that many people remembered to look at the person they were greeting today. What did you notice?"

"Thank you for a very efficient clean-up today. I noticed caps back on markers, pencils with points down in cans, paper off the floor."

"The descriptions in the setting of the story really got me into the scene."

"You really found an interesting way to solve the problem and complete the project together."

In sum, when we notice with our vision and language, children's attempts to get on line quickly, raise their hands instead of calling out, help a neighbor, tackle hard work, manage frustrating tasks, we reinforce their efforts to grow and learn. Again, we reinforce with language that is:

  • specific and descriptive.
  • stresses the deed not the doer.
  • is direct rather than manipulative.
Next: Exploring the Second "R": To Remind