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How Responsive Classroom Practices Work


Do Responsive Classroom practices sound too good to be true? Or too labor-intensive? Mary Beth Forton, director of publications for the Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC), and a former teacher, talks about how Responsive Classroom techniques can save teachers time and make school more pleasant for students and teachers. Included: How Responsive Classroom practices enhance learning.

Mary Beth Forton, the director of publications for the NEFC, recently chatted with Education World about the effectiveness of Responsive Classroom practices.

Mary Beth Forton
Education World: How is the Responsive Classroom approach more difficult than a more traditional classroom management philosophy? How is it easier?

Mary Beth Forton: The [Responsive Classroom] approach to rules and discipline requires teachers to spend a significant amount of time in the early weeks of school teaching the rules. That means taking the time to create rules with students, model and practice those rules, and discuss how you'll respond to rule breaking. Some teachers might find this difficult because of the pressure placed on them to dive into the academic curriculum. However, over and over again, teachers using this approach find that taking the time to teach the rules in the early weeks of school is an investment that is richly repaid.

EW: What is the biggest concern about the Responsive Classroom approach among teachers considering adopting the philosophy?

Forton: Time is one of the biggest concerns teachers have about using this approach or any new approach. Teachers today are under enormous pressure to cover a certain amount of academic curriculum. Because of that, they often are tempted to skip over the critical step of creating a safe and caring climate for learning. Often that backfires, in that teachers must spend an enormous amount of time throughout the year addressing behavior problems that could have been prevented or ameliorated in such a climate.

EW: Can using just some of the aspects of the Responsive Classroom approach be effective?

Forton: The Responsive Classroom approach to teaching consists of six main elements, each involving practical strategies for bringing together social and academic learning throughout the day. The goal is to create a safe, challenging, and joyful environment for learning. Although we see the Responsive Classroom approach as a comprehensive approach to teaching -- and believe it is most effective when used as such -- there are elements that teachers use in isolation with success.

Typically, when teachers begin using this approach, they start by implementing Morning Meeting and Rules and Logical Consequences.

EW: Do you think the No Child Left Behind regulations make it easier or more difficult to adopt Responsive Classroom practices?

Forton: Many of the goals behind the No Child Left Behind regulations are in sync with the beliefs behind the Responsive Classroom approach. We agree with the idea of having high standards and high expectations for every child and many of our practices support this belief. However, the regulations often create an overemphasis on test scores, which can create conflicts for teachers using the Responsive Classroom approach.

When teachers are facing the pressures of high-stake testing, the decisions they make are not always in the best interests of their students. We believe strongly in taking the time in the early weeks of school to set the stage for learning. That means taking the time to build a strong sense of community, while also carefully introducing routines, materials, rules, and expectations.

EW: Have there been any longitudinal studies of students who attended Responsive Classroom elementary schools to see if the social/problem-solving skills remain with the students into middle and high school?

Forton: No longitudinal studies have been done to see if the social/problem-solving skills learned in an elementary Responsive Classroom remain with students into middle and high school. It does make sense that children with a stronger and more successful experience in elementary school because of Responsive Classroom practices, should, all things being held constant, have a more successful experience in middle and high school than students who did not experience Responsive Classroom practices in elementary school.

Multi-year Responsive Classroom research studies have been done. Those studies show that students in classrooms using the Responsive Classroom approach show greater gains in the social skills of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control than do students in classrooms that do not use the Responsive Classroom approach.

Further, in classrooms using Responsive Classroom practices, [studies show] attendance is up, tardiness is down, and there are far fewer behavioral problems as measured by the number of referrals to the principal. There is also compelling evidence that growth in academic skills and growth in social skills are intrinsically linked: growth in social skills leads to growth in academic skills and growth in academic skills leads to growth in social skills.

This e-interview with Mary Beth Forton is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 09/11/2003
Updated 08/27/2009