Responsive Classroom Curriculum and its Impact on Student Behavior

In 2022, researchers examining the relationship “between the implementation of social-emotional learning in the classroom and the social behaviors exhibited by students” identified four key ways the Responsive Classroom approach positively impacts students, teachers, and the classroom environment:

  1. Building community: “Responsive Classroom elements such as Morning Meetings and closing circles positively affect building a classroom community … Recognizing the feelings and perspectives of others [and] demonstrating an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways are both areas that students grew.”
  2. Community skills: “Our study found that student communication skills increased through the addition of Responsive Classroom elements … The addition of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting or closing circle encouraged communication between student to student, staff to student, and staff to staff.”
  3. Fostering relationships: “Through the implementation of Morning Meeting and closing circle, students were able to develop relationships with their peers and teachers more frequently … The analysis and interpretation of field notes led the researchers to believe that fostering relationships led to academic success.”
  4. Goal-setting: “Through the implementation of Morning Meeting and closing circle, students were articulating academic and social-emotional goals more regularly … [Students] are better able to make deliberate decisions and seek out appropriate supports that will influence their overall accomplishments in the classroom.”
    Additionally, 75% of the educators who participated in the study found that the Responsive Classroom approach significantly increased self-efficacy for most students in their classrooms.

For more information:

Teacher Belief Study

Analysis of how effectively teachers acquire and strengthen beliefs aligned with Responsive Classroom practices after attending a four-day Responsive Classroom course.

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Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach as defined in the ESSA.

Independent research has found that the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher quality instruction. See below for study details.

Key Responsive Classroom Research Findings:

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The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning

Columbia University’s Teacher Colleges evaluated the economic benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL) by studying six interventions, including the Responsive Classroom approach. Researchers found that “improving SEL shows measurable benefits that exceed its costs, often by considerable amounts.” Specifically, for every dollar schools spent on Responsive Classroom, there was a return of almost nine dollars per student.

Quick Look:

  • Cost-benefit analysis of six SEL programs, 2015
  • Research Team at Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (Belfield et al.)
  • Funded by NoVo Foundation
  • Average cost for Responsive Classroom per student over three years, grades 3-5: $900
  • Benefits, based on standardized gains in math and reading in grade five: $8,920 or an almost 9:1 return on investment*
  • Program selected based on evidence of effectiveness, prominence in SEL field, and diversity of students served

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*Researchers have used Cost-Benefit Analysis since the 1960s to determine the rate of return on investments in education. This independent Cost-Benefit Analysis by Belfield et al., 2015 found immediate benefits to students during the three years of Responsive Classroom (RC) participation as well as post-RC benefits accrued from high school to adulthood through lifetime earnings.

Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study

From 2008 to 2011, researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education conducted a three-year randomized controlled study led by Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman. The Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study (RCES), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES), involved 24 elementary schools in a large district in a mid-Atlantic state. The schools were assigned randomly to intervention and comparison groups. The study followed 350 teachers and over 2,900 students from the spring of the students’ second grade year to the spring of their fifth grade year.

Importance of Support for Teachers

According to researchers, teachers reported that a supportive setting is important to their implementation of Responsive Classroom practices. Specifically, teachers were more likely to use these practices when:

  • Their principal showed buy-in to the Responsive Classroom approach.
  • They received coaching while implementing new Responsive Classroom practices.
  • Their school climate offers validation and social support for trying the Responsive Classroom approach and allowed them to adopt the approach at their own pace.

Benefits of Using Responsive Classroom Practices

Researchers found that teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom practices was associated with the following positive outcomes.

  1. Improved Student Achievement

    Teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom practices predicts gains in student math and reading achievement. In addition, researchers found the following:

    • Academic Choice: Teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom Academic Choice, specifically, was associated with reading and math achievement outcomes.
    • Socio-economics: The associations between Responsive Classroom practices and achievement were equally strong for children eligible for free/reduced price lunch and those not eligible.
    • Greater effect on low-achieving students: The association between teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom practices and math achievement appears to be stronger for students who are initially low achieving than for others.
  2. Improved Teacher-Student Interactions

    Teachers’ increased use of Responsive Classroom practices was related to classrooms that are more emotionally supportive and organized. Specifically:

    • Morning Meeting: Teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom Morning Meeting was related to improved emotional support for students and improved classroom organization.
    • Academic Choice: Teachers’ use of Academic Choice was also related to improved emotional support during math instruction.
  3. Higher Quality Instruction in Mathematics

    Teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom practices was associated with more skillful standards-based mathematics instruction. For example, teachers demonstrated the following:

  • Higher levels of mathematical discourse
  • Better use of and translation among mathematical representations
  • Lessons with greater cognitive depth
  • Lessons with greater coherence and accuracy

The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning

In 2011, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) conducted a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

For more information:

For more information about the RCES and SALS studies, related publications, and free, downloadable assessment tools, visit The University of Virginia’s Social Development Lab website.

Read citations for conference presentations related to the Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study.

Download a two-page pdf of the Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study (RCES)

Download “The Responsive Classroom Approach Increases the Use of Standards-Based Mathematics Teaching Practices,” a CASTL research brief summarizing findings published in The Elementary School Journal. (pdf)

Download “Influences on Implementation of the Responsive Classroom Approach,” a CASTL research brief summarizing findings published in Prevention Science. (pdf)

Watch the webinar from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education: Understanding New Research and Findings on the Responsive Classroom® Approach

More about past research on the Responsive Classroom approach.

For Responsive Classroom White Papers and other downloadable documents, visit our Build Connections page.