Ms. Simpson signals for attention and waits a few seconds, until all students are looking at her, before explaining that today they’ll be learning a reading strategy called “visualizing.” Using second-grade-friendly language, she defines the new term and then demonstrates it by thinking aloud about what she sees in her mind when she reads a book title.
She shows the first page of the book with the pictures covered up, instructing the children to close their eyes and make their own mental pictures as she reads the page aloud. Then she tells them to turn to pre-assigned partners and spend a minute or so talking about what they visualized. The partners chat enthusiastically, take turns, and stay on topic. At the teacher’s signal, they end their conversations and return their attention to her.
—Adapted from “Seeing It All Come Together,” originally published on the Responsive blog, November 17, 2010.
As every teacher knows, a lot more is happening in this seemingly simple classroom scene than meets the eye. Delivering instruction this effectively takes planning and skill. And striving to do so all day, every day, for every child, is one of the great challenges of teaching—especially in the midst of the rapid technological, economic, political, and social change that defines the 21st century.
How can you master the challenges—while also meeting standards and sustaining your love of teaching? The Responsive Classroom approach offers you a set of tools to help you do just that.
Powerful Tools in Three Domains
A growing body of research shows that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors determining how well students do in school. Lora Hodges, executive director of Northeast Foundation for Children, developer of the Responsive Classroom approach, sums it up this way: “Managing a classroom where children are actively engaged in their learning, participating in lively dialogues, and developing higher-order thinking is vastly different from managing a classroom where children are expected to be compliant completers of worksheets.”
The Responsive Classroom approach helps teachers achieve 21st century effectiveness by offering research-based teaching tools in three crucial, interrelated domains:
Lessons, assignments, and activities are active and interactive, appropriately challenging, purposeful, and connected to students’ interests. The result: Children have higher levels of motivation, skill mastery, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.
Some related teaching skills: Giving clear directions, asking open-ended questions, pacing lessons appropriately, offering meaningful learning choices, giving high-quality feedback.
Teachers establish and teach behavior expectations, manage schedules, and organize physical spaces in ways that enable students to work with autonomy and focus. When children make behavior mistakes, teachers respond in nonpunitive ways that quickly and respectfully help them resume their learning.
Some related teaching skills: Developing meaningful rules that connect to children’s learning goals, establishing efficient routines that allow for student autonomy, intervening before behavior goes off track, responding to misbehavior clearly, calmly, and respectfully.
Every child feels safe, valued, and fully included in the learning community; teacher and students share a common purpose as well as routines and traditions that form a comforting underpinning for their days; and a sense of joy envelops hard work. In such a climate, children can take the risks necessary for learning.
Some related teaching skills: Building a sense of community and shared purpose during the first weeks of school, developing teacher-student and student-student relationships, devising routines, creating community traditions.
These three domains enable and enrich one another; no one of the three reaches its maximum power without the other two.
Consider, for example, that a well-managed classroom can be a positive community, but without rigorous and engaging instruction, students are unlikely to reach 21st century learning goals. On the other hand, the most engaging curriculum will fall short in a setting where students struggle to keep their behavior on track. And without positive community, students lack the sense of their own significance that enables them to engage in deep learning—learning that affects their lives in positive and long-lasting ways.
Ms. Simpson’s reading lesson displays the interplay of the three domains. Learning is happening because she presents the lesson in an engaging way—but also because she has strong classroom management skills and has created a classroom community that is conducive to learning.
Working Across the Domains
Ms. Simpson’s teaching draws on Responsive Classroom tools that span the three domains. She’s laid the essential groundwork for her reading lesson by:
- Teaching students how to respond to a signal for attention
- Developing students’ partner skills
- Considering developmental needs
- Pacing instruction in a way that keeps students engaged
- Making the learning active and interactive by asking students to think for themselves and share their ideas
As the lesson continued after the first few minutes described above, she turned to additional Responsive Classroom tools:
- Using teacher language that encouraged deeper thinking
- Providing repeated practice using a well-rehearsed, structured routine
- Offering a well-timed movement break
- Transitioning smoothly
- Making time for independent practice that allowed students to try the new skill with differentiated texts
[Read a description of the whole lesson.]
It’s important to notice that Ms. Simpson was teaching reading—not Responsive Classroom. That’s because the Responsive Classroom approach is a holistic way of thinking about, relating to, and teaching students, not an add-on or a package of lessons. You needn’t find time to “do” Responsive Classroom. Instead it simply becomes part of how you teach—no matter the curriculum, the content, the academic and social skills students are learning, or the standards you need to meet.
Start Changing the Future Now
For over thirty years, Responsive Classroom strategies and practices have been offering teachers a time-tested, research- and evidence-based way to boost their effectiveness in teaching every child, every day. Try the tools that span the three domains, and you’ll see improvements in student learning, student behavior, and classroom climate. You’ll rejuvenate your love of teaching. And you’ll join the thousands of teachers and schools that are transforming teaching and changing the future.
Students benefit most when teachers, specialists, administrators, and other school staff all get Responsive Classroom training. We offer workshops and institutes in many locations throughout the year, and we work on-site with schools and districts.
- Annual Leadership Conference
Tell administrators and teacher leaders about our national conference. This year’s theme is “Improving Teacher Effectiveness.”
- White Paper
We’ve adapted this article from “Good Teaching Changes the Future,” the first in a series of white papers published by Northeast Foundation for Children, developer of the Responsive Classroom approach. Download the white paper.