Three-Year Survey of Students
Principal Dennis Copeland had one goal in mind when he decided to survey a group of 200 students in his school over a three-year period:
“I wanted to show the impact of the Responsive Classroom approach on students’ attitudes about school. I knew from being a teacher and a principal that the Responsive Classroom worked. I knew that it raised students’ engagement in school by making them feel more connected and at ease. I also knew that it made them feel safe enough to do the hard work that real learning demands. But I was interested in seeing if we could measure this, both for our own information and to share with other schools in our district that were considering adopting the approach.”
Ironia Elementary School in Randolph Township, New Jersey, has been using the Responsive Classroom approach since 2006 when Dennis first became principal. The school started slowly, with just a few teachers receiving training in the first year, but by year two the school decided to make the Responsive Classroom approach a whole-school initiative. Dennis recalls,
“In that second year, and in following years, we had Responsive Classroom consultants come to the school not just to work with teachers but also with administrators, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and recess staff. We understood that the approach was not just for classroom teachers but is most effective when used by every adult who comes into contact with students.”
School climate plus AYP gains
After just two years, the school saw significant changes in the school climate as well as improvements in achievement scores. Dennis reports,
“Relationships improved, students were more comfortable asking questions, teachers knew students better, and students were more focused and better able to successfully work through academic problems.
“When I first came to the school, we had not met annual yearly progress (AYP) goals. After implementing the Responsive Classroom approach along with several other initiatives, we met AYP in my second year and have met or exceeded the standards set forth by the state and federal government every year after that.”
Going slow to go fast
Dennis emphasizes the importance of taking the time to teach students needed skills during the early weeks of school and enlisting the support of parents in this effort.
“Parents were very aware of the Responsive Classroom initiative. We held meetings to share the philosophy and practices with parents and to explain why their children would not be coming home with homework for the first few weeks of school, for instance. It was important to us that we took the time needed in the first six weeks of school to teach children the skills they needed to be independent with homework. Once students had those skills, they could begin taking work home. Teachers and parents noticed a significant increase in students’ ability to work independently and take charge of their learning. This is a skill that transfers when it comes time to take standardized tests or do other tasks that require self-reliance.”
About the survey
To gather data on students’ attitudes about school, which included questions about their ability to do challenging work and meet expectations, Dennis administered the survey at the beginning and end of each school year over a three-year period, 2007–2010. The survey was a modified version of one used by researchers at the University of Virginia during a quasi-experimental study of the Responsive Classroom approach titled Social and Academic Learning Study (SALS).
In the fall of 2007, the survey was administered to 100 first and 100 second graders as a benchmark, and again to the same group in June 2008 at the close of the school year. This was repeated for the same group of students through June 2010.
The goal was to increase students’ positive attitudes about school by 5%, but in each year the increase exceeded this figure, as seen in the chart below.