Guiding Principle #1 of the Responsive Classroom®

Kids ImageResponsive Classroom is an approach to teaching and learning that builds joyful, respectful, and challenging elementary classrooms. The approach is founded on 7 Guiding Principles that drive our 10 teaching strategies:

  • Morning Meeting
  • Creating Rules with Students
  • Effective Teacher Language
  • Interactive Modeling
  • Logical Consequences
  • Guided Discovery
  • Academic Choice
  • Classroom Organization
  • Working With Families
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving

This blog post will focus on Principle #1: The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum

Take a moment to think about that statement. Here is some background into that belief as provided by the 2004 Presenter’s Handbook, NEFC.

“The balance integration of the two is essential to social and academic growth. It requires teachers who are skilled and knowledgeable and who are given support for their attention to the complementary sides of learning.

There must be a balance approach to all learning. Social research today informs us that learning is embedded in a matrix of social interaction. We learn for social reasons, and the emotional state of a learner has a lot to do with successful learning.

The act of learning demands risk-taking. All learning involves attempting something new, which is risky by its very nature. The risk is that there is possible failure, embarrassment, humiliation, seeming ‘stupid’, etc. Therefore, to take that risk involved in learning, children and adults must feel that they are emotionally, physically, and socially safe. Learning can only take place in an environment where children and adults feel that they are cared for and respected, no matter what mistakes they make or opinions they hold.

Learning can only truly take place in a community where the learners practice social skills and acknowledge their importance. Educators should not assume that any age group of children comes to school ready to use social skills appropriately. It isn’t enough to expect children to have or use social skills. Social skills need to be taught and practiced in the elementary classroom.” (Presenter’s Handbook, 2004-NEFC)

As I reflect on that guiding principle it aligns well with the other work I do in 21st Century skills for career and college readiness and also the work I do with project-based learning. Within both of those things I also train in as a staff developer, there is the belief that children must be taught these skills explicitly and have opportunities to reflect and assess how they are doing. Within 21st Century and PBL learning, the focus is on the 4 C’s (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity). Within the Responsive Classroom strategies, these skills are also taught and learned. For example, within our SHARE component of Morning Meeting, we teach teachers to scaffold skills of communication. That sharing consists of two very important skills that will feed your day beyond the Morning Meeting…how to be a good speaker and how to be an active listener. These are also skills reflected in the New York State Common Learning Standards for ELA.

Responsive Classroom teachers take their time to teach children the skills of communicating and take special care to meet the developmental needs of their students. A kindergarten teacher may use an “Around the Circle Focused Share” to at first work on getting children to speak publically using just a one word response. (ie. Today we will share our favorite color and children share around the circle Red, Blue, Green, etc.) As children master that skill (ie. Projecting voice, staying on topic, looking at the whole group),  the teacher may then introduce answering in a complete sentence (“My favorite color is blue.”) Later on adding a compound response (My favorite color is blue because….).  Eventually sharing evolves to dialogue shares where children share in a verbal paragraph and stay focused on the topic. Scaffolding the skills and adding pieces as they are ready for more rigorous learning challenges. Don Graves, the guru of writing, says if we want children writing in sentences or paragraphs, we must get them speaking in them first. Responsive Classroom teachers also teach the skills of being an active listener by engaging in children in paraphrasing for what they heard before teaching them how to make high quality open-ended questions or making respectful comments to the sharer. These will be skills that will help throughout their learning day. The goal of Morning Meeting is to give children a predictable routine and ritual to practice and learn social skills on a daily basis and aligns with the guiding principle of “The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.”

In upcoming RC Blogs for the OCM BOCES IS blog, I will plan to further articulate the remaining guiding principles…so stay tuned.

Patrick Shaw
Certified Responsive Classroom trainer through the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive Classroom
Staff Development Specialist – OCM BOCES – Syracuse, NY
(OCM BOCES is one of only a few licensed agency who can provide Responsive Classroom training)

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