Guiding Principle #2 of the Responsive Classroom®

Responsive 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 #2: How children learn is as important as what they learn.

According to the 2004 Presenter’s Handbook, NEFC.
“The key is a balance between content and process.  Knowledge cannot be attained if the instructional process is too laissez-faire or too constrictive. Teacher-directed learning and student-initiated learning are both important.  Inquiry-based learning needs to be balanced with more didactic approaches.

In order for children to learn, they must have a chance to be active, try things out, and discover for themselves.  Scientific research in learning tells us that children learn best when they construct their own learning through trial, error, and reworking.  Think about how you learn even as an adult.  You learn best when you care about what you’re learning, have some choice about what you’re learning, have the opportunity to practice again and again in a safe environment, make mistakes and correct them for yourself, or go after the answers on your own.  These are the ingredients of successful learning.

The best learning comes from a balance of teacher-directed and child-initiated experiences that are relevant to children’s lives.  Children become lifelong learners when they experience interest and ownership in learning and when the learning has immediate and concrete connections to their lives.

The idea from Melvin Konner’s book Childhood: A Multicultural View reflects this same principle in yet another way.  Konner writes, ‘In order for children to be treated fairly and equally, they must be treated differently.’

Barbara Rogoff, in Apprenticeship in Thinking, states from her research that ‘the purpose of thinking is to act effectively.  How children learn in school teaches them how to approach learning in life.’

Elliot Eisner says, ‘Learning goes from hand to head, not the other way around.’ ” (NEFC, 2004)

These words validate the Responsive Classroom practice of Academic Choice.  This model allows teachers to offer choices for students in the “What” (content) and/or the “How” (process) and follows the natural learning cycle.  This would be an easy thing to do with all the work we have been doing unpacking the new CCLS.  We have been underlining nouns (the what) and the verbs (the how) in the common standards so that we are clear with what children need to know and be able to do.  Using academic choice around these standards, would offer teachers a way to design active and interactive learning experiences to engage the mind of the learners.  In academic choice teachers use 3 phases: Planning, Working and Reflecting.  These phases give children a predictable choice structure that fosters independent and collaborative learning.  It can be used to practice a skill, to learn or review content or to culminate and/or assess learning.   This structure also aligns with William Glasser’s book Choice Theory in the Classroom.

Principle #2 of the Responsive Classroom also aligns well with the work I also do in Project-Based learning.  Within this structure of learning, teachers design a standards based project where children have an opportunity for voice and choice and are engaged with a real life project that works toward answering a driving question.  The model gives students opportunities to work independently, collaboratively, in whole and/or small group instruction and with community experts.  There may be multiple ideas to support findings of the driving question.

Lastly, principle #2 also aligns well with what I know about Howard Gardner’s work in the Multiple Intelligences and Eric Jensen’s brain research.  Jensen believes that we need to get children moving more and talking more in their learning environments.  I found this RSA-Animate on YouTUBE interesting in regard to what we know about the “Divided Brain”.

I feel the new common core learning standards (CCLS) and standard-based planning is trying to move learning to more conceptual understanding or right brain.  New York State is trying to shift classrooms to constructivist learning environments where children can take risks, make mistakes and re-work to improve outcomes or products.   I feel this is exciting and also very much needed for the “digitally wired” society of students we are now teaching in the 21st Century.  Classrooms need to be more hands-on, engaging, differentiated, and purposefully connected to the real world for these digital natives. The will never fit in a traditional analogue classroom, due to their experiences growing up in a digital world.  This generation of students is not passive learner as we might have been growing up.  This is a generation of children that will be looking to control their learning.  Knowing how children learn is going to have to be as important as what they learn in the 21st Century.
Engage Me Video

Next month’s RC BLOG will focus on Principle #3.

Shaw_PatrickPatrick 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 a licensed agency for Responsive Classroom training by the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive Classroom)

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