Elementary schools are saying, “Class dismissed!” to traditional lectures. The Responsive Classroom approach, a teaching technique promoting social-emotional learning strategies, was discussed this past fall at a meeting that the Society for Research on Education Effectiveness (SREE) hosted. The study, funded by the US Department of Education and conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, found that fifth graders who were taught with the Responsive Classroom approach received higher scores on state assessments than their peers who were not taught this way. Over 2,900 students were followed in this study from second grade through fifth grade.

The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC), a nonprofit organization established by elementary school teachers, developed the Responsive Classroom approach in 1981; it is built upon the idea that children learn best when their social-emotional skills are developed along with their academic skills. The Responsive Classroom approach has been introduced to hundreds of schools since its start three decades ago, and, as the approach’s success grows, approximately 6,000 teachers each year attend its training workshops.

The Responsive Classroom approach is made up of ten components used in the classroom: Morning Meetings, Rule Creation, Interactive Modeling, Positive Teacher Language, Logical Consequences, Guided Discovery, Academic Choice, Classroom Organization, Working with Families and Collaborative Problem-Solving. These components help teachers use more positive language with their students and encourage collaboration with other teachers. Students in a Responsive Learning classroom receive more freedom to create classroom rules and practice self-discipline. To cater to their independence and creativity, students are given choices between different assignment activities.

The US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were impressed by success of the Responsive Classroom approach and gave nearly $3 million toward a follow-up study on the efficacy of the program. According to ResponsiveClassroom.org, in addition to students receiving higher scores on state assessments, they have also shown “…increased academic achievement, decreased problem behaviors, and improved social skills.” Teachers, feeling more capable and optimistic about their teaching through the approach, are able to offer higher-quality instruction.

Gretchen Bukowick, a director at the NEFC, is excited by the positive results. “This helps us put some evidence behind what we believe,” she says. “Academic, social, and emotional learning all go hand in hand.” Lora Hodges, the executive director at NEFC, is especially enthusiastic that the study has proven what she believes: The Responsive Classroom approach helps “…districts and schools achieve their dual aims of increasing teacher effectiveness and improving student performance.”