Responsive Classroom® shows promising results, study reports

Social and emotional growth have become more important criteria of success in the classroom in recent years. Interventions that focus on the social as well as academic competence of students, often referred to as Positive Youth Development Programs, have been linked to improved academic learning, improved peer interactions, social processes and bonding to school, according to a recent study in Psychology in the Schools.

The Responsive Classroom®, one such program that has been developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children, is in use by more than 60,000 teachers nationwide but has been the focus of few research studies, according to researchers Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Yu-Jen Chiu of the University of Virginia.

More assertiveness and pro-social behavior

Their study, described as a first step in research examining its effectiveness, concludes that use of RC was associated with improved reading achievement, greater closeness between teachers and children, better pro-social skills, more assertiveness and less fearfulness.

“Children from homes lacking in economic resources are more likely to experience a lack of social resources, and they come to school not only needing access and training in academic skills but also having social and emotional needs that are specifically addressed in RC principles and practices,” the researchers note.

The study relied on teachers’ judgments of students’ academic and social performance, a commonly used indicator of children’s school success. Participants in the study included 62 teachers and 157 students from six public schools in a district in the Northeast–3 schools were intervention schools and 3 were comparison schools.

Teachers from two school years reported on student performance using four questionnaires: (1) academic skills using the Mock Report Card, (2) their relationships with the students assessed through the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (3) students’ social competence assessed through the Social Competence and Adjustment Scale and (4) their own personal characteristics and the degree to which they used RC practices using the Demographic and Classroom Description Questionnaire and the Classroom Practices Measure.

“Our findings showed a small positive relation between the RC Approach and children’s growth in reading, using a well-validated measure of reading performance (the Mock Report Card),” the authors write.

No difference for at-risk children

There was no difference in effectiveness for children from families identified as “at risk” based on their sociodemographic profile. Some critics have argued that socioemotional interventions are better suited to schools serving children with ample economic and family resources because they decrease the amount of instructional time in the classroom.

The authors believe their findings refute that critique. The RC approach was not detrimental to at-risk students, and so will not widen the gap between students, they note.

Seven essential principles

According to the study, there are seven essential principles of the RC approach:
• Equal emphasis on the social and academic curriculum;
• focus on how children learn as much as what they learn; a perspective that social interaction facilitates cognitive growth;
• emphasis on cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control as critical social skills for children to learn;
• emphasis on teachers’ knowledge of children’s individual, cultural and developmental characteristics;
• focus on understanding of children’s families; and
• attention to the way in which adults work together within a school.

“Recent work from the school psychology literature argues that schools can be viewed as the delivery mechanism for the majority of mental health services received by children in this country,” the authors conclude.

“The RC Approach is an example of an approach to teaching that embeds support resources into the approach for all instruction; offers a non-fragmented approach to children’s social and academic development, and emphasizes high quality relationships and community-building as a starting point for classroom organization and instruction.”

“Promoting Social and Academic Competence in the Classroom: An Intervention Study Examining the Contribution of the Responsive Classroom Approach”, by Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Yu-Jen Chiu. Psychology in the Schools, Volume 44 Number 4 2007 pp. 397-413.

Published in ERN May/June 2007 Volume 20 Number 5

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