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My Responsive Classroom

Posted May 17, 2021 in Articles

My Responsive Classroom
My Responsive Classroom

Author: Michael Rotman, Middle School Faculty

Many of my own middle school memories involve a teacher standing at the head of the class, posing a question, and then calling on the few students who raised their hands. I also recall looking around the room in search of others who, like me, had one eye on the clock just waiting for the bell to ring. You may or may not have had similar experiences yourself, but honestly, not a whole lot has changed for many students in many classrooms across the country. However, in a Responsive Classroom, discussions look quite different!

It's the second period of the day and I’m face-to-face with 12 bright-eyed seventh graders. In social studies, we’re focusing on American History (the subject of which I can tell is not a fan favorite). But when I yell, “THREE!” the kids scramble to form trios with gusto. They've participated in Responsive Classroom’s Maître D' exercise before and know just what to do. I ask these groups to discuss the various internal and external factors that led to the start of the American Revolution. It gets loud—really loud. Each energetically banters about how and why the colonists rebelled. I hear vocabulary terms from our lessons, like consent, natural rights, and monarchy being thrown around (it’s music to my ears). But then again, so is their excitement and laughter.

I let this go on for about four minutes, before I call out, “two” and the groups reshuffle into pairs to discuss the next question in my lesson plan.

This is just one example of what Responsive Classroom looks like in practice. This student-centered, evidence-based approach to teaching is built on the core belief that students must build social and emotional skills at the same time as academic competencies. Let me tell you a little more about how it works:

In a typical classroom, teachers might lecture and have students take notes about the Boston Tea Party. But with Responsive Classroom, the class might participate in a Debate Duo. In this activity, students work together to formulate the opinions and perspectives of different historical figures and groups involved in the conflict. They then act out the different points of view through one-on-one conversations with each other. To an onlooker, the main focus of this lesson appears to be this important historical event, but when students personify Samuel Adams or a member of the Continental Congress, they are also learning to recognize and value the perspectives of others.

Our daily Advisory periods are another way we incorporate Responsive Classroom into the day. Advisory allows teachers and students to engage with topics not covered in their core classes, yet are key to their development into kind and thoughtful young adults. They tackle themes, such as how to handle stress or set quarterly goals, and provide students with interactive activities that allow them to work together to explore the theme. This offers daily opportunities for students to build meaningful connections and trusting relationships.

Responsive Classroom has given me and my colleagues many new tools to keep our students engaged with content, but also to build skills like cooperation, empathy, self-control, and assertiveness. Not only are we using the approach in the classroom, we are also using it to inform how teachers collaborate with each other, how students are disciplined, and even the exact words we use in our interactions.

Responsive Classroom has made me a better teacher. But equally important—it’s just plain fun.

Click here to read more about Responsive Classroom at Lawrence.

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