Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Responsive is Your Classroom?

Day 2 is over, and I am not as tired as yesterday! I actually worked out when I got home, what is wrong with this picture?! I'm feeling energetic and excited about the start of this year. It helps that I have an amazing group of kids. AMAZING. I only have 19 so far (woo!) and they are so sweet. And because I've been lucky enough to teach kindergarten yet again, I have built up some confidence in my "beginning of year" procedures and routines. One of the reasons I have this confidence is because of a program called Responsive Classroom. If you're unfamiliar, here's a short description on their website:

"Responsive Classroom is a research-based and evidence-based approach to education that leads to greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate."

I first learned about Responsive Classroom in college. I didn't even have a classroom or a degree yet, and I was sold. If you've never heard of it, PLEASE do some reading and research. I've been using the strategies taught by R.C. for the past few years, and every year I have visitors/parents/other teachers comment on how "calm" my classroom is and how "independent" my kinders are. I owe SO MUCH of that to Responsive Classroom! Check out this link to see the best books by Responsive Classroom ( I personally love The First Six Weeks of School and The Morning Meeting Book):

In our classroom, rules are not something I've written/printed and posted on cute paper for the kids to see on the first day of school. Why not? Well for one, my kids can't read. They have no clue what those rules say until I tell them, and then it just becomes more random information to process. Another reason I don't do that is because children and adults have more buy-in and ownership of their classroom/school/workplace/home if they are a part of setting up the parameters and boundaries. Have you ever been a part of something from the very beginning? It's so exciting to actually be asked what you think or how you feel about creating something. We use our Morning Meeting time to begin our discussions of classroom rules and expectations. What are rules?? Why do we need them??

This is where sweet little David comes in. The books No, David! and David Goes to School are essential texts for the beginning of the year. What better way to model inappropriate behaviors than to read about a cartoon boy doing them (rather than acting them out ourselves)? We read both books to discuss rules at home and school. You can use this mini-unit if you want to see exactly how I use David in our room. We do lots of acting out scenarios, comparing and contrasting, and modeling modeling modeling!

Speaking of modeling, I do so much of this at the beginning of the year using Responsive Classroom's Guided Discovery approach. I love giving children the freedom to explore their space, but I also know that kindergarteners need some structure in this exploration. What better way to explain expectations than by actually doing them? Check out some of R.C.'s blog posts about Guided Discovery here and here. We used Guided Discovery today with books:

A class favorite already :)

I am no expert on Responsive Classroom techniques, but I can speak from experience that the way they present classroom routines and expectations is beyond useful for kindergarten. We create rules together by choosing what makes the most sense for our group and our room. I write down their rules verbatim, and we all sign our names on the bottom. We take ownership of our space, and we are all the ones holding each other accountable. 

I highly recommend giving your students more say in your space. They not only build confidence during the process, but they also eventually develop self-efficacy. If you try Responsive Classroom and love it, please let me know!!


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