Early Childhood Today: Frann, what do you think is the core idea behind the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning?
Frann Ravid: The aim of the Responsive Classroom approach is to help children develop the capacity to care about themselves, others, and the world. The approach affirms my commitment to teaching social skills. It says that discipline is a subject to be taught.
ECT: Why did your school choose to use this approach?
Ravid: The approach complements our school's commitment to teaching children to care. We have always been a place where children are expected to show empathy and respect for one another. We value self-discipline and citizenship. For many teachers at our school, the Responsive Classroom approach formalizes and clarifies the work they've been doing all along in their own classrooms.
ECT: How do Responsive Classroom strategies help you at the start of the year as you get ready for your new group of children?
Ravid: Whenever I've worked with young children, I've always chosen the theme "All About Me" for September. Last year, I modified the theme to include many of the community building activities from the Responsive Classroom approach. I called the unit "My Self and My Friends." The Responsive Classroom approach helped me commit the first six weeks of school to teaching positive work habits and behaviors. I set aside the beginning of the year as a time when children concentrated on learning and abiding by the expectations we establish for our classroom.
ECT: Some people think of the Responsive Classroom approach as an approach to education that's best used in elementary classrooms. Are the techniques difficult to implement with younger children?
Ravid: When I first heard about the Responsive Classroom approach, I was skeptical about trying the techniques with younger children. I wondered, for example, how the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like others to treat you) would be worded for a 4-year-old. I was lucky enough to ask Chip Wood (a cofounder of The Northeast Foundation for Children, which publishes The Responsive Classroom Newsletter) that question, and his answer was so powerful. He reminded me that my role was to involve the children in making our rules. I didn't need to find the words for them-I just needed to ask the questions and listen for their answers.
ECT: Which particular activities or strategies have been most helpful to you?
Ravid: For me, the language of the Responsive Classroom approach has been the most helpful. I finally have a clear, consistent way to communicate with my students. The phrases "Show me" and "Remind me" are especially effective with children this age. We come back from playing outdoors, and I say, "Show me what we do when we come back inside." The children hang up their coats and quietly find a seat on the rug. They sit criss-cross with their hands in their laps. Their silence tells me they are ready for meeting time. They are all smiling and feeling so proud! Ten minutes into snack time, I may notice a group of children initiating silly behavior. I say, "Remind me, when we are finished eating our snack, what are our choices?" The children respond, "We can talk quietly at the table or look at a book on the rug. " Most of the time, the silliness stops right away. If it doesn't, I may approach the children individually and say, "I notice that you've finished eating and you're still at the table. Do you remember your choices? Are you choosing to talk quietly? Show me!"
ECT: At the end of last year, what did you see as the greatest benefit of the Responsive Classroom approach?
Ravid: I was amazed at how far the children had come! I see so many benefits of the Responsive Classroom approach. One of the greatest benefits is that the children have made their own commitment to our classroom community. They expect to feel safe and happy in our room and they know what they need to do to make things work. The academic benefits are clear too. Most of the behaviors that get in the way of learning have disappeared. In the environment we've created together, each of us has the opportunity to learn.