Case Study 1 – Boundaries

Case Study 1

The New Classroom Responds

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There are many aspects of our culture that do not traditionally assume a democracy would work in a successful operation. An example of this is a grade school classroom. It is generally assumed that the students have no say in what they are taught, and the teachers are the ones who lay everything out and tell their students what to do and when to do it. The idea of strictly teaching academic skills in the classroom has been accepted in the past however recent studies show that implementing a democratic-style of learning can improve the students social outcomes in addition to academic knowledge. A particular case regarding this subject is the Social and Academic Learning Study to gain a better understanding of the Responsive Classroom approach. Based out of Stamford, CT, this case was investigated by Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman from the University of Virginia and it lasted three years.

The use of a democratic system in the classroom from grades K – 8 has traditionally never been thought of an ideal teaching and learning practice. It is not until recent that studies have proven these prior notions to be incorrect. With a Responsive Classroom implemented social skills are enforced just as much as academic skills. Additionally, another aspect of the Responsive Learning System is that the social relations aid the learning process.

According to the Responsive Classroom approach at there are six practices used in the system. Those six strategies are the following: “morning meeting, rules and logical consequences, guided activity, academic choice, classroom organization, and family communication strategies.”

The morning session involved in the Responsive Classroom is a great way to bring a democratic approach to teaching. During this session students interact with one another discuss what needs to be accomplished throughout the day how it is going to get done. Rather than just “jumping in” to the days lesson, the teacher can use this time to hear the opinions of the students. Not only does this make the process easier on the students, it lifts up team morale for student and teacher alike. The traditional train of thought that democracy in the classroom cannot work is proven wrong.

In addition, through the Responsive Classroom a clear guideline of rules and regulations are set forth for the students to understand. By knowing the rules and consequences students can teach themselves to obey the classroom guidelines. This gives the students a lot more responsibility and freedom to think for themselves.

Another key factor of the Responsive Classroom is the “guided discovery” style of teaching. Rather than presenting students with a textbook and having them read and answer questions on the text, this method goes a lot farther. Social skills are greatly built up with this method, because in addition to learning from the teacher, students learn from one another. They are encouraged to ask questions and have freedom to make comments, thus making them more a part of the learning experience. Giving a student more of a voice in the classroom makes them feel more involved and triggers a greater interest in topics that could have once been considered boring to just simply read about.

The next two traits of the Responsive Classroom bring forth a very democratic feature in this teaching method. These two traits are academic choice, and classroom organization. Just like in a democratic society, freedom of choice is implemented greatly. Each student’s voice is heard in not only how they go about learning, but the actual layout of the classroom. Offering academic choices as well as structural choices will aide the learning process for the students. Learning should not be tedious and strenuous for young students, to guide them into the information they will best understand it if they are a part of it. Being in a classroom for 7 hours a day, five days a week is not the most comfortable scenario for a student to be in. However it is proven that if students have a say in classroom layout, designs, etc. they will be more comfortable with their surroundings. With this new found comfort gained through the Responsive Classroom, students are able to gain more from the learning process.

The final piece to the Responsive Classroom is involving family with their children’s education process. Keeping parents informed and involved creates a partnership between child and parent, along with parent and teacher. These relationships build a strong base for educating students. Students whose parents are more involved through areas such as PTA meetings, other school community events, or even simply sitting down and helping students with homework, all help students reach and maintain maximum potential status.

Implementing a democratic style of teaching to the classroom was something studied to great length by Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman. The responsive classroom has proven to bring forth the best educational and social results, thus educating students in a greater way than ever sought possible. The test was run over six separate school systems. Three of which implemented the Responsive Classroom techniques, while the other three acted as a control and did not. Of the classrooms studied that implemented the Responsive Classroom approach the teachers involved showed a greater attitude and caring for their jobs. The positive attitude of the teachers alone is a surefire sign that the classroom is being operated in a better manner and giving more to students. Rather than just presenting the information to children, these teachers are able to actually leave the information with the children to know forever. By using a program such as Responsive Classroom the teachers are given more of a guideline and feel more comfortable with their job knowing that they are using a successful structure.

In the past it has never been believed that a student could gain an academic education from a classroom run in a democratic manner. Not only do these studies completed over the three year span beginning in the Fall school term of the year 2001 prove such notions to be untrue, they also demonstrate that a greater social education can be achieved by using the Responsive Classroom system. In order to have a successful academic learning process, these studies have shown that it is vital to allow social skills to grow while in the classroom as well. Among those important social skills are the following: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.

From my personal experiences, I know for a fact that I like to learn better when placed in a comfortable environment. If a room is hot and muggy I know my mind is more concentrated on the clock then on the black board. Or if the room is too big and I can’t see because of the place a teacher stands or performs demonstrations. If such annoyances were to hinder my learning style in the slightest way at all, it would be much more beneficial to implement some Responsive Classroom techniques. By confronting and fixing anything that could be taking away from the learning experience, in this case the classroom environment, students would be able to get the absolute most out of the time in class. Many classes I have experienced in my years as a student have been run in a traditional form where students have no say at all in the way they learn. I believe I got the least from these straight lecture classes when all that was presented to me was questions for me to answer. The most impact I have gained from a classroom I still remember to this day. It was my senior year in high school and my Psychology teacher implemented many aspects of what I now know as the Responsive Classroom. The activities were guided by the teacher which led to deep and intense discussions from the students. These discussions improved the learning and social communication process in a far greater way than any conventional class I had beforehand. It was not until my senior year that I was really exposed to such teaching techniques. If the Responsive Classroom can be implemented in the grade school level students will develop and enhance these skills at a younger age.

Critics will say that children would not be able to control the freedoms of a democracy in the classroom. If it were run in such a fashion they feel as though nothing would get done, and it is best to stick to traditional teaching roots. After all, it is not until the College level of education when students are actually taking up learning by choice. If a democracy were to be run in grade school students wouldn’t want to learn and therefore not get anything done. This is clearly not the case. If learning can be implemented in such a way at a young age, it would change the way students look at the education process. By giving the child choice you are also giving them more influence to be there and a much better appreciation of the academic information.

In conclusion, the classroom is a clear example of where it is not believed that a democracy would traditionally work. Through recent advancements in the teaching and learning process it has been proven that such beliefs are incorrect. The Responsive Classroom is a revolutionary style of teaching that exceeds past methods to produce the best knowledge academically and socially. The six factors of this strategy include “morning meeting, rules and logical consequences, guided activity, academic choice, classroom organization, and family communication strategies.” The issue was put to the test and studied by Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman out of the University of Virginia. Dr. Kaufman evaluated the matter for three years amongst various school systems and found that teachers using the system had more positive attitudes towards teaching and had an overall more effective feeling about their work. Through these studies and my personal experiences, I can honestly believe that a democracy in the classroom is the right answer to produce the best academic and social results from students.



Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman.“Social and Academic Learning Study: A Three Year Longitude

Study of the Responsive Classroom Approach.” Summary of Findings, Part 1.

University of Virginia, June 2004.

Sara Rimm-Kaufman. “Preliminary Findings on the Study of Social and Academic

Learning.” University of Virginia, May 2003.

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