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Study Links Responsive Teaching to Academic Gains

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A  social-emotional teaching approach that focuses on improving teacher effectiveness leads to student achievement gains, according to a study released today.

The research-based Responsive Classroom approach emphasizes fostering student autonomy and developing the foundational social and emotional skills that they'll need as they continue into higher learning. It does so by raising teachers' abilities to promote academic engagement, create a positive community, and effectively manage the classroom.

The random-assignment study, conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and published in the March 2014 American Educational Research Journal, followed 2,094 students and 350 teachers in 24 Virginia schools for three years, from 3rd to 5th grades. Compared with students in the control classrooms, students whose teachers fully implemented the Responsive Classroom program saw significant gains on their reading and math tests, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. The association with achievement was especially strong for students who were initially low achievers.

It also positively impacted the classroom environment as a whole, which led to improved classroom organization and emotional support for students and, in mathematics, the Responsive Classroom approach led to increased depth and higher level discussions of the materials.

A key detail of this approach is its holistic approach. The Responsive Classroom provides teachers with practices for teaching their students social and emotional skills such as cooperation, assertiveness, and empathy—traits that lend themselves to higher-level learning—in conjunction with their academic lessons.

Principal support was found to be important to teachers' full use of the approach. Teachers were more likely to use the approach if their principals were encouraging and if they received coaching while implementing their new practices.

The Responsive Classroom approach was developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children, an educational nonprofit that looks to bring together academic and social learning.

This study builds upon the researchers' earlier results, presented in 2012 and reported on by Education Week here, which also indicated student gains in statewide mathematics and reading assessments. 

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