Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Responsive Classroom In Providence, Rhode Island

At Paul Cuffee Charter School, in Providence, Rhode Island, they are sharing their experiences:

Christine Wiltshire gathers her first-grade class together for the morning meeting that is at the heart of a social-emotional curriculum known as Responsive Classroom. A boogie box provides backup for the kids as they sing their way into an orderly circle on the floor. Music is calming and the song focuses the kids. Ritual and routine are comfortably predictable. It's April, so by now they're aces at morning meeting protocols.

Today's designated student leader starts a morning greeting that is probably unique to the class, though all Responsive Classrooms begin their morning meetings with kids greeting each other by name. The leader does a clapping sequence and turns to the child at his left, shakes hands and says, "Good morning Crystal." Each successive child turns to the left and says good morning to Jeremy, Destiny, Diana, Tamira, Denisha, Marco, Julio . . .

Wiltshire announces that it's time for "Social Share" and asks generally if anyone has anything to share. Hearing none, she glances at the "Social Share" chart on the wall to see whose turn it is today. She picks the first name: "Would you like to share?"

"Yes, thank you," says a peanut of a girl. "Ummm. My brother got hit with a bat and his lip is a little flat." There are murmurs of concern. "Thank you for listening."

In unison, the children say, "You're welcome. Thank you for sharing."

Altogether four children share little incidents from their families or neighborhoods. Perhaps I caught them on an unlucky day, because the incidents all involved someone getting hurt. Still, the time is there for children to mention what's on their minds before they all head into the work day.

The group goes on to discuss the theme of the week: leadership. That conversation segues seamlessly into a lesson on spelling odd phonemes with double letters. The kids are impressively patient and responsible about giving quick, on-topic answers as they help Wiltshire fill in blanks on a good morning message written on a big pad. At each new letter challenge, Wiltshire asks someone to reiterate the rules governing that spelling and pronunciation. A half an hour has flown by, and they've gotten a lot done.

Responsive Classroom pays special attention to the first six weeks of school, when teaching social protocols is more important than teaching academic content, since only with those protocols down pat can academics become efficient and pleasant. Indeed, of Responsive Classroom's seven foundational beliefs, number four reads: "There is a set of social skills that children need in order to be successful academically and socially." Even if the productive, pleasant working environment breaks down, meetings and protocols will pull things back together.

Paul Cuffee is a k-6 charter school that features a curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, and math as well as maritime-related subjects. Visit the school's website here. According to the state, Paul Cuffee is designated as "Moderately Performing and Improving." See their "Rhode Island School Report Card" there.
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