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Responsive Classroom

Ages 5-11

Rating: Level 3


Responsive Classroom is a multicomponent approach to instruction and classroom management designed to promote prosocial behavior and academic functioning in elementary school students. The approach was developed with the goals of increasing student investment, responsibility, and learning and decreasing problem behaviors. Further, the approach is based on educational theories regarding the importance of learning as a social activity. That is, Responsive Classroom stresses the importance of how children learn with an emphasis on learning through interaction, of teachers getting to know the students and their families on a personal level, and of teaching social skills such as cooperation, responsibility, self-control.

The program’s six components, developed by educators, concentrate on classroom organization, morning meetings, rules and consequences, academic choice, guided discovery, and communication with parents.


A pretest–posttest, quasi-experimental design was used to assess the program’s effectiveness on students’ social and academic functioning. A total of 301 ethnically diverse, urban students in grades 1–5 in two schools participated in the study. Participants came from a low-socioeconomic background in which 95.4 percent of the students qualified for reduced or free lunches. The treatment condition consisted of 253 students who were exposed to the Responsive Classroom approach (RC), and the control condition included 48 students (drawn from a third school) who were not (NRC). To test the program’s effectiveness, quantitative and qualitative teacher-, parent-, and student-rated indices were used. Dosage and fidelity to the program were attended to.


Three unpublished studies have evaluated the Responsive Classroom approach with white, African-American, and Latino students from prekindergarten through sixth grade. In several studies of Responsive Classroom, the program was perceived to have a positive effect on increasing social skills and on limiting problem behaviors in students. The longest study, reported here, included 6 months of the intervention. In this study, results indicate that the Responsive Classroom approach had a positive impact on students’ social and academic behaviors. Teachers, parents, and students in the RC condition reported positive changes in the average frequency of social skills from fall to spring compared with NRC reports, which indicated virtually no change or a decrease in social skills during the same period. Notably, no control group parents were surveyed. Regarding academic improvement, scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills showed significantly greater growth for the RC students. Further, regression analyses suggested that social skills may function as academic enablers for students. Teachers reported that they liked the approach and perceived it to be effective but found it difficult to implement. It was suggested that this approach takes time to learn to implement. The small size of the control group, relative to the treatment group, is a limitation.

Risk Factors


  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Life stressors
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)




Elliot, Stephen N. 1995. The Responsive Classroom Approach: Its Effectiveness and Acceptability. Final evaluation report prepared for the Center for Systemic Educational Change, District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington, DC.

———. 1999. A Multiyear Evaluation of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Its Effectiveness and Acceptability in Promoting Social and Academic Competence. Final report prepared for Northeast Foundation for Children and Kensington Avenue Elementary School Staff.


Sadie Fischesser, Manager of Strategic Initiatives
Northeast Foundation for Children
85 Avenue A, Suite 204
P.O. Box 718
Turners Falls, MA 01376–0718
Phone: (800) 360-6332
Fax: (877) 206-3952
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
85 Avenue A, Suite 204
P.O. Box 718
Turners Falls, MA 01376–0718
Phone: (800) 360-6332
Fax: (877) 206-3952
Web site: