Book Review: Responsive Classroom
If you have been thinking about trying Responsive Classroom or are just looking for some guidance on classroom management, “Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and Other Special Areas,” is an excellent resource. It is published by the Center for Responsive Schools, Inc., which is a not-for-profit educational organization. It was collected and contributed to by a team of education professionals including: Ellie Cornecelli, Arts Integration Specialist, Michelle Crabill, School-Based Technology Specialist, Susan Dalina, Library Media Specialist, Michael Dennis, General and Vocal Music Specialist, and Matthew Stensrud, Orff-Schulwerk Certified Music and Movement Teacher, and lead by: Rachel Atzert, Physical Education Teacher. It truly is a classroom management book written by specialist teachers for specialist teachers.
The Introduction to this book outlines some of the reasons Responsive Classroom fits so well in special area classrooms. The first four chapters focus on teaching routines. “When students know routines and can do them well, class periods and learning blocks feel smooth and calm rather than hectic.” (CRS, 50) Chapter One talks about opening routines. It addresses why opening routines are important and how they will help your classes start off on the right foot. It then gives practical advice on what should be included in an opening routine, plenty of examples from specialty teachers, and tips on how to teach your opening routines more effectively. The next chapter describes different teacher languages that we use, when to use each one, and how to use them to build stronger relationships and increase student engagement. The third chapter has been very useful for the beginning of the year. It describes Interactive Modeling, giving specific details about how to use (and how NOT to use) this technique to teach: “routines, transitions, using and caring for supplies, content skills, and social-emotional skills.” (CRS, 50) Rules and routines are given much more attention in chapter four. A variety of examples are used as guidance on how to teach rules and routines at the beginning and throughout the year.
The second part of the book describes a variety of tools, strategies, and structures to set your class up for learning. The authors provide nine Interactive Learning Strategies that are appropriate and useful for the specialty classroom environment. They then describe how to use academic choice, to make learning more meaningful. (CRS, 119) This aligns perfectly with the Orff-Schulwerk approach. Chapter seven covers fifteen easy energizers and how to use them for different purposes, such as when students are low on energy, when they are too energetic, when they are transitioning, and when they are waiting. These are also curated examples suitable for specialist teachers.
The eighth chapter is about responding to misbehavior. You may be tempted to jump right to this chapter, but like any good classroom management plan, it references the previous chapters frequently! Much of how you will deal with misbehavior in a responsive classroom is based on how you set up and taught your routines, as well as how you communicate with your students. This chapter also gives insight into the mindset and thought processes behind how you approach misbehavior with students. While some people may wish there was even more examples and information for this particular topic, the advice in this chapter is both thoughtful and practical for everyday use.
Fittingly, the final chapter discusses closing activities and routines to help end your classes positively with students, so they can’t wait for the next visit to your classroom. It provides ideas for closing routines that reflect on learning, routines that celebrate the successes of the day, as well as routines that help ensure an orderly and safe departure. As with all of the chapters in this book, it is full of real advice and examples from real specialist teachers.
One of the main reasons I have found this book to be so useful is the plethora of examples in every chapter. They are ALL from teachers in specialty areas. I find that frequently during professional development, or when reading general classroom management literature, I have to adapt everything to what it would look like in a music classroom. Many times, the strategies or techniques being taught simply wouldn’t be ‘cost effective’ to use with the small amount of time that I get to see my students. To be worthwhile to me, routines have to increase learning proportionately to how much time it takes for me to teach the routine itself. Everything in this book is vetted by teachers who understand this dilemma and it shows! I am already seeing improvements in my classroom over previous years. I am not sure if this book would be as useful to someone who already has Responsive Classroom training or who has already read much of the Responsive Classroom literature.
The writers of, “Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and Other Special Areas,” clearly wanted this book to be easy to read, useful, and practical. Many of the strategies presented are things you may already be doing, but the authors give a clear, specific description about how to get the most out of each strategy. For example, I have always used modeling in my classroom, but now I follow, “The Seven Steps of Interactive Modeling.” I explicitly remind students to observe modeling and prompt students with specific questions.” I also have students rephrase what they noticed to state what should be done, rather than what NOT to do. (CRS, 45) These simple modifications to something I was already doing have helped my students to learn routines faster, remember them better, and made the whole process more enjoyable. I also have many new ideas, like the new energizer I just used while waiting for a class to be picked up.
I think the best part is that it fits perfectly with many of the things we already do as Orff-Schulwerk teachers, but it gives us a better idea of how to apply them to management of the classroom. (As well as what to call them when we talk to our administrators!) The practices I am using from this book have been largely successful at minimizing disruptions, keeping my classroom positive, increasing student engagement, and building relationships with students.
Responsive Classroom for music, art, PE, and other special areas. Center for Responsive Schools, Inc., 2016.