U.Va. Researcher Gets $2.9M Grant to Test Teaching Method

Aug. 15, 2007 -- Despite today’s emphasis on standardized testing, many educators know that students’ social development is just as important as their academic success. In fact, learning depends on mastering social and self-regulatory skills. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, associate professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, says a particular approach called the Responsive Classroom holds promise in helping “children thrive academically, socially and emotionally.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences is supporting her research with a three-year, $2.9 million grant to expand her earlier study, which found that children taught with the Responsive Classroom approach for two or three years showed greater increases in math and reading tests scores than children in comparison schools.

The new grant will fund a large-scale, randomized, controlled trial to test the Responsive Classroom approach, described as “a practical way of teaching that integrates social and academic learning.”

“The RC approach is designed to give teachers a set of skills to create classroom environments more conducive to learning,” Rimm-Kaufman says.

The study will focus on how the children perform in math and whether the methods improve teachers’ capacity to teach and, ultimately, lead third- to fifth-graders to achieve higher test scores. Rimm-Kaufman will be collaborating on the project with Curry faculty members Robert Berry, who concentrates on mathematics education, Laura Justice, an early reading expert, and Xitao Fan, a statistician in educational research.

Under the pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act, “research data are more vital than ever to school districts in their process of choosing appropriate programs for their students,” says Rimm-Kaufman, a member of U.Va.’s Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

National studies show that classroom management is one of the most challenging and difficult aspects of teaching — and one of the main reasons new teachers leave the field, she notes.

“Our early findings show that RC does improve teachers' feelings of efficacy in relation to discipline and classroom management. The present study will test this claim using a more rigorous design and a larger sample of teachers.

“Only when children know how to manage themselves and their interactions with others are they free to focus on the academic challenges,” Rimm-Kaufman wrote in her previous study of the Responsive Classroom approach.

More Information on the Responsive Classroom

• The Northeast Foundation for Children, founded by teachers in 1981, developed the Responsive Classroom approach. See www.responsiveclassroom.org.

• The approach provides a structure for each school day and incorporates a package of teaching practices based on principles grounded in education theory and developmental science.

• Instructional activities are designed to be engaging and interesting, to help students learn self-control, responsibility, autonomy and cooperation.

• The Responsive Classroom approach is considered an intervention, because it is proactive, instead of reactive, in providing helpful strategies to prevent problems and enable teachers to spend more time teaching the students.

• About 60,000 teachers around the country use the Responsive Classroom approach.