What Is a Responsive Classroom?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A responsive classroom is a classroom where the instructor promotes an environment for simultaneous academic and social leaning, with a heavy stress on autonomy and confidence-building for students. This approach is effective in a variety of settings and can have a dramatic impact on learning skills and behavior problems, even in troubled school districts. It is most effective when the entire school takes on a responsive classroom approach and uses this technique to guide its policies and educational priorities.

A responsive classroom may include a mix of students with learning disabilities.
A responsive classroom may include a mix of students with learning disabilities.

Teachers who take this approach believe that students need to build social skills as they develop academic ones, and that a classroom where students feel safe to explore and communicate can result in better student outcomes. In a responsive classroom, the teacher considers the individual needs of students and thinks about how to balance students from different cultural, social, and academic backgrounds. The classroom may also include a mix of students with learning disabilities and other issues that may impact their ability to learn and grow, and these must be considered as well.

In a responsive classroom, instructors encourage students to ask questions and be engaged.
In a responsive classroom, instructors encourage students to ask questions and be engaged.

The instructor in a responsive classroom asks open questions that encourage students to engage with the material and each other. Students do not memorize and repeat material, but instead build on what they learn with classroom discussions. They likely participate in group work, where they split up into smaller groups to discuss the topic of interest. Instructors encourage students to make mistakes and learn from them by providing an environment where mistakes are an opportunity for growth instead of humiliation or punishment.

In the responsive classroom, children play an active role in setting the tone. They help the teacher establish and enforce classroom rules. They also interact with each other and can take a leadership role in lessons. In whole schools, students may meet as a collective at the start of the day for a morning meeting, a check-in period where they engage in interactive activities, socialize, and talk about any academic or personal issues they may experience. This builds bonds between students and encourages cooperation on a variety of tasks.

Teachers can receive responsive classroom training in the process of acquiring education degrees, or through workshops after they graduate and obtain their credentials. These workshops are a form of continuing education and can vary in complexity. A simple weekend workshop might provide some tips on changing behaviors in the classroom, while a longer course might allow an instructor to set up a fully responsive classroom and work with the rest of the school on promoting the use of this approach in teaching.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


More than often, a class is more responsive when the teacher is in the classroom, as opposed to a substitute. Even though this isn't always the case, a lot of substitute teachers are taken advantage of by other students. Due to this, not much is taught during the day, and the classroom is more focused on meaningless tasks, which may include pranks and other homework.


As productive as a responsive classroom is, I think one thing people need to remember is that both the students and teachers need to make sure that they contribute to the daily activities. As an example, sometimes, it's the classroom's fault. They're just not interested in the material, and would rather do other tasks. On the other hand, it could be the teacher's fault as well. Since they're supposed to engage the class, if the material is dry, it might not interest the students too much. Overall, both sides need to make sure they're doing their equal share.


Without a responsive classroom, teaching becomes much less of an experience, and more of a chore. After all, when most teachers see that their students are wanting to participate in the discussions, it really encourages them. However, when half the class isn't paying attention and would rather use their cellphones or pick their noses, it can frustrate the instructor. Sometimes, this even leads them to wonder why they bother teaching in the first place.

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