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Running head: MORNING MEETING IN FIFTH GRADE CLASSROOM
The Effects of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting in a Fifth Grade Classroom
Adele A. Jensen
University of Wisconsin–La Crosse
Sun Prairie 4 Learning Community
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This research was prompted by the desire to have all students feel welcome at school. The study investigated the effects of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting on fifth
grade students’ attitudes toward school, social skills, behavior, and academic skills. Data
was collected through student and parent surveys, student self-reflection forms, proofreading and writing samples, and teacher researcher observations. Results indicated that Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting did not have a positive effect on (a) students’ attitudes toward school, (b) social skills, (c) behaviors during work time, and (d) academic skills of proofreading and writing. While the study results generally indicated no positive effects, the survey did indicate that students seemed to enjoy Morning Meeting and felt that it improved their social and behavioral skills. Implications of this study will be discussed as well as future directions.
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The Effects of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting in a Fifth Grade Classroom
A preteen girl enters the classroom on the brink of tears. ―Is everything okay?‖
the teacher asks. A slight shrug of the shoulders is the only reply. The classroom begins to bustle with activity as the students prepare for the day. This troubled girl stares straight ahead as if trying to become invisible. The teacher motions for her to come into the hallway. The girl erupts into tears as she retells the teasing she had endured from a classmate on the bus that morning.
Stories such as this are common in my fifth grade classroom. Students are going through a complicated age where many have a difficult time getting along or fitting in with their peers. Every year I have students who taunt, exclude, and bully other students. I frequently have students who find excuses to stay inside for recess or hang back when we work in small groups. These students often have anxiety about coming to school, which can prevent them from doing their best. I have found that when students feel a sense of security and belonging, the school year is more enjoyable for everyone in our classroom, and the students are able to focus more on learning.
In my quest to help students reach their highest potential socially, I am also confronted with academic expectations. Teachers are faced with increased pressure from parents, school districts, and state and federal agencies to make sure that all students are succeeding academically. The No Child Left Behind Act is one example of the
expectations that educators face. According to the United States Department of Education (2001), the No Child Left Behind Act uses state standards and annual testing in grades 3 through 8 to increase accountability for states, school districts, and schools. As
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professionals, all teachers need to ensure that students are making adequate progress in each of the academic areas. The No Child Left Behind Act focuses on ensuring academic growth, but not on building positive social relationships, another crucial element of children’s growth.
My goal has been to find a method of community building that not only meets the social and emotional needs of my students, but also ensures they make substantial academic progress. The Responsive Classroom approach is one strategy that has helped
students make both academic and social gains. This approach, developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children, is based on the following principles (Kriete, 2002):
1. The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
2. How children learn is as important as what children learn.
3. The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
4. There is a set of social skills that children need to learn and practice in order
to be successful. They form the acronym CARES—cooperation, assertion,
responsibility, empathy, self-control.
5. We must know our children individually, culturally, and developmentally.
6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the
7. Teachers and administrators must model the social and academic skills that
they wish to teach their students. (p. 4)
One part of the Responsive Classroom approach is Morning Meeting, which consists of four main components: Greeting, Sharing, Group Activity, and News and
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Announcements (Kriete, 2003). Greeting is a time when students and teachers have an opportunity to greet each other by name. Sharing provides time for students to share information about themselves, followed by an opportunity to ask questions and make comments. During Group Activity the class participates in a short cooperative activity which can also be used to reinforce current academic skills. The final piece is News and Announcements, when the students learn about the day’s events. These activities illustrate the importance of balancing the social, behavioral, and academic needs of students.
Building community in a classroom where all students feel welcome and safe can have many benefits for both students and teachers. Watkins (2005) found that classrooms with a sense of community created a greater sense of belonging for the students, which led to increased participation, motivation, and self-sufficiency. Students who were part of a classroom community felt supported by others and became more engaged in classroom activities. Building a community reduced risky behaviors seen from students (Watkins). This research supports the ideals behind Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting.
Anticipating many benefits for my students, I implemented Responsive
Classroom’s Morning Meeting into my daily routine. I observed how this practice affected students’ attitudes toward school, social skills, behavior, proofreading, and
writing skills. I anticipated that through the addition of these activities, attitudes toward school would improve because students would feel a closer connection to their classmates. I expected social skills and behavior would also improve. I predicted that students’
proofreading and writing skills would progress as a result of daily practice through
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revising the morning message. Implementing this approach in my classroom complemented my personal and professional goals to help students get along with each other, as well as the school district’s goals to increase students’ responsibility, independence, and sense of value and respect for educational opportunities.
Review of Literature
Creating a caring community has been an emphasis for teachers for many years. There are many community building programs available that claim to help students learn about each other and get along better with their classmates. This knowledge led me to explore research regarding the social and behavioral impact of these programs as well as the academic achievement of students. I also examined the effectiveness of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting as one method to build community in the classroom.
All people, no matter what their age, have a desire to belong and fit in with their peers. Studies have shown that strong social support lowers blood pressure, while stress weakens the immune system (Jensen, 2005). Korinek, Walther-Thomas, McLaughlin, and Williams (1999) found that students had more difficulty changing negative behaviors and getting the most out of their education when they felt unwelcome or disconnected in school. Leachman and Victor (2003) found that when teachers created a safe classroom environment, students were more engaged in their own education. These findings showed that spending time building community in the classroom helped students feel attached to their classmates and consequently helped students have a better experience in and out of the classroom.
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Several studies have shown how building a community and a sense of belonging prepare students to handle situations they encounter. Northfield and Sherman (2004) found that building a classroom community and showing students how to interact with each other guided students toward becoming more self-assured and better prepared to participate in the community. Positive interactions assisted students in learning acceptable and unacceptable social norms. When classrooms held discussions in a supportive community, students realized that others cared about their personal opinions, enabling mutual respect, trust, and group identity.
Class meetings were one way that teachers created community in a classroom. Class meetings, such as Morning Meeting from the Responsive Classroom approach,
provided an opportunity for students to share and learn about each other. Leachman and Victor (2003) found that student-led class meetings created a variety of benefits for students and teachers in the classroom. These meetings created a sense of compassion and responsibility in students. When teachers modeled appropriate behaviors at the beginning of the year, the need to model these behaviors reduced as the year continued. Class meetings also engaged the students, improved students’ motivation and
involvement in class, and increased sensitivity, caring, and ability to cooperate with others (Leachman & Victor). All of these findings support the social growth of students through community building techniques, such as the Responsive Classroom. Behavioral Implications
Another result of building community in the classroom has been increased positive behaviors from students. Northfield and Sherman (2004) found that a caring,
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supportive environment helped students learn positive social behaviors. Students showed more interest in their learning and were more willing to go along with school rules. A lack of peer support predicted emotional distress and decreased interest in school. When a caring classroom community was created, the teacher spent more time on instruction and less time dealing with problem behaviors in the classroom.
Many new academic programs rely heavily on collaboration and cooperation among students. Students need to work together to solve problems and come to conclusions, just as they will when they become adults. Horsch, Chen, and Wagner (2002) described the Schools Project, a program that implemented new academic programs in nine elementary schools in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. In an effort to create a caring, respectful classroom, the schools implemented the Responsive Classroom approach to varying degrees. At the end of the program, all schools claimed to have noticeable effects on the students and teachers. Morning Meeting was the most-used component of the Responsive Classroom approach, and teachers reported that the students enjoyed it. Morning Meeting helped students learn about and empathize with one another. Teachers also reported that the community built during Morning Meeting carried over into other parts of the day. Teachers found a correlation between students’ perception of being part of a community and improvements in behavior, sense of belonging, and preparation for learning.
Taking time to teach social skills in the classroom can have big rewards. Jensen (2005) claimed, ―When blended into the curriculum, teaching social skills takes little extra time. And you may get a significant payoff in terms of efficiency: fewer disruptions,
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more camaraderie, and better overall feelings about learning‖ (p. 100). This payoff seems
well-worth the time invested.
One of the major concerns when implementing a community building program into the classroom curriculum is the disruption to academic learning. When teachers spend time building positive relationships in the classroom, it is important to ensure that academic growth is not affected. Several studies have shown that taking time to build positive relationships in the classroom has had a positive affect on academic achievement. Elliott, Malecki, and Demaray (2001) showed a direct correlation between positive social behavior and academic performance when measured with grades and standardized testing. With increased social relationships, students were more engaged in their learning, which resulted in improved academic achievement for students (Elliott et al.). This study showed that investing time into building community benefitted the students involved.
Just as positive behaviors have been found to affect academic performance, negative behaviors have been found to have an impact on academic performance as well. Elliott et al. (2001) found that students who misbehaved had poorer academic performance. Poor student behavior also negatively affected the performance of other students in the classroom. Another study by Korinek et al. (1999) found schools that had not developed a feeling of community among the students faced more problems with low achievement, dropouts, and the exclusion of students with disabilities. The social environment in the school had an impact on students’ attitudes, interest in school,
productivity, engagement, and academic achievement.
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These studies showed that time spent building community in classrooms
improved not only the social skills of the students, but the academic achievement of the students as well. Students who felt comfortable and welcomed by their learning environment were better able to participate fully in their education and get the most out of their learning. Investing time toward helping students feel more secure in the classroom seemed worth the effort.
Responsive Classroom Approach
The effectiveness of the Responsive Classroom approach has been investigated in several studies. According to Elliott et al. (2001), students who were exposed to Responsive Classroom techniques over a long period of time had higher levels of social skills, particularly in the areas of cooperation and assertiveness, than students who had not participated in this approach. Students from classrooms that used the entire Responsive Classroom approach exhibited fewer negative behaviors. The behavior gains were greater for students with disabilities when compared to students without disabilities.
A separate study by Rimm-Kaufman (2006) followed students who were in
classrooms that used the Responsive Classroom approach over a period of up to three years. Students exposed to the Responsive Classroom for two to three years had greater advances in their reading and math scores than students who were not a part of this routine. Students who were a part of the Responsive Classroom approach had better prosocial skills, felt closer to their teachers, and appeared to be less anxious, especially when trying new things. Teachers felt more positive about teaching, and students also felt more positive about school, their classmates, and teachers (Rimm-Kaufman). This study