Responsive Classroom After School: Academic Choice, Guided Discovery, and the Arts

This is the fifth post in a series on using the Responsive Classroom Approach after school. It’s my hope that it will be useful both to teachers who wish to extend their use of RC after the school day, as well as to teaching artists and community educators who may find RC to be as transformational for them as it has been for me. Please note, while I use RC, I am not formally connected to the organization.

This post is the one I’ve been most excited about in this series. I love RC, and I jumped for joy when I discovered Lively Learning, the Responsive Classroom book on using the arts. For teaching artists who want to use RC after school, I’ve already pointed out that different games and activities can be used as a part of opening circles, or that procedures for your art form can be taught through interactive modeling. But, those things approach the arts on the slant. Academic Choice and Guided Discovery are methods that allow the arts to be approached head on — either through arts integration in the classroom, or in after-school arts time.

There’s already plenty of research and case studies on the value of arts integration in the classroom and arts programs for after school. See, for example, Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Life, or for data on the value of arts programs, Preparing Students for the Next America (a free report). This research emphasizes the value of the arts in fostering social and emotional learning, increasing student engagement with academics, and improving after-school participation — making the arts a natural way to integrate Responsive Classroom, especially after school.

Two aspects of RC are valuable here for integrating the arts: Academic Choice, and Guided Discovery.

Because this is after school, Academic Choice is different. But, like with other parts of RC, the basic idea carries over. In a lesson, structure places for students to decide. This makes them more invested in whatever you are working on, and I find also serves as a way to learn more about different students. If one student, for example, always chooses the writing option over the speaking option, then I know she prefers to write, and I should pay attention to her writing more closely. I also know that I can work with her on speaking, if that is something she is uncomfortable with.

The point is that academic choice — or, the idea of choice in general — is empowering for students and insightful for the teacher. Note, it’s not an add-on. It’s not something extra, but something planned for from the very beginning. For example, I might have two games ready that would practice certain improvisation skills. Some students choose one, some the other. So each group gets an audience, and the whole group gets two different scenes.

Or perhaps we’re doing Readers Theatre. So, some students are working with the original story creating scripts for different parts. Others are helping to gather props, and others are working with me on mime techniques. Thus in a short time, we can create a little show, with everyone having a part in the process that plays to their strengths and interests. Academic Choice raises student engagement, and makes even short after-school sessions incredibly valuable.

Related to this, there is a process called Guided Discovery. Guided discovery follows five steps:

  1. Introduction and Naming
  2. Generating and Modeling Students’ Ideas
  3. Exploration and Experimentation
  4. Sharing Exploratory Work
  5. Clean Up and Care of Materials

I love that in steps 2 – 4, students get to share what their idea is, demonstrate it, explore around the subject, and then share that with a class. For you teaching artists out there, this sure sounds like the arc of an arts lesson! And that’s precisely my point with this whole series. Teaching artists — and teachers who want to work after school — already want to focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning, through the arts or other creative programming.

Guided discovery serves as a guide to scaffolding lessons, too. Each step in the process can be accomplished through games or activities, and Step 3 in particular means that students can play with what we are learning that day — as children’s author Aaron Shepard once said, children can often come up with things in less time without adult input. Bookended with Opening Circles and Closing Circles, Guided Discovery sets up a complete Responsive Lesson for after-school learning.

I’ve also found that some students are anxious about experimenting with the arts because they are afraid of “doing it wrong.” Guided discovery allows students to enter the the work more slowly and carefully. Coupled with academic choice, this means that if a student really ins’t ready to try one task, there is always something else that they can do. In my experience, the notion that a student is “bad at art” is just as socially learned as any of the social/emotional skills we teach. So guided discovery also means that students can “re-discover” an art or hobby that they love.

When this happens, please share it with other adults. This could be other staff, parents, older siblings, or even the parents of a child’s friend. Remember, RC encourages teachers and other adults to work with families and others in the community. Academic Choice and Guided Discovery may lead a student down a new path. The more encouragement they have, the more that new passion can contribute to their development and well-being.

These approaches in the classroom and after school are not complex, but they are challenging to implement. In my next post, I’ll round out this series with a bit on classroom organization and closing circles — and my final thoughts on using Responsive Classroom after-school.

Be sure to check out other posts in the series:



  1. […] Guided Discovery— Responsive classroom says it best: “introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility.” While after-school may not emphasize academic knowledge, that time is still useful for teaching skills for good learners, including guided discovery. However, getting students motivated with this process outside the school day is a unique challenge (see my post here). […]

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