Classroom Management Theorists and Theories/Jacob Kounin

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Overview/History of Jacob Kounin's Work[edit | edit source]

Jacob Kounin is an educational theorist who focused on a teacher’s ability to affect student behavior through instructional management. His best-known work was done in the 1970s, where he conducted two major case studies. From educational psychologist to a well-known theorist today, Kounin brought a novel idea that incorporated both the instructional and disciplinary aspects of the classroom together. Before this happened, most educators viewed their role as a straight-forward passing on of skills and knowledge to their students. After publishing his book, “Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms”(1977), Kounin attempted to influence the original viewpoint of educators and to integrate teaching and discipline in the classroom.

Kounin’s first observation of an intriguing pattern in student behavior was when he asked a student in his own classroom to put something away; he noticed that the students around him suddenly followed in focusing their attention. He watched as the correction of one student behavior actually spread to other students engaging in inappropriate behaviors, and resulted in a much more ordered room. He later described this phenomenon as the “Ripple Effect”.

This first observation led Kounin to conduct experiments over 5 years with students from all levels, but later Kounin changed his focus to seeing how teachers actually prepared or proactively managed their classrooms before behavior occurred. He noticed how the reactions of teachers to students affected classroom management in a negative way. He learned that teachers were always receiving similar responses from their students no matter how they reacted to misbehavior in the classroom. From this observation, he concluded that there must be something a teacher could do to prevent misbehavior in the first place, which would lead to more effective classroom management.

From his studies, Kounin developed theories about classroom management that were based around a teacher’s ability to organize and plan in their classrooms while using proactive behavior and high student involvement. He believed that in order for a teacher to have an effective connection between management and teaching, there needed to be good Lesson Movement. This Lesson Movement is achieved through withitness, overlapping, momentum, smoothness, and group focus.

Withitness was Kounin’s word to describe a teacher’s ability to know what was going on at all times in his/her classroom. This can be as simple as making scanning looks around the room every once in awhile. Kounin said that is was not necessary for the teacher to know what is going on, but for the students to perceive that the teacher knows.

Overlapping is the ability for a teacher to in a word, multi-task. Being able to present a new topic while preventing misbehaviors is essential for a teacher. The concept of overlapping ties into the idea of withitness as well.

Momentum is the flow of a lesson. A teacher must be able to “roll-with-the-punches” in acknowledging that things might go wrong and being able to fluidly adapt and continue onward despite distractions and disruptions. An example of this would be a student late for the class interrupts or technology that is being used goes wrong.

Smoothness is also highly related to momentum. Being able to keep on track without getting on tangents as well as being diverted by irrelevant questions or information is important. Many times, a teacher can get distracted and leave a topic open and not come back to it until later, which can be confusing to students. Another thing that can ruin smoothness is when a teacher does not have a plan or course of action, it can seem as though the lecture is jumping from one topic to the next.

The final aspect that results in Lesson Movement and effective teaching through integrating management and learning is group focus. Group focus is the ability of a teacher to engage the whole class using techniques such as building suspense or asking community questions. This can also look like asking random questions, or asking a student a question and then looking around at other students to see if they are thinking or ready to respond. These are the main theories and history of Jacob Kounin.

Implementation Of Kounin's Philosophy[edit | edit source]

As mentioned above the Five Main points of Kounin's work are:

  1. "with-it-ness"
  2. overlapping
  3. momentum
  4. smoothness
  5. group focus

"With-it-ness"[edit | edit source]

The teacher is responsible for inhibiting poor behavior. The teacher can maintain this strategy by making eye contact to all students at all times. The teacher should know each student on a personal basis (i.e. name, interests, strengths, weaknesses, etc.)The teacher can use other non-verbal techniques to show students that they are alert and care about the well-being of all students. The teacher may also want to make a respectable suggestion to inform the student that their behavior is unacceptable. The teacher should have communicated to all students the expectations and can have these displayed so everyone can be "with-it".

Overlapping[edit | edit source]

The teacher can have procedures that will allow the teacher to be effective when two situations occur at the same time. For example, if a student is done with an assessment or an assignment early have something for them to do such as moving on to another assignment, reading a book, or a quiet enrichment exercise. While the early-finishers are staying busy the teacher is allowed to move around the room to answer question or assist struggling students. Another example, if the teacher is in the middle of a lecture and a student enters the room the teacher should make eye contact with the student, have an area for the student to turn in work, and continue with the lesson. Once the students are doing their work the teacher can go to the tardy student and tell them what they missed or answer any questions from the homework assigned the night before.

Momentum[edit | edit source]

The teacher should make lectures short to allow students to group together and move around to gain more knowledge of the content. The teacher should make sure that these exercises remain short so students do not get bored. A teacher can keep a timer and assign roles to students to keep the students moving and on a time deadline. If students are struggling the teacher can reflect on what they can do to make the lesson more meaningful and easier to understand for their students. This has overtime proven to be successful.

Smoothness[edit | edit source]

The teacher can have students make hand gestures, that will tell the teacher whether the student has a comment or question concerning the lesson. This technique allows the teacher to have an idea about those students who may cause an unwanted tangent and those who may have a good question, pertaining to utilise the time effectively. When placing students in group-work, the teacher can walk around facilitating and listening to discussions of other students. The teacher can then intervene or take the group to a different track if required.

Group Focus[edit | edit source]

The teacher can implement this strategy with several techniques:

A.Encourage Accountability: Make students aware that they will be graded for their participation and contributions to the group.

B.The teacher can have a canister of popsicle sticks that have each students name on them. The teacher can pick the popsicle stick at random to keep students on track and out of their seats with anticipation for question/answer time, board problems, etc.

C.The students can facilitate a discussion. Once they have finished a task they can turn to each other or they could pair up with those who are already done and compare answers.

In order for implementation to be effective the teacher must be well organized, communicate their expectations to their students, and hold them responsible for their actions to encourage motivation and attention.

Elementary School[edit | edit source]

In an elementary setting, the teacher could pair up the class in groups of 3-5 students and assign a team name. The teacher could have a visual of a pocket chart to show where that group will be during the time granted. For example, a pink card for Suzy, Bobbie, and Billy could stand for the Phonics station. A green card could stand for Lizzy, Gary, and Greg to be at the Math station. The time could be set for 30 minutes. Once the timer has elapsed the students would be instructed of how to rotate. The teacher must not remain idle at any time. This should be used as reinforcement/enrichment of the content in which the teacher has already covered the material and could informally assess understanding and application of content. The centers assure the five strategies by having directions at each center, a visual to state where students should be after the time is up, and a way for teachers to actively listen to concerns/speed-bumps that are holding them back. The teacher should make each center as kinestethic as possible with many manipulatives at each station (i.e. Magnetic letters for spelling center, dice or play money for Math, etc.) It is very important that elementary instructors maintain their energy and enthusiasm when presenting to their students.

Middle School[edit | edit source]

Kounin's theories are very useful in a Middle School setting. The first two terms he uses, "With-it-ness" and "Overlapping," can be used for preventing the misbehavior of other students. When one student is about to throw a paper airplane or punch his friend in the shoulder, the teacher can make eye contact with him and shake his head. The belief is that doing this will show other students that they will not get away with this either. In Middle School, however, it usually becomes more necessary to make an example of a student who willingly breaks a rule so that other students know they will share the same fate if they do so as well. Also, the "overlapping" ability to do more than one thing at once is essential, since most middle school students will capitalize on the opportunity to get away with outlawed behavior while the teacher's back is turned. A final approach that seemed very effective was implementing lesson plans with high participation formats. When every student always has something to do, each will not become bored and find off-task behavior to engage in.

High School[edit | edit source]

In a high school setting, a teacher needs to incorporate all of the aspects of Kounin's philosophy in their teaching practice. This means that with-it-ness, overlapping, smoothness, momentum, and group focus all must meld together to form a coherent whole. This could be implemented through teachers having at least a week’s lessons ahead of time in order for them to be sure that lesson fluidity occurs. The "with-it-ness" that comes with being an effective teacher is most often the fruit of planning and keeps students on task. This takes a special ability to diffuse potentially distracting situations in which teachers need to bring students back to the task at hand. In showing students the connections between one subject to the next, using previous vocabulary to prepare students for learning new vocabulary, a teacher will show overlapping. This overlapping ties into the momentum aspect. Students that feel they are learning will make connections between old and new material. This confidence will allow them to contribute to the momentum of the classroom. The group focus aspect in the high school setting really takes a quick attention to detail. Keeping high school students on task and not thinking about tomorrow night’s football game is a skill that is essential to promoting learning. A teacher needs to be able to spot check for students not paying attention and rapidly engage them back into the subject, while holding the rest of the class’ attention. This can be done through exciting announcements, demonstrations, or by changing the atmosphere of learning.

Questions[edit | edit source]

1) How would you incorporate Kounin's 5 Management Behaviors in your classroom?

2) Analyze whether Kounin's ideas would strengthen your teaching practices?

References[edit | edit source]

1. Kounin, Jacob S. Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, N. Y.: R. E. Krieger, 1977, c1970.