The Kounin Model of Withitness & Organisation
Good classroom behavior depends on effective lesson management, especially on pacing, transitions, alerting, and individual accountability.
Kounin's Key Ideas
- When teachers correct misbehaviors in one student, it often influences the behavior of nearby students. This is known as the ripple effect.
- Teachers should know what is going on in all parts of the classroom at all times. Kounin called this awareness, 'withitness'.
- The ability to provide smooth transitions between activities, and to maintain consistent momentum within activities is crucial to effective group management.
- Teachers should strive to maintain group alertness and to hold every group member accountable for the content of a lesson, which allows optimal learning to occur.
- Student satiation (boredom) can be avoided by providing a feeling of progress and by adding variety to curriculum and classroom environment.
The Ripple Effect
From Kounin's studies into this phenomenon, he concluded the following:
The ripple effect may occur as the teacher gives encouragement ("Good, I see that many of you are almost finished") and as the teacher gives reprimands ("I see a few people who may have to stay in after class to finish"). The ripple effect is most powerful at the early childhood/primary level. It is weaker at the secondary and college levels where it depends on the popularity and prestige of the teacher.
Kounin coined the term "withitness" to describe teachers' knowing what was going on in all areas of the classroom at all times. Kounin determined that this trait is communicated more effectively by teachers' behaviors than by their words, and further, that it is effective only if students are convinced that the teacher really knows what is going on.
Kounin found that if students perceive that teachers are with it (in that they immediately choose the right culprit and correct misbehavior), they are less likely to misbehave, especially in teacher-directed lessons. Handling the correct deviant on time is more important to classroom control than is firmness or clarity of a desist.
Kounin states that overlapping is the ability to attend to two issues at the same time. Here is an example:
A teacher is meeting with a small group and notices that two students at their seats are playing cards instead of doing their assignment. The teacher could correct this either by:
- Stopping the small group activity, walking over to the card players and getting them back on task, and then attempting to reestablish the small group work. or
- Having the small group continue while addressing the card players from a distance, then monitoring the students at their desks while conducting the small-group activity.
As you can tell, the second approach involves overlapping. Overlapping loses its effectiveness if the teacher does not also demonstrate withitness. If students working independently know that the teacher is aware of them and able to deal with them, they are more likely to remain on task.
Kounin's research revealed an important relationship between student behavior and movement within and between lessons. He did not mean physical movement of students or teachers. He meant pacing, momentum, and transitions.
Teachers' ability to move smoothly from one activity to the next, and to maintain momentum within an activity has a great deal to do with their effectiveness in controlling behavior in the classroom. In smooth transitions, student attention is turned easily from one activity to another, thus keeping student attention on the task at hand.
Comments on Kounin's Model
The techniques advocated by Kounin for class control are all intended to create and maintain a classroom atmosphere conducive to learning. By keeping students busily (and happily) engaged, behavior problems are reduced to a minimum. In order to function as Kounin suggests, teachers must be able to deal with the entire class, various subgroups and individual students, often at the same time. Kounin does not believe that teachers' personality traits are particularly important in classroom control. What is important, he insists, is teacher's ability to manage groups and lessons. To reiterate, teachers must learn to:
- Know what is happening in every area of the classroom at all times and communicate that fact to students.
- Be able to deal with more than one issue at a time.
- Correct the appropriate target before misbehavior escalates.
- Ensure smooth transitions from one activity to another.
- Maintain group focus through alerting and accountability.
- Provide non satiating learning programs by emphasizing progress, challenge, and variety.
There is no doubt of the value of Kounin's suggestions in maintaining a good learning environment, one that also prevents misbehavior For that reason his suggestions fit best into the preventive facet of discipline.
As an entire system of discipline, however, teachers find that Kounin's suggestions are of less help in supportive discipline and almost no help at all in the techniques of corrective discipline, where misbehavior must be stopped and redirected positively.
Application of the Model
(Donna will not work)
Donna, in Mr. Jake's class, is quite docile. She never disrupts class and does little socializing with other students. But despite Mr. Jake's best efforts, Donna rarely completes an assignment. She doesn't seem to care. She is simply there putting forth virtually no effort. How would Kounin deal with Donna? Kounin would suggest to teachers that they use the following sequence of interventions until they find one that is effective with Donna.
- Use the ripple effect. "I see many people have already completed half their work." Look at Donna, later comment, "I'm afraid a few people will have to stay late to complete their work".
- Let Donna know you are aware she is not working. Say to her, "I see you have barely started. This work must be done today!"
- Call on Donna in discussions preceding independent work, as a means of involving her in the lesson.
- Point out Donna's progress when it occurs: "Good! Now you are on the track! Keep up the good work."
- Provide variety. Continually challenge Donna to accomplish more.
- Hold Donna accountable with group focus techniques. Do not disregard her just because she has been nonproductive.
More information about this model may be found in the following reference: