Improving the smoothness and momentum of your lesson will increase engagement and reduce students’ misbehaviour in your classroom. We will look at teachers’ behaviours that cause the momentum to slow and even stop and what behaviours to change to create smoothness.
Jacob S. Kounin is well known for coining the term ‘withitness’ and ‘overlapping‘. He also researched smoothness and momentum in his book ‘Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. The questions he set out to answer were.
- How do teachers go about initiating and maintaining activity flow in a classroom?
- Are there sizable differences amongst teachers with regards to momentum?
- Do the differences relate to differences in work output and behaviour?
His researches observed teachers in the classroom and categorised behaviours that teachers did that hindered the momentum and smoothness of teachers lessons. These behaviours were labelled Stimulus-Boundedness, Thrusts, Flip-Flops, and Dangles. We will look at each, in turn, to determine how we can learn to create a smoother lesson with great momentum.
The opposite of stimulus-boundedness is goal-directedness. Stimulus-Boundedness is when a teacher is pulled easily off-topic, like metal to a magnet. This causes the momentum of the lesson to halt, giving an opportunity for students to misbehave.
An example of this would be when a teacher is explicitly teaching a concept and is distracted by a minor behaviour displayed by a student. They immerse themself in the event and drop the focus that was the whole class instruction. The class is now distracted, not working and behaviours may escalate and cause further disruption.
How can I avoid Stimulus-Boundedness?
An example of goal-directedness would be if the teacher ensured the main focus of whole-class instruction was maintained, using their overlapping skills and low key classroom management skills to manage misbehaviours with minimum fuss and not let it interfere with the teaching flow. Thus ensuring the whole class was promptly given task instruction and giving less opportunity for disengagement.
A thrust is a teacher sudden “bursting in” on students activities with an order, statement, or question without the teacher pausing, looking around and being sensitive or aware of the student’s readiness to receive the message. An example of a thrust would be “butting in” if there was group work where students were conversing and the teacher without attempting to “ease in” by listening to the conversation ‘butted’ in with an instruction.
Another example of trust behaviour happens during transitions. For example, a teacher is running a carousel of activities for different groups. A trust would be if the teacher moves the groups on to the next activity without observing their ‘readiness’.
How can I avoid thrusts?
Pause before you talk or transition. Listen and look carefully at all students in the room before giving instructions to move on. Be sensitive to students who are in mid flow of conversation and let them finish if time allows. Maybe use a timer on the board to give students more idea for how long they have if they keep running overtime.
3. Flip Flops
Only occurs during transitions. The flip flop is where a teacher has started running one activity, moves on to another, changes their mind, and returns to the original activity. An example of a flip flop would be if a teacher gave back test papers for students to look at for feedback. Then after collecting them all back to start introducing a new topic. Then realised she hadn’t finished the first activity, and returned the papers to ask the students to calculate the test percentage.
How can I avoid flip flops.
Make sure we are well organised and have a well thought out plan of the lesson, this prevention of flip flops will improve the flow of your lesson. Ensure you are thinking two steps ahead of the next activity. Get the next activity set up during the activity that is already running. For example, during independent study, ask an early finisher to hand out the materials needed for the next activity, ensuring there is no wasted time between activities.
Dangles are when an activity is left “hanging in midair” by going off and doing some other activity. Following such a “fade away”, the teacher would then come back and resume the activity. An example could be the teacher has begun introducing a new concept on algebra walks up to the whiteboard with a marker. Then swiftly turns, walks back to the teacher’s desk, reads from his screen for a period and then returns.
How to avoid dangles.
Being organised is essential, but if you need to ‘walk’ away from an activity momentarily, assign mini-tasks to students. An example could be, “OK everyone. You have 30 seconds to have a conversation with your shoulder partner about what you know about algebra”. Or, ” You have 30 seconds to list in your book all the things you know about algebra”.
Having additional resources as backups, to move on to when things don’t go to plan or technology fails will ensure your lessons are smooth. During my math classes, I use a variety of resources for example textbooks, investigations and PowerPoint to mix up my lessons. I also like to have mini printed workbooks of additional questions given out each lesson for students, with questions that cover all content for that program of work. I dip into these books during times of ‘dangles’, but also I used them for early finishers, starters, and extra revision.
Reducing these four behaviours will reduce the jerkiness (anti-smoothness) of your lesson. Creating a smoother feel with perfect momentum will ensure students are always clear of their learning activities, thus improving the engagement and behaviour of students. Remember to be organised with lesson planning and resources, think two steps ahead and be very clear with your narrative and instructions.
Kounin, J. S. (1970). Discipline and group management in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.