Overlapping, the unsung hero of withitness and classroom of management.

What is Overlapping?

Overlapping is the term coined by Jacob S. Kounin in the 1970s. His book ‘Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms‘ is referred to in a lot of research on Classroom Management. In his book, Kounin gives this simple definition. ‘Overlapping refers to what the teacher does when there are two matters to deal with at the same time. Simultaneously, attending to both issues and does not neglect one task and immerse self in other’.

Effectively ‘Overlapping’ is multi-tasking. For example, a teacher is working with a small group of students with a differentiated task while attending to questions from approaching students that have been working independently. Additionally, attending to behaviours with reminders and low key skills whilst assigning extension work to early finishers during the small group work without interrupting the flow. If the teacher can deal with these matters simultaneously and not stop one task to attend to another, they demonstrate overlapping.

There is a correlational link between overlapping and withitness (with-it-ness). So what is the relationship between Overlapping and Withitness? Firstly, let’s remind ourselves what withitness is and why it is so important for classroom management.

What is Withitness?

Kounin defines withitness as, ‘Teacher’s communicating to the children by her actual behaviour, that they know what the children are doing, or has the proverbial “eyes in back of head”. It is not adequate to measure what the teacher knows to obtain the level of whititness, but what she communicates to children what she knows’.

If a teacher has good withitness they can communicate to students that they ‘no what’s going on’ within the classroom, using an overt action that demonstrates this. Additionally, the teacher must demonstrate they have picked the correct target and address it in a timely manner .

(Kounin, 1970)

Kounin uses the term desist in his book. (The definition of desist: is to stop doing something, especially something that someone else does not want you to do). I would call these reminders or low key skills. Another important thing to know about wititness is; if the teacher gives a reminder to a student regarding behaviour but gives that reminder to the wrong student or fails to give a desist in a timely manner. This can communicate to the class that the teacher does not know what’s going on and thus has a low withitness rating. Withitness nips behaviours in the bud quickly, so they don’t escalate further into bigger behavioural issues.

So what is the relationship between Overlapping and Withitness?

During Kounin’s research, he interprets the relationship between withitness and overlapping as: ‘A broadening of one’s scope of active attending, as manifested in overlapping, enables the teacher to receive more information about what’s going on. This knowledge is necessary to achieve withitness’. Thus, having more information about what’s going on in the classroom will correlate with the teacher’s rate of withitness. That is only if they communicate this increased awareness to students ensuring it is targeting the correct student and in a timely manner. So, in a nutshell, overlapping can improve your withitness.

If students perceive that the teacher knows what’s going on within the classroom, they are more likely to get on with the task assigned and refrain from misbehaving. This will ensure your classroom has higher engagement and less disruptive behaviours. Click here to upskill in classroom management.

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Kounin, J. S. (1970). Discipline and group management in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

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