How to Be a With-It Teacher and Developing Withitness
What is a With-It Teacher?
Does a with-it teacher listen to hip-hop and come to class with the cool rapper-endorsed headphones?
A with-it, frequently shortened to withit, teacher is a one who has developed the ability to effectively manage his or her classroom at all times. A withit teacher seems to have extra eyes and ears and can spot discipline problems before they form. A withit teacher can also keep his or her classroom on-task, even when interrupted by classroom visitors or messengers. A withit teacher has a well-managed classroom and a helpful learning environment.
Do you want to be a with-it teacher? Read on to discover withit qualities and how to develop them.
Overlapping Ability - a Withit Prerequisite
Before you can be withit, you must develop your overlapping ability, or ability to tend to more than one matter at a time. If you have overlapping ability, you use body language, your position in the classroom, facial expressions, and even hand gestures (classroom appropriate hand gestures, of course!). Examples of using overlapping ability include:
- Making a gesture to acknowledge a messenger who just entered to the room while continuing instruction and walking to the door to see what the messenger needs.
- Taking attendance visually while monitoring students performing a warm-up activity or "bell ringer."
Are you with-it enough?
Classroom management strategies differ. Techniques that work well, like giving out prizes, in elementary grades may insult secondary students! Always make sure to create age-appropriate policies.
Guidelines for Developing Withitness
Withitness was described by educational theorist Jacob Kounin. Developing withitness is an ongoing process. It takes practice to become truly withit and, without practice, your skills can slip. With practice and experience, anyone can become a withit teacher.
Constantly monitor the class for signs of off-task behaviors, restlessness, lack of understanding, boredom, etc.
- Communicate to an off-task student that you are aware of his/her behavior. If it is minor and non-disruptive, you may not want to call attention to the student and stop the rest of the class from learning. Instead, give a look, nod, or some other signal that you are aware of the issue.
- Student behavior and expressions can tell you a lot. If everyone looks totally lost, it may be time to stop and check for comprehension or ask for questions.
You must avoid spending too much time with any one student or group. It is convenient to always talk to the kids in the front row or cater your lesson to the group of students that seems to be paying attention, but this only increases classroom management problems.
- Any more than 30 seconds may be "too long" to spend with any student/group.
- By focusing on the "chosen few," you send the signal it's okay for the other students to ignore you and that you don't expect much from the rest of the class.
Avoid turning your back to the class, or a portion of the class, as much as possible.
- This is particularly challenging if you need to write on the board. You must turn your back, but it is important to avoid standing with your back to the class for prolonged periods of time. Try to stand more to the side of the board, instead of directly in front of it, to keep an eye on at least part of the class. Or, you can write a line, turn around to face the class, and discuss what you just wrote before proceeding.
Keep the small things big.
- By dealing with 'small' issues as they arise you can help ensure you do not have to deal with major discipline issues.
- Consistency is key. Develop a classroom management plan with policies and procedures on how you deal with inappropriate behavior. Make sure the students know your policies and always enforce them every time.
- Enforcing your behavior policies helps you take advantage of the ripple effect. When students see you effectively deal with a classmate's misbehavior, the other students become less likely to act up. The reverse is also true - students who see others get away with inappropriate behavior will test your limits, themselves.
If you see two or more misbehaviors occurring simultaneously, deal with the more serious misbehavior first, but make sure to give the other offender(s) a nonverbal gesture to communicate your awareness of the situation.
- A nod or a frown may be sufficient to communicate your awareness of the less serious issue(s) while you deal with other behavior problems.
Keep your students alert.
- Call on them randomly. Ask a question, pause for a second, and then call on a student. For example, ask "What event sparked the United States' entry into World War II?" Then pause and, finally, call on a student. Do not reverse this order! If you say "Kelly - what event sparked..." the other students didn't even hear the question. If they know they're off the hook, they are not paying attention.
- Circulate through the room checking on individual and group assignments while students work.
Keep an eye on the whole class, even if you are talking to a specific student or group.
During direct, or teacher-led instruction, attempt to make eye contact with each member of the class about once a minute.
- This one takes some practice! Try to be natural and don't follow the same pattern around the room each time.
Classroom Management - Withitness
Being Withit is Challenging
Being constantly engaging and proactive is tiring! There is no doubt about it - being a withit teacher is difficult. However, if you take the time to practice your withit abilities, you will be rewarded with a more manageable classroom and a better learning environment in which students can learn more effectively.
Are you already a withit teacher? Do you have any additional tips and hints to share on how to maintain your withitness? I'd love it if you have the time to share some of your techniques.