10.2 The Facilitative Teacher

The facilitative science teacher is one who understands and knows how to manage groups of students to produce high levels of involvement. There is a wide body of research, and a number of "management" programs that indicate the importance of issues related to classroom management. When we ask our beginning science inters what their number one concern is about teaching, invariably the number one concern is "how do I deal with discipline problems." No one would deny that discipline problems can create havoc for the beginning teacher. Instead of dealing with discipline problems as the problem, our approach here will be to examine management behaviors that contribute to increasing levels of learning and involvement in the classroom. Putting out the fires of discipline might seem at first appearance as an effective method of "controlling" student behavior. The research on classroom behavior, show this not to be true.

A researcher by the name of Jacob Kounin identified a cluster of proactive teacher behaviors that distinguished effective classroom managers from ineffective ones. But the way he discovered this is worth reporting to you. Initially Kounin was interested in how teachers handled misbehavior. That is, he wanted to know what effect the teacher's action to stop the misbehavior (called a desist) had on other students in the class. Some of the questions he considered included: Does a desist "serve as an example and restrain behavior in other students? Does a desist cause other students to behave better, or pay more attention? Which students are affected by desist actions---off task students, or on-task students.

Kounin found that the manner in which teachers handled misbehavior made no difference in how the students reacted. The only exception he found was that punitive desists tended create emotional discomfort among other students in the class. Kounin's research did not imply that teacher's desists were not effective. For example, he reported that one teacher used the technique of flicking the lights on and off as a signal for the students to stop talking. For this the teacher, the technique worked. However, he also reported another teacher in the same school who used the same technique; it didn't work. Kounin realized that there was some other aspect of teacher behavior that was influencing student student rather than the teacher's desist techniques.

Kounin discovered by studying the video tapes over eighty teachers that there were group management strategies that teachers used that created a class environment characterized by high levels of student involvement. These strategies were proactive behaviors on the part of the teacher and taken as a whole created a class climate that prevented or discouraged behavior problems before they started. Let's take a look at Kounin's strategies, and relate them to managing science for whole-class instruction. Then we'll turn our attention to management strategies appropriate for small group work, and finally we'll look at some very recent suggestions for managing science classrooms that attempt to engage students in high level tasks.

Effective Management Behaviors

To be an effective facilitator of learning requires that you understand something effective group management behaviors. We will explore six group management behaviors that effective teachers appear to incorporate into their style of teaching. These six behaviors, which are summarized in Figure 10.2 are variables that have been correlated with student involvement in learning activities. They are behaviors that are evident in classrooms of teachers who have few student misbehaviors (or if they do have student misbehaviors, they are taken care of swiftly and fairly). Since they are correlations, teachers should realize that these behaviors do not necessarily cause student behavior.

With-it-ness. With-it-ness is the teacher's ability to communicate to students that they know what they are doing in the classroom at all times. With-it-ness is a monitoring behavior, not only during small group work, but when you are making a presentation, or if students are doing individual seat work.

Teacher's who are successful in monitoring students appear to have "eyes in the back of their head." They are able to spot misbehavior via a sixth sense---almost as if they are able to see every student all of the time. In order for teachers to communicate with-it-ness to the students, they must indicate this awareness through some action indicating an awareness of student behavior. The easiest way to exhibit this is to stop misbehavior in a timely and appropriate manner. This means nipping behavior problems in the bud---before they manifest themselves and spread to other students like a virus.

Eye contact, asking questions, physically moving toward impending misbehaving students, and redirecting students to prevent misbehavior are some individual teacher behaviors that will convey to students the teacher's sense of with-it-ness.

Figure 10.2

Effective Group Management Practices



Key Questions


Teacher's ability to communicate to students what they are doing in the classroom at all times. It involves nipping problems in the bud before they escalate.

"Do you have eyes in the back of your head?"


The teacher's ability to effectively handle two classroom events at the same time as opposed to becoming so totally glued to one event that other is neglected.

"Can you deal with working with a small group, while at the same time a student returns from the counselor, another student drops a cup containing a mixture of water and sand, and the teacher across the hall sends a student in with a message for you."


Teacher's ability to manage smooth transitions between learning activities.

"Do you activities have clear endings before moving on to new ones?"


Teacher's ability to maintain a steady sense of movement or progress throughout a lesson.

"Are you activities conducted:

A. At a brisk pace?

B. In logical steps?

C. Without lengthy directions?"

Group Focus and Accountability

Teacher's ability to:

• To keep the whole class involved in learning so all students are actively participating.

• To hold students accountable for their work.

• To create suspense or high interest.

"Would students in your class say they were kept on their toes?"

Overlapping. In the real world of the classroom, multiple events occur simultaneously, and the effective manager is able to deal with them. In this management practice, the science teacher does not get totally immersed in one event (helping a team with their titration apparatus) at the expense of other pending situations. Throughout the day, there is a very high chance of interruptions from students entering your class from the outside, or announcements over the P.A. system. The skilled manager is able to maintain the flow of instruction by holding the entire class accountable for continuing, while at the same time dealing with the intrusion.

Smoothness. This management practice refers to the teachers ability to manage smooth transitions between learning activities. Kounin identified a number of classroom behaviors that tended to impede smoothness. Here in summary are some behaviors to be on the look out to reduce:

1. Bursting in on a group or the whole class with new information or instructions when the students are really not ready for it. For example, suppose the teacher told the class that groups had ten minutes to complete an activity in which they were classifying vertebrate bones. With four minutes of the the student's time left, the teacher bursts in with these instructions: "In addition to what you are doing, now I want each group to name the bones and to report their finding to to the whole class." It might have been better if the teacher said this as part of the original instructions, or wait until the ten minute period was up, and then announce the new instructional procedures, and allow necessary time for completion.

2. Some teachers have a tendency to start an activity and leave it dangling by starting another activity. For example, a physical science teacher begins the lesson by going over the homework, and asks three students to go to the board to write the answers to the first three problems. While they are on the way to the board, the teacher asks the class if they are ready to review yesterday's laboratory activity. Many students raise their hands and start talking about the lab. Meanwhile one student at the board is having difficulty with one of the homework problems. The teacher's attention is now drawn to the class talking about the lab.

3. Sometimes activities are never completed. The activity is truncated. As in the case above, there is a chance that the teacher might not finish going over the homework assignment.

4. Sometimes teachers call attention to a problem in the middle of an activity that could have been dealt with later. The interruptions stops the flow of instruction. Examples of this are minor misbehaviors (student in chemistry class looking over English term paper). An incident like this can be handled by simply walking to the student and pointing or touching the paper. The paper is put away with no incident. A problem occurs when the teacher goes up the student and asks why they are reading an English paper in chemistry class and gets into a discussion. By this time the whole class is interrupted.

Momentum. Effective managers move their lessons at a brisk pace, and appear to have very few slowdowns in the flow of activities. Maintaining momentum or a steady sense of movement throughout the lesson helps engage the learners in activities. Slow downs or time not well utilized between activities tends to cause students to lose interest.

Slowdowns are generally caused by teachers overdwelling on a task, and fragmenting activities into trivial steps when it might have been better to formalize it as a single activity. Overdwelling can kill a good activity. Teachers who spend too much time giving detailed instructions on a laboratory activity can reduce the student's initial interest. Writing out the instructions, or reconceptualizing the activity can eliminate overdwelling. Another practice to be aware of is lecturing for too long a period of time. Unless there is brisk movement during the lecture, it can be a turn off to student interest. Lecturing student's about misbehavior can also impede the flow of instruction.

According to Kounin's work, momentum appeared to be the most important management behavior for promoting active involvement among students and reducing misbehaviors.

Group Focus and Accountability. We might have called this practice group focus and "individual" accountability. As a teacher you will always be involved with a large group of students, and at the same time you must hold each student accountable for learning. Maintaining group focus---keeping students on their toes---as well holding each student in the class responsible for learning are key management practices.

One of the key behaviors in this practice is the format that you choose for student involvement. Which of these formats do you think will result in greater student involvement?

Reports show that teacher led large class and small group work were more effective in promoting focus and involvement. Individual seat work appears to be less motivating than the pace set by the teacher with the whole class, or work established for small cooperative teams.

Group focus also can be achieved by "keeping students on their toes." Here are some strategies to achieve this goal:

1. Attracting students' attention by asking a question before calling on a student to respond.

2. Holding attention by pausing to look around the group to bring the students in before calling on someone to respond or recite, by asking for a show of hands before selecting someone, or by using other high interest cues such as, "be ready, this might fool you."

3. Keeping students in suspense as to who will be called upon next by avoiding a predictable pattern for selecting students.

4. Calling on different students with sufficient frequency so that students don't tune out because the same group is always called upon.

5. Interspersing individual responses with mass unison responses.

6. Alerting non-performing students in a group that they may be called upon in connection with the performer's response or to recall something the performer recited.

7. Using a random number technique (having students in each group number off) to call on students in the class.

Group focus is also dependent on conveying to students that they are each accountable for their academic and social behavior. If you convey to the class that you expect each person to be ready to respond or to complete assignments, then the chances are that they will remain academically involved. Some ways to maintain accountability in a group format include:

1. Teacher checks students' answers or other performances by asking them to hold up answers or some prop indicating an answer.

2. Teacher requires group to recite in unison while actively listening for individual responses.

3. Teacher checks for understanding of a larger number of students by asking some students to comment on whether another students' answer or performance was right or wrong.

4. Teacher circulates around the group and checks the answers or performance of students at their seats while another student is asked to perform aloud or at the board.

5. Teacher asks for the raised hands of students who are prepared to demonstrate a skill or problem and then requires some of them to demonstrate it.

The management practices that have been presented are reflected in classrooms of teachers who have high rates of student engagement, and low numbers of misbehaviors. These practices appear to be essential in the variety of tasks that teachers plan to involve students in science activities. However, I would like to highlight two special aspects of science teaching, and examine the management or facilitative skills and behaviors that appear to be important. First we will examine management of laboratory and cooperative learning activities, and then investigate facilitative skills important to teaching high level tasks.