Explore potential strategies.
Student's behavior is symptomatic of a larger problem in the class.
When a student monopolizes discussion or derails a lecture with tangential questions or excessive commentary, he may be subtly (or not so subtly) challenging the instructor's authority. While sometimes just a matter of individual personality, this sort of behavior can also be symptomatic of larger problems, such as low morale or lack of respect for the instructor. Thus, it's important to address the immediate behavior while also considering issues that may underlie it.
When a student begins to dominate discussion (especially if he is rude or inappropriate), don’t ignore it. The problem can easily spread as other students become irritated, disengage, or start to follow suit. Any number of responses might be appropriate, depending on the attitude of the student and the severity of the problem. Sometimes a pointed look or comment in class can deter a student who is testing limits; sometimes you’ll need to talk to the student outside of class. Be aware, though, that problems with individual students can be symptomatic of larger problems in the course (e.g., frustration with your grading policies, resentment of perceived unfairness), so consider the larger context as well. The Eberly Center can help you brainstorm effective ways to respond to the immediate situation and to determine whether there are larger issues that require attention.
Find out if there are broader problems of morale or motivation in your course by conducting an early course evaluation. Early course evaluations give you a chance to collect feedback from students while there is still an opportunity to make changes. Here are sample evaluations and guidance on how to use them. An Eberly Center consultant would be happy to help you review feedback from these evaluations and plan an appropriate response.
If you determine that there are morale problems in your course that go beyond an individual student, consider coming to the Eberly Center for a consultation. We can work with you to identify the source(s) of the problem and brainstorm solutions that would be appropriate for your teaching context.
This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations.
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