How to handle the ‘dominating’ student.

They think it’s ok to not raise their hand when they have a question, and instead, blurt out their own opinions, experiences, and ‘wisdom’; they ask too many questions, not allowing for others in the class to do the same; they interrupt the flow of the lecture. Basically, ‘they’ rule the class…your class! Who are these students? What’s a professor to do? What’s are students supposed to do? This has been a question I get asked all the time, and with another recent inquiry via the blog, I thought now is a good time to post something about it.

As a professor, it is your responsibility to the other students in your class to stop this in the early stages. Each student in the class is paying to learn primarily from your experience and knowledge. I say, ‘primarily’, because some students do have backgrounds and experiences that can enhance what you’re talking about; enhance, not dominate.

Here’s what I do that has worked for me in the past:

Hand out an ‘Anonymous index card’ at week 2, the middle of the semester, and near the end of the semester. The card has 3 simple questions on it: What am I doing in class that is working? What am I doing in class that is not working? Do you have any suggestion(s)?

When you hand out the card to everyone, even the student that is dominating the class knows that everyone is having input on how the class is managed and they’re not the only person who’s concerns you care about. If you end up needing to talk to this student about their classroom behaviour, they will know it’s not just a concern with you, but with others in the class.

On the card, you’ll most likely see a comment like, ‘You’re letting (name) dominate the class with their own questions and comments, so it would be appreciated if you could elaborate on his/her comments outside of class because it’s interfering with MY learning in class. Thank you!’

 Once you know this is a concern with a student, or multiple students, you can then address it.

Trust me, you will know in the first or second class that you have this kind of student (I’ll just use my own name, ‘Phil’) in your class. When you see the pattern start, acknowledge their experience and insight in a positive way in class (that’s what they want), “Thanks, great comment”, “Thanks for sharing” and then asking the others in the class what they think, “Anne, what about you?” and go around the room. This way ‘Phil’ will see you want opinions from everyone, not just him. Another tip is to say to Phil “you’ve got a lot of great ideas and questions, so why don’t we talk during my office hours, then we don’t end up having our own conversation in class and ignore everyone else, plus I have to make sure I get through all this material. See me at the end of class ok and we’ll set it up?” The best way is to avoid it getting to this stage, so the index card helps, especially when you do it throughout the course.

Lastly, you shouldn’t put the onus on the student to deal with this situation. Some don’t want to cause problems and some simply don’t trust that their name as the complainant won’t be exposed to that person, because, if it is, it will become a bigger problem for you. It’s your class, so manage it.




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