Dealing with Disruptive StudentsWhat are your best techniques for dealing with problematic students in class?  I teach at a university with very bright students; last semester, I had a student who...

Dealing with Disruptive Students

What are your best techniques for dealing with problematic students in class?  I teach at a university with very bright students; last semester, I had a student who challenged literally every other word I said.  Since it was a class about rhetoric and argument, it was difficult to silence him.  But he was always just on the edge of being disrespectful (too smart to outright be an ass) and clearly thought himself much smarter than I.  I usually don't let stuff like that bother me, but I dreaded the class every day. 

How do you deal with such a student?  What other kinds of problems have you encountered and what was your solution?

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I was going to say what clairewait said, so I will just add to this.  I have taught many graduate classes, and I have had students desperately try to prove that they are smarter than me.  My solution is to meet with them one on one, so they can see me as a person.  Just like with any other behavioral issue, I try to understand the source of the problem.  Why is the student acting like this?  For instance, if you meet this student in office hours to discuss or debate, you are challenging him and listening to him.  If this is all he wants, he'll be satisfied and won't desire to rehash the argument in front of the class.  You might also add when he belabors a point during a discussion that you will continue the discussion with him later.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I was going to say what clairewait said, so I will just add to this.  I have taught many graduate classes, and I have had students desperately try to prove that they are smarter than me.  My solution is to meet with them one on one, so they can see me as a person.  Just like with any other behavioral issue, I try to understand the source of the problem.  Why is the student acting like this?  For instance, if you meet this student in office hours to discuss or debate, you are challenging him and listening to him.  If this is all he wants, he'll be satisfied and won't desire to rehash the argument in front of the class.  You might also add when he belabors a point during a discussion that you will continue the discussion with him later.

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It surprises me that no one has suggested this, so I'll tell what I would do (what I HAVE done with students like this): meet with him one on one.  Get to know the kid.  Figure out what makes him tick.  Likely, if you can establish a relationship with him, he'll not only start to respect you, but start to respect your boundaries.

I've had a few students like this (all in high school however) and sitting down and just asking them about their lives and what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go seemed to be exactly what they wanted.  It turns out, most of the students were competing with me because they wanted MY attention, not affirmation from their peers.  So give him some personal attention - but do it on YOUR time and on your turf.  Away from the class, he might surprise you.  Heck, maybe you'll end up liking him.  Then, you can actually tell him, "Look.  I like you.  You need to shut up in my class."  When delivered with a genuine smile that is backed with a relationship - I wouldn't be surprised if you see results.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Normally when I have had a student like this I have found that other students really find it as annoying as I do (if not more) and so chances to get them to rip him or her to shreds work well. Another thing I have found is giving group work to groups of about 4 but then giving rotating roles to each member of that group which they then receive a grade for. So in each group one person is the scribe, one person is the chairperson whose job it is to make sure each person speaks and another person is the one who gets to feed back to the rest of the class. Point is they have to fulfill their role in that group and get a grade for it. Makes people listen!

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

What if you turned more of the class over to the students? One of the teachers at our university (masters level philosophy by the way) assigns the reading selections for the week. The following week he groups them into different groups, and they have to present and defend the information or their stance on the issue. The class listens and questions. I bet your students would question the Smart A and put him in his placeJ

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Hi Jamie!  I am just thinking off the cuff here, . . . and considering my own experiences on the subject.  I've had students before that truly knew how to "press my buttons" per se, but never one quite that bad.  (Then again, I'm usually best teaching lower to mid-level students, so I don't get many truly smart smart-*****.) 

I'm just going to throw out something that's pretty out of the ordinary.  I'm guessing that the student is doing this to get some kind of affirmation from the rest of the class.  Or, if not, as an adolescent, he/she must be looking for some kind of affirmation and, as a result, would not like to be ridiculed in any way.  How about having a frank discussion with the students about this behavior.  Let them know you don't like it.  It probably bothers many of them as well.  Anyway, . . . here's the controversial part, . . . how about creating a class sign (like crossing raised arms above their heads) when a student thinks so-and-so (or ANYONE) has crossed the line into disrespect?  When a certain number of classmates in agreement are reached (maybe 3, the three-strikes-and-you're-out idea), . . . well, the kid is GUILTY!  When he/she (or ANYONE) does something crass, . . . turn it into a game, . . . looking around the room with your own arms crossed above you head, looking for affirmation.  Plenty are sure to put their hands up, too.  THEN you can give a hefty assignment as a punishment for the kid.  I don't know, . . . like 400 words on the value of respect.  Do this EACH TIME it happens, expanding the depth of the assignment each time to another aspect of respect.  The kid is going to stop.  ; )  Plus, you get the added bonus of the REST of the class learning to determine respectful behavior versus disrespectful behavior.

Heck, . . . I'm going to consider making this one of my class rules and instituting it at the beginning of the year.  This could really be fun.  Heh, heh.  : )

Oh, and just to be sure, I would run it by the principal, . . . just in case he/she gets any calls.  : )

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I have had a student like this before myself.  He loved argument and rhetoric...especially whenever religion came up...as it often does and did in that American Literature class.  He was a junior in high school, and I attempted to reason with him outside of class.  I had parent conferences (which didn't work since he obviously ran the roost at home), and my support from admin didn't help since the boy had won the National Science Fair.  So, because I could not allow him and his smart alec ways to prevent the learning of the others, I consulted the guidance counselor and threw him out of the class.  He was assigned independent study for the period he was assigned to me.  It was unfortunate, but sometimes that is the decision that has to be made.  I imagine this would be easier on the college/university level than on the high school level since you are definitely not being paid to baby-sit a smarta**.  Good Luck! 

mrerick's profile pic

mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I'd see if you can create a writing/research assignment that can challenge the heck out of something he's said.  If you think he's making a statement just for the sake of arguing, try to spin that into a persuasive research project so he's forced to dig around and see how valid his arguments are.  One of two things should happen: he'll either realize that he was arguing blindly, or he may find some valid research to discuss instead of disagreeing for the sake of disagreement.

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Not the worst problem in the world to have, but I can see where that can get annoying. I teach at a continuation school so my disruptions are rarely from students who are arrogant with the intelligence, usually they are arrogant about crimes committed and prison sentences, but all the same I do get disruptions.

Yours is a tough one since I'm sure that argument and discussion is a must. I like #2 solution which gets your know-it-all in front of the class and you can model his own behavior to him so he can see what it feels like to constantly be interrupted.

I often times have irrelevant and sometimes rude or smart remarks made in my classrooms and if it isn't a positive comment that adds to our discussion I simply continue as if the comment weren't made. Without the acknowledgement they tend to stop because they don't get the limelight they are looking for. I've found this to be very effective during discussions because if I keep going they know the comment was not one I would warrant in my classroom. This might help put this student in his place, he'll see you exercise your control as the professor by not stopping every little time for his comments thereby establishing his place in the classroom as a student who is there to learn something, not an equal trying to match wits.

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I had a student like that in my 10th grade English class last semester. She behaved the same way your student did (but I'd expect your student to be more mature and able to control himself than mine). With my age group, I can call parents and ask them to intervene, or I can do a discipline report and send the student to the assistant principal. With your group, I think I would try to find a way to trip him up--not to shame or embarrass him but to let him know who controls the class. What about having the students give presentations and let other students critique them? Maybe you could model his behavior during his presentation. Or do you think he's too arrogant to catch on? One of my colleagues did that last year with a boy in her freshman English class. He constantly interrupted her. One day she sent him on an errand to get him out of the room and told the rest of the class that when he came back, they were to interrupt him every time he started to say something. He got the point and never interrupted her again.

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