The Know-It-All: Dealing with Difficult Students

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Whether they’re overly enthusiastic or just plain hyper, difficult students can easily derail a class by disrupting the learning process. By dominating the discussion or distracting others, these problem pupils can waste hours of valuable class time if the instructor doesn’t deal with them directly.


To keep their courses on track and maintain a positive learning environment, trainers need to create an atmosphere of empowerment, acceptance and internal control.

Promoting these values in the classroom helps instructors cultivate a psychology of success in their students, said John Shindler, associate professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of “Transformative Classroom Management.”

Further, he said developing this psychology improves the classroom environment by addressing the fear of failure that causes many students to be disruptive.

“When you have a failure psychology, you’re easily threatened, you quit easily and you’re looking for ways to displace the responsibility onto other people,” Shindler explained. “And when you feel that way, you become disruptive because it’s a lot easier to become disruptive than it is to feel like a failure.”

These students can act out in many ways, not all of which are rude or abrasive — the failure psychology can manifest itself in seemingly benign actions such as dominating classroom conversations or asking too many questions, Shindler said. Because these students are not causing trouble but genuinely trying to learn, they can pose unique challenges.

Some prime examples of these difficult students include the know-it-all, the question hog and the daily debater.


The Know-It-All

The know-it-all student tends to dominate classroom discussions with long-winded answers and comments that demonstrate his or her extensive knowledge of a particular subject. Although trainers love engaged students, these individuals can monopolize the discussion to the point where other students tune out as soon as they open their mouths.

To prevent this situation before it starts, instructors should make a statement early in the class about the importance of hearing everyone’s ideas. If they make it known at the beginning that they might have to stop some speakers to make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk, know-it-all students probably won’t feel singled out or hurt when they are cut off, Shindler explained.

If the problem persists, however, the trainer should pull that student aside after class to discuss the problem.

“Validate the fact that they have a lot to contribute and make them feel like they’re a special student, but let them know right upfront that there needs to be some kind of proportionality to the amount that people talk,” Shindler said.


The Question Hog

The question hog is generally a student who feels very confused or anxious about his or her ability to understand the concepts being discussed in class. Although it’s important for an instructor to answer this student’s questions and allay his or her fears, after class is probably the best time to discuss personalized, in-depth questions, Shindler said.

It’s also beneficial to make students wait until the end of class to ask their questions so they are forced to spend some time trying to find the answer for themselves — finding the solution on their own will give them much more confidence than having the explanation given to them.

“It’s conditioning —if they ask something, and you give them what they want, you condition them to continue that behavior,” Shindler explained. “So, when they say, ‘I want the answer,’ you say, ‘I’m going to give you the answer later.’”


The Daily Debater

The daily debater will latch on to any po

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