Behaviour - How to deal with an exuberant know-it-all

10th May 2013 at 01:00
Teachers want children to be keen, but sometimes an overzealous student can be as damaging to learning as an unruly one

Enthusiasm from students is what every teacher craves. But when a single child ends up dominating every discussion or question-and-answer session, it can blight the lesson.

"A child that is too dominant can be just as disruptive as a child that is misbehaving. It can mean discussions are taken off track and that other students disengage," says Paul Dix, lead trainer at English education training consultancy Pivotal Education and author of The Essential Guide to Taking Care of Behaviour.

Is being domineering really a disciplinary offence, though? And if so, how should you go about doling out the punishment? After all, you do not want to discourage a student who may simply be suffering from over-exuberance.

Dix argues that there should be little difference between how you treat an unruly student and how you treat an over-enthusiastic one. "I tend not to differentiate between dominant behaviour and the behaviour of children that normally get in trouble. I take the situation as an opportunity to show how fair I can be," he explains.

Dix says that singling out a student who is causing disruption by being too dominant is an excellent opportunity to show that there are "social rules and rules of engagement in a group that apply regardless of your intellect, ability or commitment".

Therefore, with this type of behaviour he would use the same intervention as he would for any behavioural issue: taking that student aside after the lesson, talking about the pattern of behaviour and trying to correct the issue through discussion.

"You have to explain to the student that there is a difference between being keen and enthusiastic, and being dominant," he says.

Aric Sigman, a fellow of the UK's Society of Biology, associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and author of The Spoilt Generation, agrees in part with Dix but feels that putting an over-enthusiastic student on a par with an unruly one is problematic.

"(An over-enthusiastic student) should not be considered the same as an off-the-shelf unruly student, as they are at least focusing on and valuing the subject matter being taught," he says.

However, Sigman does still view the behaviour as disruptive. He explains that the issue needs to be tackled because "the importance of learning to consider others extends beyond this immediate classroom scenario. How (students) conduct themselves in this learning situation is a microcosm of how they may conduct themselves in other professional and social situations, both now and in adulthood."

Rather than discipline, he feels that a more suitable approach is an assessment of the particular child's needs. He agrees that a "careful chat", as Dix advocates, is one way forward, although he stresses that much care would have to be taken not to "squash their enthusiasm".

He argues, however, that a teacher also has to assess whether the student's disruptive behaviour may have arisen because of inappropriate levels of work. "Teachers have to use their knowledge of the student and judgement to decide on perhaps setting them harder work," he suggests.

Dix agrees that this is a factor that needs to be addressed.

"You have to ask yourself questions as a teacher," he says. "If this student is so confident, then it may be that you haven't differentiated the work properly - that student may simply be finding it too easy. If you set the work at the wrong level, it is easy (for the student) to be dominant."

It is possible, of course, that such disruptive behaviour is not related to school and instead stems from issues at home. Attention-seeking has myriad causes and many of them are found in the home environment. Talking to parents can be helpful here. Even if the issue is not home-orientated, however, Sigman recommends parental involvement in any solution to this particular behavioural quandary.

"There should be more joined-up parenting on the matter. You have to inform parents of the behaviour in order to help the student to become more socially and academically viable," he says.

Overall, then, although a keen student is always welcome, being overly keen to the detriment of others is definitely something that needs to be addressed. Importantly, it could also be a useful sign that you need to reassess the level at which you are teaching.


When a student is so keen that they dominate class discussions and question-and-answer sessions, their behaviour needs to be addressed.

There is some disagreement over whether such a student should be treated as though they were unruly. One side argues that the effect on learning is as detrimental as with a naughty student, whereas the other says that at least the student is engaging with the lesson.

Discussing the issue with the student and their parents is a useful technique for solving the issue, whatever your view on the above.

Also, this type of behaviour could be a sign that the work you are setting is not hard enough to stretch that particular student.

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