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I have a student who keeps answering other students' questions before I could even start explaining. What should I do in this case? Should I ask them to come meet with me? If so, how should I convey that it is not ok and it is not their job.

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    As to the ok-ness or not, I'd wager that it's more an aggression (and possibly a show-off) than a wish to be helpful. So it should be discouraged, yes. But privately, not publicly. – paul garrett Feb 12 at 23:29
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    Just to add some context. This happened to me (as the student). I was naive and it pained me to hear silence for a few seconds if the other student didn't know the answer. My lecturer took me into a side-room after class quietly and explained how it wasn't helping the class and he appreciated that I was aware, but to let the other students answer the questions. He advised that I don't answer any questions in the class, which actually changed my attitude for classes ever since that talk and I always took a back seat unless I was stuck/unsure. – Dean Meehan Feb 13 at 10:19
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    If a question gets answered that's good. Even more so by an engaged student. What would be your lesson to the student to stop answering questions? Respecting your authority? If that's the only reason for you to call him into a meeting, you should rethink your motives. Authority has to serve a purpose. – image Feb 13 at 11:02
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    Following from @image, students can give better answers than professors, because they better understand their peers' knowledge. – user2768 Feb 13 at 13:15
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    @user2768 The way I understood the question, the professor wants to explain the context and required knowledge, so the student and his silent compatriots know, why the answer is correct. And the interrupting student only seems to be shouting out the factual answer, without explaining any underlying goings-on. Aside from the interruption of class and possible interpretation of the other students, this leaves a lot of learning on the table. – Minix Feb 13 at 13:22

14 Answers 14

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This would, I think, depend a lot on how the "answering" student goes about it. Just interrupting a request to the professor is disruptive, but some people do this sort of thing by reflex. But yes, a quiet word is in order. Ask them to meet with you. But decide first on what you would like them to do to correct the action.

If the answers they give are generally correct then it is a different situation than if they are mostly irrelevant, I think.

One thing that such a student fails to understand, of course, is that often the best answer is a minimal answer. An answer that lets students develop insight, not just get answers. Saying too much in answering a student question may be worse than saying nothing.

One option is just to require them to remain silent, but another is to ask (require) them to raise a hand before saying anything and first getting permission. But yet another, that might be useful, depending on the student, is to require them to write out an answer when they feel the need, rather than to blurt it out verbally.

But the behavior can be a symptom of many things. Some are insecurities on the part of the student; a need for affirmation. Some would just be showing off for the professor. Without knowing what it is, it is difficult to formulate an exact solution.

You have a right, of course, not to have your course disrupted by outbursts, but think a bit about whether the disruptor has needs that also need to be met. So, as part of your quiet word with them, ask first why they think it important to do that. Depending on your view of the student, the question might be direct, or you might want to be a bit more subtle about it.

And sometimes it is actually useful to have students volunteer answers to the questions of others as long as you maintain control over the process. If one student is dominating a conversation, it might be counterproductive for others.

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    This student's answers are generally correct. She comes across as very arrogant. Though. she is retaking my class because she got very low score last time. I overheard that she had studied this material from a teacher from School X (a top school) and it was way better than what's been done in this class. – user119361 Feb 12 at 23:38
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    Arrogance is painful, of course and reflects badly on her, I expect. I might lean, in such a case, as requiring a "hand up" first with explicit permission to speak. – Buffy Feb 12 at 23:52
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    One thing that such a student fails to understand, of course, is that often the best answer is a minimal answer. An answer that lets students develop insight, not just get answers. Saying too much in answering a student question may be worse than saying nothing. – Buffy Feb 12 at 23:56
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    Buffy, I like your approach. A premature answer also robs me of the need to explore the question. Who else doesn't know? Why, are they missing context? Other audience members are less likely to admit to not knowing if the answer has already been given. – MvZ Feb 13 at 14:34
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    @user119361 That seems suspicious, so they have so little confidence in your teaching that they were able to take material from a class they weren't even taking at a completely different university and understand the material way better? If so It is not in the students best interest to not answer these questions because clearly they are gaining experience and study in what ever subject you are teaching, even if you feel it is best for the class. I thought it was just an overeager student, but given this new information I'm afraid you may have inadvertently caused this. – whn Feb 13 at 14:43
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There are two main components to be handled:

  1. The question
  2. The answer

For (1), you can either choose to say

Please ask your question after I finish this part

or take the question right away.

For (2), I usually prefer to ask the classroom

Is there anyone who wants to answer this question?

If someone volunteers, and in your case someone always does, then I let the one who asked the question listen to the answer. Then, the important part comes:

Did you understand the answer?

or rather, as @Bob Brown pointed out,

Is there anything I should explain in more detail?

If the answer is understood, then everyone is happy. If not, then I proceed to explain the answer in my own way.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the students understand as much as they can, regardless of the person explaining. Of course, it is sometimes annoying for a student to interrupt your answer arrogantly. But you can always turn this situation into your advantage. Remember that there will be a question where someone else wants to answer, and then your lecture becomes interactive. Interactive lectures, in my opinion, are the best to follow and the most enjoyable ones.

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    I've found that "do you understand...?" is almost always answered with a yes, even when it's not the case. I don't have a good replacement question. The closest I've come is, "Is there anything I should explain in more detail?" That, at least, turns "you" into "I" and sometimes elicits a further question. – Bob Brown Feb 13 at 15:16
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    As a student I always very much disliked having my questions answered by the class know-it-all rather than the professor. I could have an enjoyable interactive session (it wouldn't be a lecture) at the local coffee shop. I'm paying tuition to hear material from a real professor. – CCTO Feb 13 at 18:49
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    @CCTO You pay tuition to learn the promised material, as the tutors see fit. Other than that, your own motivation of paying money does not matter, unfortunately. – padawan Feb 13 at 19:36
  • “What questions do you have about that?” or “What questions do you think a classmate may have about that?” are also good alternatives to “Do you understand?” – wgrenard Feb 15 at 16:06
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In many classes, there are a few students who participate way more than others. I would recommend doing two things in this case.

  1. Have times when it is appropriate for students to answer each other's questions. It wasn't clear from your question whether your class has that, but if it doesn't, consider adding it. Everyone benefits -- some students get their questions answered, others get to think through the material more deeply, and everyone realizes that they can think and learn on their own, without everything coming from you.

  2. Make the student into an ally. Pull them aside after class and say that you appreciate their enthusiasm and engagement. Then, make your request -- in your case, say that you need a chance to answer student questions without them jumping in. Don't sound like you're asking for a favor, just making a polite request, preferably with a reason. "I need you to not jump in when another student asks a question. It's important that I can address some subtle issues that can arise." End on a positive note, maybe appreciation or recognition of their interest.

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    Regarding #2, I think you're better off giving a polite directive rather than making a request, which is how your "I need you to not jump in..." reads to me anyway. Maybe change "make your request" to "give your directive" (or some synonym of "directive"). I think emphasizing courtesy and explaining yourself is good, while still gently asserting your authority as prof. If it really is phrased as a request, then authority isn't being asserted properly which could backfire. Assertion of authority should be polite and show appreciation for the student, and be constructive, but it is needed. – bob Feb 13 at 14:54
  • @bob I'd say "I need you to do X" from an authority figure is a polite directive (imagine hearing it from your boss), but that will depend on cultural context. – jaia Feb 13 at 19:08
  • I agree. I'm just thinking someone could misinterpret "make your request" as something other than giving a polite directive, so that's the part I was suggesting to change; I think the actual wording you suggest could work well for the situation. – bob Feb 13 at 23:17
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There's not enough information in the OP to know if this is the case, I'm adding my answer in case it may help others.

I was forced to take a class for a subject in which I was already proficient (introduction to programming). As the course progressed, I noticed my teacher would answer other students' questions with answers that were correct, but long-winded with lots of background that ended up confusing some of the other students.

E.g. on a question about why 3 / 2 returns 1 (instead of 1.5), he began talking about floating point numbers, and how because of the way they're represented in memory, you can end up errors, including a tangent on binary numbers (which wasn't on the syllabus). While it was interesting context, he never ended up answering the original question, nor explaining what the student could do to solve the problem. We'd often run out of time in class.

Some of the students would ask me the question again in private, confessing that they didn't understand his response. Even though I knew it was rude to do, I'd sometimes interject before he had a chance to respond so that I could explain the concept to the whole class at once, instead of multiple times individually.

A very convoluted way to agree with @user2768's comment that sometimes a fellow student is a better judge of the level of knowledge the other students have. It might be worth paying attention to the answer they gave compared to the answer you gave / were intending to give.


In my situation, I did try to talk to the teacher about it, but he was adamant that there wasn't a problem.

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I used to be that student. @Buffy's answer covers most of it, but one scenario she has not mentioned is much simpler, and was the reason I did this: impatience.

When the question was trivial and the answer obvious, I wanted to move the course along so I would blurt it out in hopes to nip it in the bud.

Of course I now know how misguided that behavior is, but it seemed logical at the time.

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I have had this problem, and I was vaguely warned beforehand. Nevertheless it came as a surprise that the pupil was one I knew before. She still hadn't got a job. No wonder why. And the warnings were about "being too talkative", "taking over class discussions", "irritating the other pupils".

So, here it goes, refering to this pupil of mine: Your student may be "on the spectrum". Highly intelligent, with a dash of Asperger. Brain the size of a planet. A know-it-all who can behave in an unknowingly arrogant manner. (And "Hi IQ Aspians" are often likely to have an uneven study motivation). However, unlike others they may be more receptive to getting the situation if you describe it not as a struggle for being the top dog, rather "I prefer you let me lead the lessons, as you interfere with the other's learning process by taking over both student and teacher role. I know you know this subject by now, so just let's just roll through this course".

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There's nothing wrong with students answering each others' questions. It helps them "own" the subject rather than see it as something you dispense. However in this case it seems to be unhelpful to the other students as well as to the teacher.

The disruptive student seems to be frustrated that the pace of the class is too slow for her. She seems to be well above average ability and quite capable of studying on her own, and may have failed the class first time because of boredom.

I would set her some extension work to do during class, with a view to entering for the examination early or entering at a higher level.

I would compliment her grasp of the material during class. This acknowledges the effort she has made and lets other students know that her answers are reliable.

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I remember a situation where this happened in class. The teacher put down the interrupting student in class for everyone, rather angrily. He told the student something along the lines of "Sure, you might pass the class without problems, but that doesn't mean everyone here will".

I think a more charismatic, friendly approach could work, even if you do it publicly in class. Let's take a very structured nonviolent communication approach: 1) Observation: Hey , i can't help but notice you keep answering questions i pose to other people. 2) Feelings: I understand this feels like you are showing commitment, but to others, including myself, it can come across as disruptive 3) Needs: Other students need to be allowed to take the time to process questions, because that is a vital part of their learning process. If one person answers everything, this doesn't benefit the course. 4) Request: So while I appreciate your active participation in class, can you please try and tone it down a little when I ask questions to other people?

If you feel like this type of issues is something you have difficulty with in your class, I recommend trying to find a NVC course in your neighbourhood.

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  • Can you clarify what NVC is? – user108403 Feb 14 at 9:30
  • It stands for 'nonviolent communication'. To pluck a definition from the internet: "A way of thinking, speaking and acting that contributes to mutual connection and cooperation." I am not an expert in any sense, but it is basically a set of techniques that can help you communicate about conflicts (among things) in a way so that relations between two parties is strengthened instead of weakened. – Kasper Feb 14 at 10:37
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I have been a teacher in university, so I completely understand what you are saying. And I have also been the average student annoyed by "that kid" who is always showing off and answering everybody else's questions to the teacher. I would have loved if someone made that kid shut up. So please, do something about it, not only for you sake, but also for the happiness of everyone in your class. One way to approach this is talk to the student privately and ask her/him to, instead of talking, first raising her/his hand and ask: "Professor, may I answer this?". So each time you can make the decision.

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Let him/her keep answering IF the student consistently gets the answers right. It helps the student learn and spurs class participation. Learning happens best when it is a two-way street.

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Recruit them as extraofficial help. Task them with answering questions in the online fora (official or non-official). Talk to them and work out some etiquette on answering questions in class: give others time to think the problem through, let others answer first, in general, be polite to co-students.

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There are a few things that one can do live, in the classroom setting, to mollify this situation; these are things that I do with success.

One is that in certain situations where it is natural to do so, you can direct your question, and your attention, to a specific student. Your eager student may want to jump in, but when your attention (i.e. your line of sight) is directed to a specific student, it may be more obvious to the eager student that they should hold back. If this is too subtle for the eager student to perceive, you can also be ready to glance at them and, with a friendly expression, make a little hand gesture requesting that they hold back for a bit. As this scenario progresses, it may well happen that no-one else can come up with an answer, and then you can redirect the question towards your eager student.

Another issue here is that directing questions to specific students can be done in a way which makes it really obvious that THAT student has the floor. For example, perhaps you first say to the students "Which problems on the homework assignment do you want to hear about?" And after Joe Schlobotnick says "problem number 1 please", during the discussion of problem number 1 you can direct your questions to Joe: "What would happen in this step if you tried that?" Your eager student might still try to jump in, so you might want to be prepared with the "glance-smile-hand gesture" strategy.

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Ask them/ tell them to sit at the back of the room.

It's always more effective to change the situational dynamics rather than to try to change the person. Some people will automatically try to join a conversation if they are in the middle of it. When out of the line of sight, they are less likely to interrupt.

It doesn't always work. But telling people to be silent doesn't always work either: this is an alternative strategy.

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  • I suspect that would be discriminatory if they had a learning disability, such as ADHD or Aspergers etc. It also doesn't seem like a "golden rule" approach. – Dikran Marsupial Feb 14 at 10:59
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Just put down the interrupter. Well thanks Hermione. Boy somebody likes to jump in an answer. Well now, not everyone is taking the class for the third time. Stuff like that.

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    IMO this may (probably) come off as arrogant and things such as not everyone is taking the class for the third time are disrespectful to the student even if he or she is annoying. I'm not sure this will help OP resolving this simple problem. – Gainz Feb 13 at 14:43
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    PLEASE don't do this. If one of my profs did this to another student, it would instantly destroy my imagine of that prof permanently. And it might open the prof up to professional, civil, and even criminal complaints (e.g. FERPA violation). But beyond that, it's bullying/abusive due to the power differential between student and prof. Student disrupts class: small wrong against prof. Prof humiliates student publicly in front of their peers at a vulnerable social stage: MUCH larger wrong. Like a 300lb person punching an 80lb person's lights out over a slight irritation. PLEASE don't do this. – bob Feb 13 at 15:02
  • Are you the user Guest? If so, I normally enjoy your answers (they are often better than most of this site's regulars) but this answer is just horror. – user111388 Feb 13 at 20:29

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