George Greenstein

Astrophysicist / Educator / Writer

Sidney Dillon Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at Amherst College

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A tip for teachers

The incessant talker can be a problem

Managing the “Incorrigible Talker”

Anyone who has ever taught in a seminar situation knows that the
“Incorrigible Talker” can be a problem. Such a student tends to monopolize the
conversation: enthusiastically raising a hand at the least suggestion of an
opportunity, offering advice and opinion at the drop of a hat, sometimes even
interrupting the other students as they struggle to articulate their thoughts.

It is vital that you not allow this to happen. You must intervene to prevent
any one student from monopolizing the class conversation. Furthermore, you have to
do this early in the semester. The moment you see the problem arising, you must act
to nip it in the bud. Once the semester is well underway and the class dynamic has
gelled, it is hard to un-gel. From the very beginning of the semester, you must work
to ensure that every student shares in the class conversation.

It is important to recognize that the Incorrigible Talker may not be regarded
as a problem by your other students! On the contrary, such a loudmouth might be
perceived by the others as their salvation. If that student is talking, the others don't
have to talk. They can lie low as their fellow does all the work. They can sit back and
hide behind the Talker. This can be doubly galling to you as an instructor: you are
trying to get everyone to speak, and only one person is speaking.

So a difficulty you may face in your task of silencing the Talker might be your
own anger. Such a person can be a pain in the neck, and you might find yourself
responding with irritation to the Talker’s incessant interruptions.

It gets worse: since you are a decent person, you will not wish to be cruel to
the Talker. And so, in your effort not to be humiliating, you may feel yourself

An obvious strategy is simply not to call on the same few students all the
time. If the only hand up is the Incorrigible Talker’s, just wait till some other hands go
up. Another strategy might be to alter your own inner dynamic. You might find it
helpful to treat the Talker, not as a problem, but as a resource – a resource of ideas.
Maybe, once such a student has spoken, you can ask other students what they think
of the point the Talker has made. Then you could have the class analyze it in detail,
exploring its weaknesses and its strengths – and all the while keeping the Talker
from jumping in to recapture the conversation.

Good luck!