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Author Topic: Strategies for dealing with talking in class?  (Read 3545 times)
bernardblack
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« on: March 14, 2008, 7:52:11 am »

My students are terrors for talking amongst themselves in class, and I'd like to ask for some strategies or ideas about how to deal with this. The most obvious suggestion is to make my lectures and discussion topics more exciting and attention-grabbing - of course, I do my best on this front, but obviously not quite well enough to captivate all of them!

Background:

I teach four sections of a core curriculum humanities course for non-majors (most of them are engineers/computer scientists). The university is an English-speaking one in a non-English-speaking country. The general level of English is very good, and most students have no difficulty understanding me. The students are generally very good, as this is arguably the best university in the (large) country. They don't generally lack respect - quite the opposite, really. It's just this one issue of incessant chattering. Classes are around 20 students.

Me: I'm a young (mid-20s) instructor in my first year of full-time teaching. I have a mild hearing impairment, so if people are chattering amongst themselves I find it very difficult to understand what the students in the discussion are saying. I have only a very basic grasp of their native language, which of course is the language they chatter in. It does make me a bit paranoid, I must admit. I do tend to assume they are b*tching about me.

Strategies I've tried so far include:

1. Directly telling the chatterers (it's generally a group of about four or five) that they are being rude and disrespectful. This shuts them up for the rest of the class, but when we next meet they resume the talking again.

2. Looking at the group and asking them politely if they have something they want to share with the class, or a question to ask. They generally just look at me, slack-jawed, shut up for a minute and then continue.

3. On one occasion, asking a student to leave for the rest of the class as his behavior was so disruptive.

The problem with strategies 1 and 2, although they are effective up to a point, is that I have to interrupt either my lecturing or the class discussion in order to deal with the chatterers. It really interrupts the flow. Strategy 3 is obviously completely effective, but I can't do it every session, and I can't refuse to teach a student point blank, more's the pity.

Would some of you help me by giving me the benefit of your wisdom on this? I'm willing to consider anything! Or is it my problem, and a small amount of chattering is to be expected?

Many thanks in advance!

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mended_drum
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2008, 9:22:08 am »

I'm having this problem for the first time ever with a class of only nine students.  We sit around a conference table.  If one student asks a question, and I begin to answer it, two or three other students will start chatting.  In a large class, this is merely distracting, but with nine students, it complete derails the conversation.  I've tried everything from the glare to the serious talk, and they keep it up.  Honestly, if I were a first year professor, I'd be devastated. 
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"dr. mended_drum don't give a sh!t; she will chew me up like a cobra."
goldenapple
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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2008, 9:48:23 am »

Oh do I know what you're talking about! When I started teaching at a certain foreign university, I was warned about exactly this problem by the other instructors. I learned that my colleagues either a) ignored the chatter or b) came down on students like a ton of bricks. Now, neither of those was my style, so I had some trouble adjusting.

Here are some things I'd suggest:
- Give out written guidelines about classroom behavior and then go over those guidelines
- Explain your reasoning: "Only one person speaks at a time in class. Talking while someone else is speaking is impolite. Also it makes it hard for people to understand he person speaking in English."
- Respond to chatting by repeating "Only one person speaks at a time."
- If students still chat, break it up politely but definitely. My students sat by their friends and chatted with the same people. Single out one chit-chatter and politely ask that person to stand up (a simple command that everyone understands). Then direct that person to sit in a different seat (maybe in the front or near you). Don't get mad, don't get flustered. Just pleasantly give clear, firm instructions.

You may have to assign seats or keep moving students for several classes.

It's a little third-gradish, I know, but otherwise they'll just walk all over you.
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grasshopper
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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2008, 9:53:08 am »

I like option three: kick them out of the classroom. "You're disturbing me and the people around you. Please leave."
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2008, 11:03:48 am »

Nothing beats the cat-o-ninetails as a disciplinary tool.
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dutch_boy
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2008, 11:16:17 am »

After several attempts to quiet the chatter boxes (staring, requesting silence, asking them to share their conversation) a fellow faculty member at my university walked out of the classroom himself...with a parting note that the next time the class meets there would be a multi-point quiz based on the difficult material that was supposed to be covered in class but could not be due to the chatting interruptions.  He was informed later that the students themselves chastised the chatters because they had caused the additional quiz.  The chatting stopped after that.
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dysnomia
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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2008, 12:19:20 pm »

I have actually stopped my lecture, stared, and said the following: "Dude. Seriously?" As immature as my comment was (i think I turned red afterwards, but I was pretty pissed by that point), it actually worked. Heh.

In general, though, I have rarely had a problem, so I am happy to read everyone's suggestions for inevitable future occurrences.
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wild_rose
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2008, 12:27:03 pm »

I teach a section of 70 students. I have a group that likes to chatter. This latest time, I stopped, looked the chatterers right in the eye, and said, "Is everything all right? Do you have a question?"

Embarrassed, the young woman said, "No, she answered it."

I shot her a stern look and said, "That's why I'm here. Next time raise your hand."

She slid down a little lower in her seat and was very quiet after that.

Generally I'm pretty lighthearted in class and we have good discussions but when I get stern with them, it's very effective because it's so opposite what they expect from me.
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mickeymantle
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2008, 12:42:48 pm »


I had two chatmeisters in the back of my section early in the semester.  I warned the class twice, and said that if it continued, I would ask any talkers to come to the front of the class and talk to the entire section.  They ignored me, and so I did.  That stopped the talking, although I did also separate them for the rest of the semester.

Unfortunately, one of the former chatters has subsequently had a huge attitude problem (yawning loudly, slumping over bored).  I finally had to talk to her directly a few days ago after mentioning the problem at the beginning of the class.  (The rest of the class became annoyed at my discussing this, which was deliberate on my part.)  Ironically, she did well on the first exam, while the other, who has behaved well since, did not do well.  The world is unjust....
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csguy
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« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2008, 4:10:13 pm »

Nothing beats the cat-o-ninetails as a disciplinary tool.
Prefer laser beams myself. No chance of recidivism. Plus that's one less exam to grade.
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ufo_tofu
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« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2008, 4:17:28 pm »

You know, I used to be driven absolutely bat-sh!t crazy by chatting in class.  Then I got my first TT job as an actual faculty member.  At every single department meeting, there has been side chatter, personal conversations, distracting muttered comments, etc.  Basically, the whole gamut of annoying, rude, disruptive talking issues.  So, I figured, if faculty members behave this way, I couldn't be terribly surprised when undergrads do it.  I only now react if it's really loud or over the top rude.  Usually I find it's someone with a quick question and the chat only lasts a minute.  If it seems to be going on for a while, I move over to where they are and lecture TO THEM, or I'll stop and stare, or I'll ask pointedly "Is there a question?" which usually takes care of the issue. 
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anon99
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« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2008, 11:48:01 pm »

I warn the students and tell them that if they can't sit together and be quiet, either sit apart or don't come to class.  We have a university policy that if they are disturbing other students, we can ban them from the classroom-permanently.

You could also try a seating plan.  If they want to act like they are in high school, treat them that way.
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goingcrazy
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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2008, 7:19:20 pm »

Just stop talking. I have no desire to even confront (verbally) a student about something as immature as talking. Instead, I just stop talking, look aggravated, and usually a student tells them to zip it.
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oseph
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« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2008, 7:47:19 pm »

I once had a professor throw an eraser at some students who wouldn't stop talking, even after he had stopped the lecture and the whole class was staring at them (they were totally oblivious).  It fell right on a desk between them and threw up a cloud of chalk dust.  It was very effective.  Of course these days, this would turn into a law suit ("Violent Prof Attacks Innocent Young Minds With Toxic Dust").
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Oseph....you are right and you make sense.

For your future comments, I insult very directly.
onlyanne
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« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2008, 7:14:19 pm »

I don't know how generally applicable this approach is, but it worked for me this semester:

I had a group of chatters who were mostly seniors from another major in a sophomore/junior core course.  At the start of the third class I sat down at their table, looked each one in the eye, and told them I found their chatter distracting and that if they found the material too basic perhaps they should simply not attend class.  No problem since.
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