I was watching a good friend teach recently and they had the students talk in small groups. In one group I noticed that a single student seemed to dominate the conversation. At one point during the small group discussion, another student started talking and the dominant student immediately began a side conversation and paid zero attention to the direction the overall group was moving. Interestingly, the group continued to move forward and the dominant student’s thinking stalled. While the rest of the class (over the course of the lesson) came to a more accurate understanding, the dominant student struggled to make the same connections their peers were making.
I thought for a while about why the dominant student – who was clearly engaged and sharing their thinking – did not learn. Then, social learning theory came flooding back. This student was so focus on their own thinking that they refused to engage with others’ ideas. When we refuse to hear others, we cannot learn from them.
My preservice teachers often ask me how to keep some students from talking too much. I agree with their instincts, but after watching the episode above unfold, I’ve got a new concern. While I think we are often concerned that dominant students prevent the rest of the students from sharing their thinking, I now realize that dominant students might be hindering their own learning! While we want to encourage more students to participate, we also want to encourage our dominant students to hear others.