Ego and Learning

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.

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2 Responses to Ego and Learning

  1. Amy Guyer says:

    This is a very interesting observation. One would think the entire group would be affected by the dominant student’s distracting behavior, but fortunately it did not appear to negatively impact their learning ability. However, it is deeply concerning that the dominant student had trouble understanding the lesson, which is likely the result of an inability to listen to others and a state of inattention. It seems that individuals displaying this type of behavior have little self-awareness, as well as inappropriate social reciprocity. Active listening is not a skill we are born with and our modern Western environment encourages a culture of expressing one’s own opinion with little to no emphasis on the importance of actively listening to others’ opinions. This problem has increased with technology and social media. One activity that helps students and employees stop and listen to others in a face-to-face encounter (with the added benefit of learning how to efficiently speak) is the talking stick. Whoever is holding the stick (or whatever item deemed appropriate) gets to speak. All others not holding the stick must listen until it’s their turn to hold the stick and speak without interruption from others. I believe this is a fantastic activity for both children and adults to practice and can develop appropriate listening skills in the classroom, including group activities with peers. Of course, there are psychological reasons, such as a personality disorder, that could be the reason behind the dominant student’s behavior issues. Nonetheless, the talking stick is a simple exercise that teaches listening and respect for others under normal circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post leaves me thinking about interactions I see in my workplace. I manage adults in a call center environment and when they do not agree with a topic or change this very same behavior happens. We made a change to the way an outbound call is made. Because one of the representatives did not like the change she voiced it during the presentation saying she did not want to do extra steps. The end result was she failed a couple of her quality monitored calls , when she went to appeal her reason was that she did not know that the entire process changed. What she did not realize was that her peers all passed theirs although they engaged in the complaint fest. I almost wonder if this was a behavior she had since childhood to verbally disagree and almost turn of the receiving sensors in her mind which caused her to continue to do the old process when everyone around her has applied the new process.

    Liked by 1 person

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