September 18, 2012

What would you do?

I work at a small, independent and expensive school. We work in a (international) community that does not have many other educational options for students. So here's my dilemma...

In one of my math classes I have 7 of the 8 seniors and there is some very difficult classroom dynamics and chemistry that comes with such a small group that also lacks academic leaders. At this point I see 3 students that are sources of great distraction or negativity. They seem almost proud of their dysfunction. I also see 3-4 students who are quieter, more introspective and who are ready to learn and succeed, but struggle to overcome the distractions of the other 3. I have had individual conversations with this second group and they have expressed great frustration with their classmates (in all classes).  These 3 distracting students are, in the words of a grade 12 student, “hindering our education.”

For me that is a big fat line in the sand that you don't cross. To mix, confuse and create my own metaphor... You can lead a horse to water and maybe you can't make the horse drink, but you sure as hell better not let one horse stop the rest of the herd from getting a drink.

This is not a new problem, but with IB exams coming all too soon there is a sense of urgency I feel more each time I wake up. The school has failed to solve the problem and many teachers seem content to simply chuckle and shake their heads.

So. What would you do?


  1. I would recommend finding resources your students can use to try and learn the material in a social setting, and spending part of each class time working with each group of students. has a few hundred videos related to the IB Math curriculum - this could be a useful resource. You can try problem solving activities from (narrow them down to the problems which are likely to meet your curriculum goals). Basically, the less time the group has to spend listening to you in front of the whole group, the easier it will be on your talkative kids.

    You might just assign IB problems for them to work on in pairs, and then rotate through each group to give them assistance as needed, instead of trying to lecture to all of the students at once. I think you'll find this approach leaves your talkative students off balance a bit, and gives you productive time with your students who are really interested in learning.

  2. David-

    By in large I am doing exactly what you suggest. I spend very little time lecturing and rather spend most of the time with students working in small groups tackling IB problems or such. This is the first time that a social and collaborative approach has not worked for me as a teacher.

    The best I can describe the class is that there are 3 "Fixed Mindset" kids (in a Carol Dweck sense) who manage to dominate most discussions and 3 or 4 "Growth Mindset" kids who are quiet and can get bulldozed. Which to me is just weird and feels the opposite of what I would expect...

    Thanks for the resources. is new to me and will check it out.


    As a follow-up: I had a blunt(but kind) conversation with the students and gave the "point of no return" talk and let them go home for the night. Today was one of best classes of the two years with those students. After class I pulled them aside and thanked them and said "Today, is what everyday needs to look like." I am hoping we have turned a corner and don't simply make a trip around the block ending up back where we started.