Friday, December 27, 2013

Handling Classroom "Gunners"

Gunner1We normally keep posts on this blog strictly on the topic of labor/employment law, but this topic -- more generally applicabile to higher educators generally -- was too good to pass up. Over at Psychology Today, Mitchell Handelsman (U. Colorado - Denver - Psych.) asks Carl Pletsch (U. Colorado - Denver - History) how he handles gunners. Here's his response:

If the student seems prepared and focused on the topic of the day, I might say something like, “I appreciate your willingness to contribute to our class discussion!  But I want to challenge you to take your participation to the next level. Next class session, see if you can make a comment that addresses what another student has said, naming him or her, and showing that you are interested in what other students may be thinking. OK?”   I emphasize that this is a skill, taking participation to a higher level.

If the student seems generally ill-prepared, making comments that actually divert attention from the topic of the day’s session, I might still praise him or her for participating, but my challenge is for the student to come with comments on the reading next time, and to be prepared to refer to passages in the text to support the comments.

In the following sessions I’ll notice whether the student merely disagrees with another student, or whether he or she says something complimentary.  I can then revise the challenge to include the idea of saying something constructive that builds on another student’s comment.

If this works, I praise the student and suggest the next level of challenge: “Can you listen to the discussion until you have heard enough to discern a relationship among several students’ comments?  Then you might try to make a comment that compares or relates several other contributions.”  Again I suggest giving credit to others by name.  

My primary goal is to make the whole classroom safe for everyone to participate, but by challenging the loquacious students I am also encouraging them to develop new skills that may serve them well in life. I try not to discourage students from participating, but to channel their energy in more constructive ways—ways beneficial to both the class and to the students themselves.


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This is an excellent strategy. It is also difficult for other students in the class when there is a "gunner" in the room. Such an approach can lead to everyone getting something out of it without the gunner being shut down.

Posted by: Mark B. Gerano | Jan 19, 2014 3:52:43 PM

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