Students who challenge your knowledge of content

Discussion in 'High School' started by keekum, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. keekum

    keekum Rookie

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    Nov 2, 2009

    So, I am teaching some Honors English II classes for the first time this year (after previously teaching only Standard) and for the most part I'm handling the transition quite well. It's nice to not have to worry so much about behavior management (oh, how sad it is that the academic level of the class seems to have such an inverse relationship with behavior problems). However, there is one particular student in one of my Honors classes who asks really specific questions about the content that I'm not always able to answer. I wouldn't mind it so much if they were helpful questions that reflected a genuine curiosity on her part, but I get the feeling that they're intended more to challenge or undermine me. Normally I would pull the old "Hm, well why don't you look that up and bring the answer tomorrow for the class," but for some reason I feel the need to prove myself, partially due to the fact that the questions are presented as a challenge, and partially because I am a young teacher. So I usually end up proposing/stumbling over my own answer to the question. I guess I'm just wondering--what's the best way to deal with students who challenge you, not behaviorally, but content-wise?

    It's kind of disconcerting, because I've been told by professors and my cooperating teacher that I have a powerful grasp of content, and here a 15-year-old is challenging me. It could be a good thing that she keeps me on my toes, but I just wish she wouldn't be so persistent and confrontational about it.
     
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  3. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Nov 2, 2009

    She probably enjoys seeing you stumble for answers. Stop reinforcing her behavior - remember, you're the adult - and it's okay not to know everything.

    I'd keep a notebook just for her questions and say something like, "Thank you for that question, I'll do some research and get back with you by the end of the week." Then, if you want to be mean ... you can compile the questions she asks and create a research worksheet for whole class to do as homework over the weekend. Or ... you could be nice ... and give that worksheet as an extra credit opportunity so everyone benefits from her "inquisitive" nature.

    Personally, I think you'll get more mileage by going the extra credit route.

    I just got another idea ... why not challenge the whole class to come up with questions you can't answer! Make it a game - stump the teacher. They can turn in questions at the beginning of every class - or on Monday mornings. Then you can read them out loud, etc. (This way, when your one student tries to stump you mid-class - you can tell her to submit her question with everyone else at the start of the next class - or whenever) Then compile the questions as an extra credit assignment. This gives the honors kids a chance to use their smarts in a positive way.
     
  4. Shanoo

    Shanoo Habitué

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    Nov 2, 2009

    I think it's ok not to know everything. Obviously a good grasp on content is important in the classroom, but if a student is challenging you with really obscure questions, I think it's ok to say you don't know. It shows students that learning continues even after formal schooling has stopped.

    For example, last year I taught Grade 9 general science. One of the units was reproduction. We talked about how different species couldn't reproduce because they had different numbers of chromosomes. Well, one student asked me to explain the existence of ligers if different species couldn't reproduce. I didn't know the answer because, honestly, I didn't even think about it. I was honest with the student, told him I didn't know but that I would find out. The next day, we had a class discussion about the answer. No harm, no foul.
     
  5. beccmo

    beccmo Comrade

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    Nov 3, 2009

    For the past two years I have had such students. Last year the student brought up such interesting questions it was unreal. He is really quick and thinks so far outside the box, it led to some great conversations and I think the whole class actually learned more because of him. He was also a great help in class.

    This year, well the student's personality is totally different. He clearly states he is bored. He claims to have known all the things I have taught in physics so far since 3rd grade. I asked him to help struggling students with these concepts, but he "isn't good at explaining these things." Uh huh. Instead of actually doing my warm up problem yesterday, he spouted out an answer, since he read it somewhere and my facts were inaccurate. I took the warm up from a book, it was a hypothetical situation. I am pulling my hair out getting quality work from him.
     
  6. MissEducation

    MissEducation Companion

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    Nov 3, 2009

    I have students in my "regular" (not Honors) classes who do this to undermine me because I am a first year teacher. They actually don't ask me questions I don't know, they just argue with the answers I give them (as if somehow a 13 year old who is failing English knows more about the subject material than someone with a degree in it. So frustrating!)

    I think that special-t had a great suggestion with the notebook. Once she sees that you are not going to get frazzled by it, she will probably either stop or, better yet, start asking questions based on a genuine desire to learn! Good luck.
     
  7. CindyBlue

    CindyBlue Cohort

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    Nov 3, 2009

    I've had success with two methods of handling this type of situation. In both methods you have to present as being very sincere. I either let them know that I hadn't really thought about it and will get back to them, if I think the question was legitimate and not just to "get" me; or I tell them that "...that's really interesting, I hadn't thought about that, but I'd love to talk about it after school tomorrow since I don't have time in class right now." In both cases you have acknowledged the question, so they don't "lose face" yet you have avoided the confrontation by sincerely giving them a chance to say their piece - just not now, during class time. If the question is legitimate, they will come in on their own time after school, and if it is just to "get" you, it usually isn't worth it to them to "get" you if they don't have an audience and they have to use their own time.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
  8. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Nov 3, 2009

    "Hmm, I'm not 100% sure of that one. That's a really good question! I'll look that up and try to find a solid answer ASAP. Why doesn't everyone look it up on their and try to beat my time?"

    If you use this, it may not make you look omniscient, but it makes your students curious enough to look for the answer themselves.
     
  9. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Nov 3, 2009

    Remember that there's a difference between mastering the content and knowing trivia. Also recognize that if the student is asking, it may be to challenge you but unless they know the answer already then a careful, reasonable response will meet the challenge.

    Note that students who ask such questions might be wasting time, either intentionally or not. You're free to defer their questions on that basis as well.

    Not looking flustered is probably one of the most important things. I recall once in high school the teacher reading from a poem, citing, "The steeples are swimming in Amherst;" Flabbergasted, I blurted out from the back, "Amethyst!" She handled it with a simple thank you, and I think maybe one person in the class took any notice at all.

    edit: When I was teaching SAT classes, I think I once came across one question I couldn't answer in class. I think my unplanned response to it was to get really excited about the question and let the class know I would have an answer by the next meeting. I think it only took a couple of minutes after sitting down with it by myself instead of standing at a blackboard. I think, though, it got across to the class that I thought it was really neat that there was such a tricky question. It's not too often you can show a deep love of the material in a test-prep class.
     
  10. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    Nov 3, 2009

    Great points! :thumb:
     
  11. keekum

    keekum Rookie

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    Nov 3, 2009

    Well, see, she doesn't always directly challenge me with questions. Sometimes her undermining behavior manifests itself as a scoff or a laugh when I say something. For example, today I told my students that a topic sentence is kind of like a turn signal for your writing. "And sometimes," I said, "if you're like me, you put on the turn signal partially to show other people where you're going, and partially to remind yourself where you're going." Cue a snicker/scoff from said student, as well as some whispers to someone nearby. In such cases, I'm hesitant to respond with common discipline consequences (warnings, parent phone calls, detention, etc) for fear that it will betray insecurity on my part and won't really target the root of the problem... "I'll teach you to snicker at me--how about you come for detention?" But I don't want to feel the need to prove myself to her, either. It's kind of a double-edged sword.

    Here's an idea I had. Since we're in the middle of a unit on writing, I was thinking of assigning them to write a definition essay on intelligence, using Rumi's "Two Kinds of Intelligence" as a spark. Some people have educated intelligence, and others have more innate intelligence. Sometimes innate intelligence takes the form of wittiness, and other times it's creativity, or analysis, etc. Maybe I'll have them take a multiple intelligences survey or a test to determine if they're more left- or right-brained. In general, my way of dealing with situations like this is to turn it into a lesson somehow. I did something similar with an instance of bullying I encountered a few weeks ago...
     
  12. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Nov 4, 2009

    Keekum, I'm curious... how do the other students react when she does this? Do they encourage her or get exasperated with her?
     
  13. Shanoo

    Shanoo Habitué

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    In that case, I think I would probably ignore it for the first time or two. After that, I might say something like "Excuse me, but you're being rude. If you have a question or comment please raise your hand and give everyone the opportunity to hear and discuss what you have to say. Otherwise, please be more respectful."
     
  14. keekum

    keekum Rookie

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    Nov 4, 2009

    They usually don't react at all. It seems she's kind of in her own boat, here. It's entirely possible that I'm reading too much into this and/or just being paranoid...
     
  15. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    Students who challenge me and "test" my knowledge of my content area? Those have always been my favorites. Anybody can answer a question; it takes a pretty savvy person to think up good, stump-worthy questions!

    I always figured that if a teacher can't answer most questions related to his/her content area, or know where to find such, why is he/she presuming to try to teach it? Kids always know if the teacher "knows." I loved trying to stump my teachers when I was a kid. (Who's surprised?)

    Item: Some of them were intelligent and informed, and they KNEW. I gave those educators my utmost attention and respect. I could learn from them. Others were clueless. We ate them alive and spit out the bones.

    Cruel? Yes. Thinning the herd? Yup. Fun? Still is.
     
  16. JackTrader

    JackTrader Comrade

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    Nov 6, 2009

    I would base my response to a student who challenges my knowledge on his or her intent. If they're sincere about it, I would respond with something on the line of "That's a great question. I think it merits further study." If there is sufficient time in the lesson, I may even open up the question for others to see if they can add any comments or insight.

    Now if the student in question is just trying to score points at your expense and is trying to be smug about it, one way is to turn the tables and invite the student to come up to the front of the classroom and explain it to the rest of the class [if he or she is such a smarty pants and is trying to show off - call them out]. I've done that before as a sub when some student is trying to belittle the sub and 9 times out of 10, they back off.
     
  17. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Nov 7, 2009

    I kid who is sincere gets a sincere answer, even if it's more than I had planned that day. If time is an issue, I'll give him just a little, and offer to explain more after school if he wants to stop by.

    A kid who is trying to prove he's smarter gets a WHOLE LOT of information. The fact is that I know far, far more about the material than he does, and I'll be happy to prove it. So I'll answer the question in incredible depth, ending with " Did that answer your question or should I continue?" He usually backs down at that point. If not, he's invited to come back after school when I can answer it more thoroughly.

    In other words, "Game on!" I haven't lost yet.
     
  18. babyraptor

    babyraptor Rookie

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    Nov 25, 2009

    Hey! I know exactly how you feel! I teach World History and have lts of these students who watch the history channel or play historical video games and are suddenly experts. If it's a genuine question, I will tell them that I needed to give it some thought and actually email them a response later in the day. If they're not, and just trying to be a booger, I shut them down with something about it being a good question, but something that's not a part of the material. If it's the more nefarious form of question asking, I'd schedule a parent conference and put it on the student, to find out why they're being so combative in class.
     
  19. looneyteachr

    looneyteachr Companion

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    Nov 29, 2009

    use humor ! the first year i taught us history - i knew the stuff but not every little detail about every event - i just told kids who challenged what i knew that i love it when kids are smarter than i am -and to please keep teaching me stuff - changed their attitude from "i got ya" to "wow - she cares about what i know"
     
  20. CanukTeacher

    CanukTeacher Comrade

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    Dec 8, 2009

    It depends entirely on tone. It is impossible to know everything. I had a student in a history class who knew the name of pretty much every jet and plane in the Canadian military. He would occasionally point out something that he thought I'd said wrong (like calling a particular jet a plane - this conversation was complicated by the fact that I taught history in a different language than I learned it). I always took that as an opportunity to learn because he wasn't rude. I'd accept the mistake and move on. I teach in a military community and OF COURSE the son of the Base Commander is going to know more about certain missions than I am.

    If the girl was doing it to be rude, I'd pull the "I"d be happy to explain it after class" card or the "that is a great question but it is kind of off topic if it is okay with you, we're going to put that off until tommorow, next week, next month". If a student is out right rude I send them to the hall and very clearly and calmly tell them what I expect and give them the choice of complying or going to the office. They typically choose complying.
     
  21. yokogeri

    yokogeri Rookie

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    Dec 8, 2009

    When I taught middle school, I had an "IDK" board for these questions, which were trivia type questions most of the time. I would write it down, and give extra credit to the first person who brought the answer to me. So, then you had 15 or so students doing a bit of research about a topic from class. What a great thing. Of course, if the student is being disrespectful, I'd ask them to "hold up after class so I could explain the answer to you" and do that, in addition to making sure that their subtle gestures are a product of curiosity and not antagonism.
     

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