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The Problematic Student; How to Handle a Know it All

By PrepMasters

Just about every class has one: the student who thinks that he or she is smarter than the trainer and knows more about the topic than the trainer does. Some of these know-it-all's deliberately try to disrupt the class; others don't consciously try to do so, but may nevertheless cause problems.

The know-it-all student may do any or all of the following:

put up their hands to answer every question

find folly in the course content

openly ridicule your training methods

openly ridicule other students' questions and answers

repeatedly interrupt you or other students who are trying to talk

Most of the time, the know-it-all will talk just for the sake of talking-and they will ignore you and other students, even if you point out where they have made an error. They may have credentials, experience, or technical know-how that you don't. They may have been trained in areas that you haven't. To them, this means that they are smarter than you-and therefore more qualified to teach.

These know-it-all's cause trouble but it's not the first time. They have been exhibiting this poor behavior long before they got to your classroom, possibly since high school. Don't take it personally. Using the tools you learn in the PrepMasters' comprehensive train the trainer workshop and in this article you will learn how to turn this behavior around.

Know-it-all's may disrupt the classroom and distract other students from learning. They often interrupt the flow of thought. They waste time. And they may anger you and other students, frustrate you, make you feel anxious, or possibly even embarrass you. So you need to know how to handle them.

Here's what you shouldn't do:

ignore them

challenge them

ridicule them

grin and bear it

Here's what you should do:
identify the problem

acknowledge that they are smart

show them that they still have something to learn from you

get them to work cooperatively with the rest of the class and with you


The know-it-all appears to have great confidence. But this can be a cover-up. The truth is, some know-it-alls feel very insecure and unconfident. In order to keep people from finding out how insecure they feel, they project a strong confident attitude to erase all doubt that they have ability in the particular area that they happen to be weak in.
Then there are those know-it-all's who actually ARE confident. These are the most difficult to deal with, because no matter what you tell them, they are unlikely to believe you if they already have another idea in their mind. The more confident they are, the more difficult it is for you to convince them that you can teach them anything.

Some Know-It-All's Don't Know Much

Some people are very nervous in class. They may feel so nervous, in fact, that they might think that they'll do worse than most of the other students will. This can be frightening. They don't want everyone else to know how little they know, and they don't want anyone to know that they'll do badly. So to compensate, they loudly proclaim that they know a lot, and they take every chance they can to prove it.
Fortunately, you can easily calm their fears. And if their fears go away, their know-it-all attitude will probably go away, too. Guide them, reassure them, and get them all of the extra help they need to do well; and then let them know how well they are doing. Once they feel confident, they may easily become enthusiastic students.

Some Know-It-All's Really DO Know A Lot

Sometimes, however, the person that claims to know it all really does know quite a bit. They may be experts in their field. They may already have certification and credentials that you do not. And they want you to acknowledge this. Understandably, they are just looking for a little acknowledgment and respect.

But just because they know a lot about the topic doesn't mean that they are good at teaching it. In order to get them to cooperate, you're going to have to get them to understand that people with great knowledge on a topic are not necessarily qualified to be teachers of that topic. Teaching takes instructional expertise plus subject matter expertise.

Four Steps to Managing a Know-It-All

So if you can't ignore them and you can't openly challenge them, what can you do with them? Like it or not, you are still their instructor, and you have to deal with them-both to help the class learn, and to help the know-it-all learn. You can turn this behavior around so that they do not continue to repeat it in every classroom situation. Here is a four-step strategy to help:

1. Assess the situation

First of all, find out how much they really know. If they already know everything that you are teaching, then there's no reason for them to sit there in class-that would only waste their time, and yours. So if they really can't learn anything from your class, then lead them to another one that they can learn something from.

2. Acknowledge them

They are either looking for acknowledgment, reassurance, or both. So the first thing you need to do is make them more comfortable by assuring them that they are intelligent and that they do know things-even if they don't know everything they're talking about. And then use them. Give them extra things to do, extra ways to help, make them the TA (teachers assistant). Talk to them on a personal level in a friendly manner.

3. Disarm them

Whatever you do, don't let them make you angry. The last thing you want is to openly challenge them. Instead, appear to be friendly to them. Acknowledge their expertise. Invite them to show what they know. And then ask them a lot of really tough questions, so that they can see what there is left for them to learn from you. You can do this as an open forum question and answer session for the whole class to participate in.
4. Get them to participate
Once you've gotten them to show you their expertise, you need to get them to admit that there is still something that they can learn from class. Otherwise, you can't justify them being there. If they agree that they still have things to learn, then you can probably get them to participate in the class. Show them that these skills are very important for their job, and that by staying around in the class to help, everyone will know just how good they are.

Admittedly, managing the know-it-all is a challenge. If you handle things carefully, though, you may be able to positively impact their lives by converting a really annoying, disruptive student into one who is enthusiastic and a genuinely helpful leader in the classroom.
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