Including people who get talked over

Often, in class conversations, some students will talk over other students and not let them get a word in edgewise. (This happens a lot between male and female students. It’s not always gendered that way but that’s a common dynamic.), eg:

  • Brenda: I thought the colors were too bright because they made the background more prominent than the…
  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.

When Bob is allowed to do this, it effectively cuts Brenda out of the conversation. Eg, this is one continuation I’ve seen a lot:

  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.
  • Teacher: Yes, distracting background colors detract from the most important parts of the scenes.

When the teacher says something like that, they’re responding to Bob and ignoring Brenda. If Brenda was making the same point, then she deserves to be acknowledged. If she was making a different point, then she deserves to be heard. It’s important to listen to all the students who participate sincerely, not just those who talk over others.

You don’t have to put up with this. You can turn your attention back to the student who was talking before they got interrupted. This is one way to do that:

  • You (ignoring Bob): Brenda, what do you mean about the background being more prominent? Can you say more?
  • This lets Brenda know that you value what she’s saying.
  • And it allows her to be heard even though Bob doesn’t value what she’s saying.
  • This also sends the message to other students that you will listen to them, take them seriously, and not allow them to be talked over.

This usually works better than directly addressing Bob in the moment. If you call Bob on it directly, that can lead to derailing the conversation into an argument about Bob, eg:

  • Teacher: Bob, please don’t talk over Brenda
  • Bob: I wasn’t talking over Brenda.
  • Teacher: She was saying something, and you interrupted her.

This can backfire because it keeps the focus on Bob rather than the person he was talking over. It’s also less powerful. You don’t need Bob’s permission to pay attention to the student he interrupted. You can just pay attention to her.

Another possibility:

  • Teacher: Bob, let Brenda finish then you can make your point. Brenda, what were you saying about the background colors?

This can work sometimes because it’s not directly accusing Bob of anything, and it immediately shifts the focus back to the person he interrupted. 

I think there are other approaches that work well too, but I don’t know what they are. Any of y'all want to weigh in?