I had a particularly “difficult” class one quarter with students who didn’t realize the impact of their starting to talk to each other every time I (or anyone else) had the floor. I’m a pretty interactive instructor, so I give them lots of chances to talk, but they were reluctant to talk when they had the floor alone. They are very bright, competitive students at a research university, but they are also non-native speakers of English–most of them either international students or fairly recent immigrants. I could understand why they were reluctant to talk…and I could even understand why they turned to each other when I was talking: they were asking each other (in their native tongues) what I said. I spent a couple of lessons addressing both language issues, which is what the course is about, AND behavioral ones. I gave them a reading from the Chronicle of Higher Education (p. A12, March 27, 1998) about some students who were truly and intentionally rude to their instructor. I had them read the story part of the article–we discussed the function of narrative, and then they wrote about the incident. That was the language work for that particular reading assignment… Then I put them in a circle for discussion (also language practice) and asked them to raise their hands if they had experienced students at UCSB who were rude and disruptive in any way. They ALL raised their hands immediately. (To get them to speak, since most hate to volunteer, I go around the circle and have each one tell about an instance.) I concluded with my “pet peeve”–their starting to talk as soon as I opened my mouth. They were a bit surprised that they were guilty of such behavior, but the ones who did it a lot smiled in embarrassment. We discussed the difficulty of concentrating when someone is distracting us in the ways they mentioned. We finished by agreeing upon a set of expectations that they wanted to live up to. From then on, all I had to do when they fell back into their habit of talking over the speaker was to pause and occasionally remind them of what they were doing. Since it was out in the open that it was disruptive, and they had agreed that we all had the same expectations and ambitions for the class, they caught themselves and got back on track.
–Roberta Gilman, Linguistics, University of California-Santa Barbara, CA