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Student chats too much

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Student chats too much

I can never manage to stop my student in year 6 from talking about her friends and experiences with math. Is there a way I can politely tell her to stop talking and listen?
Interesting situation. It is great that you have a strong enough relationship with the student that she wants to chat with you. While having a chat every now and again is part of the job, you are certainly not there to chat.
Here’s one approach and a  few general points:


  • Obviously you don’t want to become a strict authority figure or damage the positive light in which the student looks at you. Whatever you do, be mindful of this.
  • When re-focussing on the maths content it is important not to do it in a rude way or squash the student’s enthusiasm.  Probably don’t tell her “stop talking”. This is a little aggressive and may create negative sentiment.
  • Rather than telling her what NOT to do, you can focus on telling her what needs to be done but only once she is paying attention to you:
  • Gesture at the workbook. “Mary.” Wait for the student to stop talking and give you attention. Look serious but not mean or aggressive. If she doesn’t stop talking, say again a bit more sternly and with expectation look at her. “Mary”. Be serious when you are interrupting her so that she knows you mean business.
  • Once her attention is on you, smile. This will show that while you are being serious, you are still friends. Then, seriously but with a smile tell her  either:
  • “Mary, we really need to do this work, you can tell me about it when we finish.” ; “Mary, this is really important” etc… then just move on with the tutorial.
  • Inevitably she will still interrupt with stories about friends etc. Tackle this the same way each time, eventually she will develop what is called an “anchor” to your facial expression when you are being serious. She will start to recognise that when you look at her that particular way, she needs to focus on the math.
  • Another way to let her know that this is an issue without hurting her feelings is to bring it up in front of the student while talking to the parents. You may say something like “Well, she is really doing well, Mary loves to have a chat and tell me about her friends, but she is focussed most of the lesson and we are getting a lot done”. This way she will become aware that you consider chatting too much during tutoring to be a problem.
  • Always balance this with being friendly and having some fun – the student is in year 6 and we can’t expect them to be serious 100% of the time. If she is being enthusiastic talking about math stories with her friends then at least she is being enthusiastic about a topic which for many students is dull – not necessarily a bad thing.

If the problem persists another approach will have to be adopted. Possibly discussing it with the student would be the next step.