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This is sort of an opposite question to keeping quicker students engaged?.

Sometimes I encounter students who are overenthusiastic about the course; they're constantly moving faster than the rest of the class and anticipating material (say, asking a question a minute before I prove a theorem that answers it) or answering ever question I ask the classroom. This is disruptive to the rest of the class, but I don't want to ruin their enjoyment of the class by asking them to not participate.

What's a good solution that keeps such students enthusiastic without allowing them to make learning harder for other students?

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  • $\begingroup$ I wrote my answer under the assumption that the student is also good. (There are a few students reading your script and asking then questions which can be easily asked when you have read the next theorem (Jeopardy-like)) $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Mar 21 '14 at 8:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkusKlein That was my intent when asking the question, though the question you bring up is also interesting. $\endgroup$ – user37 Mar 21 '14 at 8:51
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In any case, you should invite the student to a little chat at your office.

You should probably tell him about your concern and ask him if there is something you can do to please him and to give him input for his motivation. In worst case, the student appreciate your honesty and gets a compliment how good he is and that it is a good way to be enthusiastic.

There are a few things, you can offer him/her (maybe even before you ask him):

  • You can recommend a good book dealing with his/her interests. The book should be written in a self-contained way and dealing with your course topic, but much deeper and maybe covers more content. Tell him/her to come back to you or a PhD student of yours if there are questions or after he/she has read the first N chapters. Then talk about those chapters. You can also compara your lecture with the book together with him/her.
  • Tell him something about the courses coming next and needing the content of your lecture. Recommend a book or a parallel lecture for it.
  • Offer him/her to have a small session where you or your PhD students tell him about your/their research.
  • Offer him/her to help him/her plan the courses he/she will attend the next semester.
  • Appoint some extra credit task at a high difficulty level (which may also contain to read some source). Such questions may usually be open. Add some comment like: "Solutions to this task have to discussed with the professor/the TAs instructor" or similar. (I think about such a example. Image your course is about derivatives for functions $f:\mathbb{R}^n\to\mathbb{R}^n$. Then you could ask him to extend to concept for (infinity) dimensional Banach spaces (if this is unknown, add a resource where Banach spaces are introduced).)
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Talk to them, make them see that you know they know the answers, but that you want to ensure that other (slower) students think it over by themselves before giving the answer. This has done the trick the times I had such a problem. Make a point of asking others first (sometimes/most of the time), then give them the opportunity to speak up. Perhaps ask just them about some tricky point now and then. Or some silly, simple point.

Sometimes they are just too eager to talk, and teaching them a bit of restraint helps them, not just for your class.

Managed well, they can become an asset.

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I was prone to do this myself, in 6-8th grades. My teacher finally told me that I was going to be the one he went to last, when no one else had the right answer. I realized that I didn't have to be the first to answer a question, I started paying attention to the other students (as well as the teacher) so I could figure out whether I indeed had the right answer, and that my first answer wasn't always right.

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