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Smaller Classes, Greater Engagement

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Education Week's Debbie Viadero has written yet another story related to student motivation--this time about class size. According to the article, a study released at the AERA conference has found that smaller classes help students stay on task. This seems sort of obvious, as I've mentioned before, but there are a couple of interesting points she makes that I think are worth noting.

The first is that teachers with smaller classes aren't really taking advantage of smaller classes to teach in a more collaborative way. That means that the increased level of attention in students is not coming from a different method of teaching, but just from the effect of having fewer students in the class, which is an important distinction to make. But my question is why aren't teachers modifying their teaching style to a more collaborative method when given the opportunity?

The second point Debbie mentions is that a similar study in Hong Kong had different results--mostly because Chinese students were on task most of the time regardless of class size, according to Maurice Galton, the study's researcher.

Mr. Galton said that is because Chinese teachers typically make an effort to interact with each individual student, keeping track by ticking off the names on the class roster as they go along.

Since reducing class size is something most teachers don't have control over, this is pretty valuable information. For now, perhaps it's better for teachers in the U.S. to learn how to manage large classes by taking a page out of China's book.

4 Comments

Most agree that more effective learning takes place in smaller classrooms. However, small classrooms are few and far between. The example that you gave about the Chinese classroom is a good way to keep larger classes actively engaged. Students tend to get lost in large classrooms when they don't participate. By developing a system that insures that every student in the class contributes something meaningful to the learning process, teachers can make a large classroom seem much more intimate.

I agree that teachers can make a large classroom more intimate by insuring that each student has an opportunity to contribute. One way that I have seen this done in a first grade Pasadena, Texas classroom is with a "magic cup". Each students name is on a popsicle stick inside the cup, during each discussion students are randomly selected to contribute. Students seem to be actively engaged.

I agree that some teachers do not take advantage of the small size classroom. It all boils down to the teacher and how the teacher effectively manages the class.
My high school experience was largely in a small classroom setting. Collaborative methods was not my teacher('s) approach. We mainly worked on independent assignments that made up for it, giving us the freedom to learn and research. But engagement with the teacher and classmates would have made a bigger difference in learning more.

The individual attention students get a small classroom is easier to manage and guage. However, I do agree that bigger classrooms can also be more intement. It's up to the teacher and to develop methods and pratice in order to do this. One way would to be learn the names quickly and give them opertunities to develp their classroom.

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