This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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Let’s compare two classes. In terms of teacher ability, student levels, and student behavior, they are essentially identical. The only difference is that one class has 10 students and the other has 30. Which class would you want to teach? Which class is better for the students? The smaller one is the obvious answer, but do you know exactly why? Here are the 10 reasons why smaller class size is so important:
1. More one-on-one time.
In our 10-student class, it stands to reason that each student will have three times more individual face time with their teacher. This type of educating is critical, both for development of skills and for inspiring students. With more one-on-one time with their teacher, students are certain to have a greater sense that their teacher cares for them, and when students feel like someone they look up to cares about their work, they excel.
2. Students can’t hide.
In a 30-student class, it becomes much easier for the quiet kids, or the unmotivated kids, to hide in a clique of friends or the back of the class. With fewer students, the teacher is more capable of ensuring everyone participates and engages the material. This ensures students can’t fake it, thus must keep up, while teachers can prevent declining engagement and scores.
3. Easier to identify issues.
In large classes, teachers can struggle to identify where problems might be arising, and then because their time is so valuable, they further struggle to adequately address these issues. When a teacher has 30 essays to grade, they will spend less time on each one and potentially glaze over flaws in writing skills that could be fixed with minimal instruction. Within these kinds of spaces, where teachers are spending too little time watching for and addressing individual issues, students begin to slip through the cracks.
4. More cohesive class culture.
A smaller class will ultimately make a more cohesive unit than a larger one. A class of 30+ students allows for the formation of cliques even within the class, as well as ensures not all students need to engage each other - students can often stick to who they are comfortable with. However, in a smaller classroom setting, students will have the opportunity to interact with and form relationships with all of their classmates, ensuring that the class is more supportive of each other.
5. Teachers can form better relationships.
Related to the increased amount of individual time spent is the quality of relationships teachers are able to build with each student. In smaller classes, teachers better know the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of each pupil. With this increased level of attention, teachers can more successfully relate and instruct, thus becoming more than a simple instructor, but a genuine role model.
6. Students are more engaged.
When students have a strong relationship with their teacher and know they are responsible for their work and level of participation, they are bound to be more engaged with the curriculum. This has two roots: first, students are in an environment where engagement and quality work is simply expected of everyone - it becomes something of a cultural norm; second, when students have strong relationships with teachers - when they care what their teacher thinks of their performance - they are certain to produce better work.
7. Go faster.
Simply put, with a small group, teacher attention is more focused, students are more inclined to engage and be enthusiastic towards the material, and when this happens, work gets done faster. When work is done faster, classes can cover more ground, explore more topics, and more completely experience the curriculum and ideas presented. And when all the work is done? Now everyone has time for more fun in class, thus improving class culture and cohesion.
8. Much less chaotic.
In a 10-student class, there will simply be less noise - it’s a matter of physics. Furthermore, it will be easier to avoid letting the group get out of hand, and as mentioned in #3, it is vastly easier to identify issues as they arise, thus ensuring a tranquil learning environment. And with a peaceful class, all of the other benefits presented above are amplified.
9. It’s easier on the teachers.
The above reasons are a list of the pedagogical benefits of smaller class sizes, but in aggregate they make for better, more productive, and easier-to-manage environments for the teachers. When teachers are given the space to be productive in a positive and peaceful class, they are simply happier and better at their jobs. The “grind” becomes less of one, teachers last longer in the field, and there is ultimately a net benefit for the field of education when teachers are happier.
10. Research shows tremendous benefits to small classes.
Don’t just take our word for it - the vast majority of research shows that students perform better in all subjects, at all levels, in smaller classes. Furthermore, the research points to other benefits of smaller class sizes besides those listed here, including long-term performance benefits and greater teacher retention.
With so much evidence in favor of small class sizes, don’t we owe it to students and teachers to make sure education occurs in the more constructive environment that smaller classes allow for? For better academic results, happier teachers, and ultimately a more educated society, promoting smaller classes should be a priority for teachers, parents, districts, and government officials.