Maybe Size Does Matter

I came upon another article about class size and student success. According to the article’s author,

“Small classes are more engaging places for students because they’re able to have a more personal connection with teachers, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer kids in the classroom competing for that teacher’s attention,” says Adam Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who analyzed the findings.

Even though “students stayed more focused and misbehaved less [and t]hey also had more direct interactions with teachers and worked more in small groups rather than by themselves,” teachers did little to adjust their instruction with these smaller groups.

I would say the first step is making class sizes smaller to increase student capacity and comfort. Then, the teachers need to learn how to work with this new class dynamic. Since they have not enjoyed the pleasure of working with smaller classes, the instructors will eventually begin to adjust. Maybe some professional development in this area could assist them to speed up the process.

I believe teachers should realize that smaller classes in themselves will not solve disparity issues or achievement gaps, so we will need to adjust as well. Plus, we will need to prove the effectiveness of smaller class sizes by raising (ugh, I’m going to say it) test scores and reducing the failure rate. Teaching in a smaller learning environment is a great step, but it’s only a step and we must now run with the opportunity.


4 thoughts on “Maybe Size Does Matter

  1. Penny

    I agree with the fact that professionaldevelopment on how to deal with a small class size or just small groups within a class is needed. I also agree that if the test scores don’t improve it does not matter what size the class. Teacher performance are measured by those test.

  2. drpezz Post author

    As much as test scores fly in the face of logic, people want to use them to assess teacher effectiveness. I hate it, but it’s reality. There are so many factors in teaching which can’t be measured on a test that I just wish we could assess performance holistically rather than use such a narrow measure.

  3. Penny

    I agree with Drpezz it does not make any sense that the only measure of teacher performance are those test. There needs to be other was of assessing a teacher performance. I just haven’t figured out what yet.

  4. Jim Van Pelt

    Dr. Prezz’s last comment provided the springboard for this comment that doesn’t have anything to do with the original topic, class size. Pre-apology for the rant that follows:

    The only logical way to measure a school’s success is to look at the students ten years after graduation to see how they are they doing. The students who are doing “well,” (whatever that means in the context of the students) were well served.

    The ten-year measure points out that a school is just a part of what helps a person along, and the ten-year measure deemphasizes test results. Ten years out, the student would probably fail a good part of the test he passed when he was in school, (heck, most of the teachers would fail sections of the test) but he’ll remember and base his actions on things he learned in school that weren’t measured on tests. School is where I learned confidence. It’s where I learned that I could find answers if I continued to look for them. It’s where I learned perseverance. School is where I met the role models who made me strive to become the professional I am today. School is where I learned to work and play well with others. None of these achievements are measurable on a test.

    I also learned from the sports and clubs I joined while in school. I learned lessons from playing a musical instrument. I learned by holding a job during the summer, and I learned by being in a church youth group. I learned by reading for enjoyment on my own, and I learned by going to movies and watching television.

    My parents impacted me in uncountable and unmeasurable ways, as did my sisters and extended family. Somewhere in there, I learned the way I did and what I did because my tendencies lay in those directions. Students whose experiences were very like my own went in different directions because their natural tendencies bent them differently.

    I learned what I learned partly because I wanted to learn it and partly because I was motivated (and coerced and threatened) into learning. I learned because there were opportunities to learn.

    The standardized tests that hope to evaluate a teacher’s performance, and by extension, hope to improve the quality of the “product” we graduate, are so hopelessly out of touch with what it means to learn and what it means to be human that I have a hard time taking any discussion of them seriously. I have a hard time believing other educators and administrators who blow them so thoroughly out of proportion that they think the tests are why we are here. The tests are so obviously out of touch with reality that I suspect they have nothing at all to do with anyone’s desire to improve the schools, but that they are part of a political agenda.

    For me, the reality is that the tests don’t measure much that matters. A percentage click up on the test performance for the school from one year to the next tells me nothing about whether the school is doing a good job. I have to wait ten years (or more!) to know if my work was worthy, and even then I have to recognize that my input into any individual student is diluted by everything else in his life. There are many ways to evaluate a school. There are even some that might make the schools better and make them even stronger bastions of opportunity for more of our students, but the standardized tests are not one of the ways. I’m a better teacher when I remember that.


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