06 September 2006

Why Class Size Does Matter!

One of the major components of the SRA Reach program that was implemented in my school district is smaller class sizes. The program itself recommends no more than 15 students, but states that the program can still work with a larger class size. Fortunately, my school district as well as our Reform Coordinator has worked hard on keeping the class sizes for students in the SRA Reach program relatively small.

Right now, my 3 hour block class has 20 students. It should come as no shock to those of us in education (or for that matter anyone with a modicum of common sense) what a difference this makes. I've had my 3 hour block students for the same amount of time as I have had my two group of social studies students, about a week and a half, and guess which group of kids I feel I already know better? You got it, my small class size of 20 students.

In a week and a half, I've been able to determine which of my students are struggling because they are second language learners, which ones may have attendance issues, and the few who probably need this intervention due to family issues. This cannot be said for my larger class size of 25 and 30 students respectively. In years past, I've had class sizes reach 33 students, and it often took me well into the first quarter before coming to the realization that more than a few of my students needed extra help. This inevitably left me struck with pangs of guilt thinking I should have caught on sooner.

Even now, I know all the names of my students in my SRA Reach class. That cannot be said for my other two classes, although I am almost there. I can't help of wonder if I will run into the same pitfall as in years past, catching almost too late that a student needs my extra help and guidance. I understand more than ever that class size has profound impact on the building of community in the classroom. When kids don't think the teachers know who they are, they have to wonder if the teacher really cares about how they are.

This is part of the beauty of the SRA Reach program: its emphasis on small class size. With more one to one interaction, I am able to connect with these kids as more than a classroom teacher. Part of knowing who my students are in the SRA Reach class is to instill in them the sense that regardless of their past school experience, they will be successful, perhaps for the first time since they ever entered the doors to their education.

By the way, this emphasis on small class size is also found in AVID, the program that La Maestra mentions in her article What it takes. If programs such as this can deliver on the promise of raising the achievement level of kids who may not have reached success otherwise and one of the main components is smaller class size, wouldn't it behoove those who make policy to try to reduce class sizes across the grade levels?

One of my co-workers helped prove my point today. We were discussing her Math/Math Support class, which consists mostly of the same group of students who are in my SRA Reach class. The behavioral issues I've faced with this group of students has been minor, but in talking to her, she has had numerous behavioral issues since the start of the school year. I couldn't figure it out because I know she is a strong teacher with good classroom management. It was only after she revealed to me that she has 29 students that it all made sense. In addition to 20 students I teach during my block of SRA Reach, she receives those students plus 9 more.

These are students who are struggling across the board academically, therefore, doesn't it make more sense to keep their class size small? The small handful of students she mentioned to me, I can see being disruptive in a larger group. However, because my class size has remained small, those problems have not emerged in my classroom.


At 11:07 PM, Blogger La Maestra said...

Our school uses SRA Reach as well (at the freshman level), and while I don't teach it, I know the teachers that do really enjoy it. They also have 20 in a class, for 1.5 hours/day, and they've made the same comments about getting to know their students better.

I know how apprehensive you were about doing a scripted program like Reach--I'm glad it seems to be working out for you so far!

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

Oh, do I know well the difference class size makes!
I currently teach 3 sections of the same subject and my classes are 28, 26 and 5 students. I know the 5 is not realistic or ideal, but guess which class is ahead? In my class of 28, I sometimes don't notice when a kid in the back of the room is absent, I don't have time to wake up the nappers, I don't have as much time to draw out the quiet ones.
Class size is sacred- and should never be compromised.

At 3:49 AM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I can definitely identify with this post. Our school has had to make a number of cuts the last few years, so this year I've got six classes, four different preps, and my three regular American History classes all have at least 30 kids. It's tough not to feel overwhelmed.

By the way, I read your post on Direct Instruction last month, and I just did a post on it myself. I would love to get feedback from you on it since, if I understood correctly, you are actually using it.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

Dennis, I'll post a coherent post within the next couple of days. I've come down with a cold, so my thinking is kind of befuddled at the moment!

At 1:56 AM, Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Correct me if I'm in error, but my recollection is the studies showed results from reduced class size don't get significant until class size drops below 18, and then get dramatic when class size drops below 15. Think of it in terms of how many minutes can be devoted to each student, individually, in an hour.

Where are the students' unions to demand smaller class sizes -- effectively smaller classes, at 15 or less? Who speaks for the student, especially when a state legislature determines the size should be 22 or greater, and nothing close to a level that would improve instructional efficacy?


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