Do we make smaller class sizes work for us?

Smaller class sizes can improve the opportunity for learning to occur but without teacher awareness, knowledge and strategies it will not.

At Port Broughton Area School we have a small R-12 cohort. In some subjects and at some year levels this translates to smaller class sizes. While many of our primary and middle school classes are vertically grouped and therefore not considered to be small other classes are. Some curriculum areas through middle school have single year levels and therefore small cohorts of students while our Year 11 and 12 class sizes are always small in number. So does this translate into better outcomes for student learning?

John Hattie’s research suggests as a whole that smaller class sizes have a relatively small impact on student achievement particularly considering the significant financial cost that is required to implement this strategy. Hattie’s argument is not that smaller class sizes aren’t effective. It is that the research suggests teachers do not change their pedagogy to suit smaller class sizes and therefore do not reap the potential learning outcomes that a small class may provide.

“Hattie contends that some of the most powerful in-class learning comes from teacher-to-student dialogue and more especially from student-to-student dialogue. We might like to imagine that smaller classes facilitate increased student-to-student dialogue and learning and greater one-to-one feedback between teacher and student, but the evidence gathered by Hattie suggests that teachers can actually lecture to smaller classes more than they do with larger classes.” Margery Evans, 2015

The above paragraph is from Margery Evan’s CEO blog on the AITSL website and prompts the following thought:

When we have the opportunity to teach a small class, be it for a term, semester or the year do we ensure teaching strategies that take advantage of having less students? Do we engage students with more teacher feedback and provide opportunities for more student to student conversations? Or as Margery Evan’s points out do we manage small groups of individuals in more-or-less the same way that we manage large groups, therefore not realising any of the advantages that may be possible in having small groups?

To read AITSL CEO Margery Evan’s full post about class size click here.