Does Class Size Matter? – A Teacher’s Point of View

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Written by Holly (Teach Starter)

It’s a controversial topic! Do class sizes really matter?

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As a teacher, I say – absolutely it does! You can’t say that a class of 35 students is going to get the same positive educational outcomes as a class of 20! To me, this is a logical way of thinking. With fewer students, teachers can give their students better-tailored instruction and get to know their students inside out! It makes for easier crowd control and students can maintain concentration with fewer distractions.

Let’s face it, with the addition of NAPLAN and other national tests; smaller classes help make the assessment load, data collection and additional paperwork more realistic for teachers!

But, what if our teachers were provided with more time with smaller more targeted groups, plus, additional time off their class to do their program writing and paperwork?

By increasing class sizes and spending the extra money on providing teachers with less whole class teaching and more smaller targeted group teaching – are the students in the class going to be better off?

I have decided to risk my life and write this blog! It’s a topic that is always debated in the education field!

On one side of this debate, we have the teachers, unions, parents and some academics arguing that smaller classes allow better teaching and learning, on the other, policy makers, politicians and some academics that argue that class size has very little impact on student achievement.

John Hattie, a well-known researcher in the education field, believes that reducing class size does enhance student achievement, however, only by a marginal amount. He believes what is really important is that the teacher learns to be an expert in their own class, no matter how many students are in their class.

There are so many different variables with this debate! The school, the culture, the behaviour of the students, the socioeconomic location of the school, the varying abilities and possible diagnosis of students in the class.

It got me thinking, what are the thoughts of current teachers in the classroom?

We asked some of our loyal members on our Teach Starter Aussie Members Facebook page.

Here’s what they had to say…


 What Teachers are Saying

Lindsey – Year 5 Teacher

Teachers would do anything to assist their students to excel with their learning. We would give anything to be able to provide all the time in the world to those students’ individual needs and to be able to push each and every student to their fullest potential, every… single… time. The truth is, the more students we have, the thinner we have to spread ourselves. Meaning, the further this becomes a reality.

Sonia – Year 2 Teacher

If all of our kiddos came to us from stable supportive families, we could manage a class of 30. The reality is that our kiddos come from a range of backgrounds and often require needs outside of education to be met before they can learn. We are expected to be experts in so many fields and to give each Kiddo exactly what they need. With a class of 25 we can probably give each student about 7 minutes but then we would have to ignore them for the rest of the day and forget about teaching anything!

Sally – Special Needs Teacher

I guess it depends on how complex the needs of your students are, how well organised you are and how prepared you are to differentiate. As a special needs teacher, I do highly structured teaching. I have a very complex group of 9 students who are all at different levels in terms of academic skills, their ability to self-regulate sensory input, and behaviour and social needs.

It is a very challenging class but doing the structured teaching approach gives me the opportunity to get down to some pretty rigorous practice. So, in short …. there are a lot of variables to the debate in class size but I believe that the more structured and organised you are, the better prepared you are to meet all of your students’ needs. 

Teilia – Year 1 Teacher

I started the year with 34 Year 1 students…wowser…between behaviour management, space management/transitions, marking, assessing and dealing with parents it was absolutely exhausting. The kids were missing out.

Now that the class has been split, I have ample time to provide relevant feedback and differentiate effectively whilst also managing behaviour effectively. I know each and every one of my students back to front. This is the smallest class I have ever had and it is nothing short of amazing. There is very little attention seeking behaviour and the kids are excelling!

Jess – Year 1 Teacher

It’s just another conversation about how far teachers are stretching themselves really. How many more students can we attend to and still feel like we have achieved a respectable amount of engagement with an adult today? I think, like teaching as a profession itself, there is not a one size fits all answer.


What are your thoughts?

Let us know your views in the comments section below…


Sources

The class sizes debate is tired and asks the wrong questions

10 Benefits of Small Class Sizes

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Comments & feedback

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I too, know and love what most of Hattie’s research offers and others like Anita Archer, BUT when it comes to class size – it is a no brainer really!! SMALLER class sizes actually DO make an ENORMOUS difference! I was very fortunate to have a class of twenty year one students in 2015. Previously, classes of 27, 28 and 29 students, including verified students was normal for me. My class in 2015 made the most astounding progress educationally, socially and emotionally that I have ever witnessed! Thirty years of teaching in different settings and for me this was the most enjoyable and rewarding teaching experience that I have had! At the beginning of the year, 12 of the 20 students were below reading benchmarks and developing early number concepts. The other 8 were sound. By the end of that year, 10 students were reading and comprehending at RRL 24 and above (Very High), a further 4 students at RRL 19 (High), 4 at RRL 16 (Sound) and 2 students were developing at RRL 12, but had progressed from <1 at the beginning of the year! At the end of the year 15 of the 20 students performed in the 90 percentile and above range on the PAT maths test. I had equally impressive results in ALL areas of the curriculum!!! Why did I achieve such particularly impressive results that year, when I TRY to do the same types of activities, use similar strategies etc.. in other years? Because with fewer students I could work with them individually, in pairs and in small groups daily! I had time to really get to know each of my students and to address their individual needs. I had less noise with 7 or 8 fewer students using quiet voices! More space in the old, box type classroom that I still teach in. I was able to build rapport with each student! Parents were equally impressed and wrote to the principal asking for smaller class sizes in future years because they had personally witnessed the result of what is achievable with fewer students! Unfortunately they fell on deaf ears! WE need to stand strong together and advocate smaller class sizes to our politicians! We need to show evidence and not just sound like "whinging" teachers! Get the support of parents! WE need to do it for our STUDENTS!

Amanda Worthington · Jun 25th, 2017

Well said, Amanda!!! I was nodding along to all of your comment!

Kind regards,
Holly

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jun 27th, 2017

I have a really challenging year 8 group this term – 29 students (mainstream secondary). I have been digging deep in my bag of PBS strategies and years of experience so that I can manage the behaviours in this class. As well as the 8-9 clowns who demand all the attention, there are 21 other students who deserve and require my attention. At the end of the session, I am hard pressed to even recall if some of the quieter students were even at school that day – much less having been able to sit with them and see what they are up to. One of the students wrote in her writer’s notebook, that she was surrounded by idiots and she wondered if anyone noticed she was there.

Anyway, on Friday, 10 students in that particular group were away – sports, illness and appointments. This NEVER happens – and it was like a revelation. Granted, 2 of the clowns were in that mix of 10 absentees, but it brought my numbers down to 19! I was able to teach. I was able to get around to those quieter students who never put their hands up. I was able to sit with the students who were struggling and see some light bulb moments. I know the Hattie research and I love most of what he has to say, but 29 teenagers in a regular sized classroom does make a difference.

I assured that young lady that I do notice her and I make a point of standing at the door and at least greeting all of the students as they arrive and leave. I want them to know that they are noticed and that somebody values their presence in the class. I also want them to feel safe amidst all the bad behaviours. I want to teach!

Marg Murnane · Jun 18th, 2017

Thank you so much for your comment Marg!

It is evident that you are a passionate teacher! I love how you make the effort to ensure your students feel noticed!

Kind regards,
Holly

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jun 27th, 2017

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