Smaller Classes, Greater Engagement

By Katie Ash — March 27, 2008 1 min read
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Education Week‘s Debbie Viadero has written yet another story related to student motivation--this time about class size. According to the article, a study released at the AERA conference has found that smaller classes help students stay on task. This seems sort of obvious, as I’ve mentioned before, but there are a couple of interesting points she makes that I think are worth noting.

The first is that teachers with smaller classes aren’t really taking advantage of smaller classes to teach in a more collaborative way. That means that the increased level of attention in students is not coming from a different method of teaching, but just from the effect of having fewer students in the class, which is an important distinction to make. But my question is why aren’t teachers modifying their teaching style to a more collaborative method when given the opportunity?

The second point Debbie mentions is that a similar study in Hong Kong had different results--mostly because Chinese students were on task most of the time regardless of class size, according to Maurice Galton, the study’s researcher.

Mr. Galton said that is because Chinese teachers typically make an effort to interact with each individual student, keeping track by ticking off the names on the class roster as they go along.

Since reducing class size is something most teachers don’t have control over, this is pretty valuable information. For now, perhaps it’s better for teachers in the U.S. to learn how to manage large classes by taking a page out of China’s book.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.