How class size changes classroom dynamics

Diverse Elementary ClassClass size research once focused primarily on the pupil-teacher ratio and how that alone affected student outcomes. But gradually class size research has taken into account how class size affects teacher action, says a recent article in The Elementary School Journal.

Now 3rd-generation research views class size as one environmental contextual factor that will affect both teachers and pupils in a number of ways, says the study of 3 schools participating in Wisconsin’s SAGE program. SAGE is a state-supported class size reduction program that provides $2,250 per low- income child to reduce class size. SAGE includes mandates to reduce class size to 15:1 in grades K-3, provide rigorous curricula, enhance school-home relations and professional development.

“Implicit in the theories of why class size reduction is a strategy for improving achievement is the idea that smaller classes create opportunities that alter fundamental qualities of classroom interactions,” the authors write. “Understanding quality in class size reduction contexts is about more than how many or how much; it is also about understanding the processes and interactions of teaching and learning.

“Focusing on processes and interactions makes class size reduction more complicated and more powerful –it recognizes that the number of people in a classroom is important if it changes instructional interactions. ”

Under SAGE, schools could also have classes of 30 with 2 teachers. In those classes, the authors found that team-teaching brought additional advantages, such as teachers’ greater familiarity with content. “Among the major advantages of the smaller classrooms were linking content to student experience and constant, iterative feedback loops,” the authors write.

“Synergy of Class Size Reduction and Classroom Quality,” by Elizabeth Graue, The Elementary School Journal, 2009, Volume 110, Number 2, pps. 178-201.

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