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On Class Size March 2, 2011

Posted by Wendy Wolfe in On Teaching.
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I’ve been following “Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…” for a while and his comments about Bill Gates and class size made me think back to my second year of teaching. As a result of a failed levy, my second year in the classroom was spent with a class of 38 and a class of  42. These 9th and 10th grade students were nice enough people, but I would contend that there was no way my students got as much out of that class as they would have if there had only been 24 of them. I have never utilized group work as much as I did that year, especially as if I had 42 copies of an assignment every time I turned around, those student still might be waiting for me to finish grading them!  (Granted, it was in 1994 so everything was on paper, none of their work was digital.)

When I interviewed at Totino-Grace, I was asked a hypothetical question focusing on classroom management that started with something like, “You have a classroom of 24 students and…”  I was recently reminded by one of the administrators who sat in on my interview that he will never forget how I started my answer, “Only 24 students? The first thing I would do is be glad there were only 24.” He said that it reinforced his commitment to small class size.

Getting to know our students is imperative to their sense of belonging and a critical factor in their comfort level when it comes to asking questions and approaching their teachers outside of the classroom for assistance, or just to talk. All of which are intangible but contribute to their successes. Increasing class size depersonalizes the classroom exponentially and that personalization is what makes the memorable moments to which I hope we can all think back. As a teacher in a LaSallian school, I am fortunate as a key part of the foundation of our school’s principles is to touch the hearts and minds of students. It is difficult to do that if there are so many in a room you don’t know their name.

What would your ideal class size be? I think mine is either 18 or 24. Both small enough to get to know all of the students, have great discussions (18 would be better for all to participate), and both are divisible by 2 and 3, 24 is great for teams of 4…

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