Ask any teacher, and they’ll probably tell you that class sizes are the most important thing for the learning of their students. Teachers want smaller classes. So do I.
Unfortunately, small class sizes really don’t make as much difference as you would think. Spoiler alert, it’s because practices don’t change with smaller numbers. Again, it’s about the people in front of the kids!
This article by Peter M. DeWitt in EdWeek discusses the research and gives ideas powerfully. He summarizes Hattie’s research (and surprise) that lower class sizes don’t have a larger effect size when it comes to student learning. Peter says,
Hattie has a “hinge point” of 0.4. Anything that falls below that hinge point does not have a large effect on student achievement. An effect size of above 1.0 actually is equivalent to a year’s worth of growth. Hattie’s research gives class size an effect of 0.21.
So, essentially, “the research” is saying that smaller class sizes don’t matter. DeWitt, Hattie, and I would all argue that we shouldn’t be loading tons of kids into classes, but let’s think about this a little differently.
What if you had a school that was not a traditional school where students are sitting before their teacher all day long? What if, instead of focusing on class sizes, you focused on student to adult ratios?
Instead of only caring about how many students you had for each teacher, you thought about how many students you had for each adult? At my school, that’s the approach we took. We had the distinct advantage of saying that everyone in our building was an educator. If you wanted to work in a school, you recognized that you were part of the school and would work with kids.
From our admin secretary to our aides to everyone else, everyone took time during the week to support kids directly.
So, what was our “class size” during this time when everyone was focused on supporting kids?
We took our existing structure, with all the support staff, and we made sure that our average class size was 13.
Some were bigger, some were smaller. In fact, just a couple teachers taking more kids made all the others significantly smaller. Imagine what you could do if you were just working with 10 kids directly during a concentrated time.
Our focus was, “How do we support kids in the best way possible?”
We had to teach differently, and the results were awesome.
When our AMAZING science teacher was working with kids, she could easily manage 30+. When our secretary was working with kids, she could manage 2! But, she had a way to support them that made those two kids feel special and like someone cared about them, and they could still accomplish something meaningful. Even if all she was doing was checking to make sure they did math on a worksheet (that’s not what happened) that would be more attention than they would get in a typical class of 30.
Our assistant principal was a rockstar at management and could engage 25 kids. I worked with a group of 8 kids as the principal. One of our special education aides worked with four typical peers and the student he was assigned to assist.
Our prevention intervention specialist worked with a group of about 12 students.
Think of all the good you can do if you are focused on meeting the needs of all the kids with all the staff you have.
Count up the staff at your school. Include every adult that could work with a group of kids (we left out our custodian because our time to do this was right after lunch, but don’t make excuses!).
Divide your student body (we had 400) by all your staff (we had 30) and you get your average class size if everyone is engaged. 400 / 30 = 13.3