Smaller classes are more beneficial for us


Izzy James, JAG photographer

We’ve all had classes that just felt like they were way too full of people. Most people have also had classes with less students in them. It’s easy to see that there are differences between those two types of classes, but we want to know how it affects us.

A study commissioned by the US Department of Education found that after controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be connected to high student success was class size. Most people can see that smaller class sizes do benefit the students, they just might not know exactly how. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that in districts across the country, graduation rates are highest where student to teacher ratios were lowest. In fact, a national survey found that 75% of high school dropouts in the US said that having smaller classes with more individualized attention would have helped their likelihood of graduating school.

Smaller classrooms also have benefits other than just an impact on student dropout rates. Paul Barton of the Environmental Testing Service has written, “school size is less important than class size in terms of improving discipline.” I have experienced this for myself in some of my small classes. It feels like there are less cases of students acting up at inappropriate times, meaning that the teacher doesn’t have to enforce discipline as often. Class sizes can also affect how students focus on their work. A detailed observational study shows that secondary students placed in smaller classes spend more time “on task” and are more focused on learning. This can provide special benefits for “low-achievers” and lower rates of negative behavior.

A major impact from smaller classes sizes that can be seen is its effect on student relationships. An article by Robert Kennedy states that immediately when students are placed in smaller classes they are in a situation where they have no choice but to interact with one another and their teacher.  Kennedy also says that a small group fosters sharing and even a sense of teamwork as concepts are explored through discussion. He says, “[The students] soon develop confidence to express their ideas and opinions without fear of scorn and retribution from their peers. Small classes help create a climate for learning.” as well as “Drawing out each student in a large group is a challenge. Drawing out students in a small group is easy, effective and expected.” I agree with these points from Kennedy, and I can even see them in my own experiences. In a large class where I can blend in with the other students, I typically don’t interact with anyone in class or voice my thoughts. I am more anxious about how others might react to anything I say to the class. However, in my smaller classes I am more likely to share my thoughts and connect with others. I find myself being more confident and comfortable, as well as being less afraid of how the other students will react to what I say.


Small classes don’t only benefit students, they also have an impact on teachers. The same article from mentions that, because students learn in different ways the teacher can take all the time they need to present the material being taught in a variety of ways appropriate to his small class of students. That is much harder to do with a large class. The article also says that, since teaching has so much to do with a teacher observing how a student learns and how they retain information, a small class allows a teacher to really observe closely and carefully monitor how individual students are doing. These things not only help a teachers teach their classes in the best way possible, but they will also help the students learn.

It’s clear that smaller classes have good benefits for students and teachers and can impact learning/teaching. You can see this when comparing your own small classes to your biggest ones.

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