• Wendy Taylor

Class Size: Why It DOES Matter

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

Implementing collaborative work groups in the classroom. That's all the rage right now in our schools. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Put kids together; give them a problem to solve or a challenge to tackle; just a little adult guidance; and then watch them go!

According to educational instruction videos on best practices, like the one above, your students will automatically engage in the focus of the lesson/project. If you took the time to prepare ahead of class and set everything up for kids the way you should, you'll have no trouble getting your students to learn. They'll be begging you for more opportunities like this.

But what happens if they don't? Watch the sample video, and while you do, conduct a head count. How many students do you see in this "classroom", which is really not a classroom at all, but a controlled, laboratory setting. And even if it were a classroom, what kind of behavior problems do you expect to find in a roomful of kids who know they are being filmed?

Your average classroom has 30 kids in it. What if they're all talking? At the same time. Trying to be heard above the other voices around them. And now, what if some of those kids are not engaged in the lesson, but instead, looking for ways to entertain themselves or cause trouble? That's the reality of an actual classroom.

School principals don't want to hear about this contradictory idea. My own routinely makes the following speech: "When I was in the classroom, management wasn't a problem. You set your expectations and don't settle for anything less. You just DO it."

Mm-hmm. Sounds like someone who's been criticizing from the sidelines for too long. How about getting your hands dirty, Mr. Principal, and show me how you "just do it" when my hands are tied regarding those kids who just don't want to learn?

I'm expected to work one-on-one and discuss ideas with individual groups as my kids are collaboratively learning. How does this work in a 55-minute social studies class with 9 or 10 groups, all talking and wanting my attention at once?

In the past 30 years, many things have changed about what's considered appropriate for Best Practices in education: student-centered learning rather than adult-centered direct instruction, for one thing. Great. Sounds good for the kids.

Now give me only 15 of them, and I can achieve something close to what you see in that video.

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