Classes have officially begun for the 2017-2018 year! This year, I am teaching two groups of 9th graders who couldn’t be more different from one another. One class has only gone up to 4 students thus far while the other is a packed classroom full of 20 students. It’s only been a couple of weeks so far, but I’m already starting to see how my planning will need to change based on not only the differences in students, but also just the size of the classrooms.

This size difference is a factor I haven’t had too much variety in over the past few years, and so this is new territory for me. In come several Google searches relating to tips for teaching very large or very small classes. The articles I’ve come across don’t necessarily offer a lot in the “small class” category, as small classes in most secular school systems mean less than 15-20 students, not as small as 4, but there are definitely some good points to reflect on as I plan future classes.

One article on the effects of small class sizes defines small class size as less than 20 students. Although there are discrepancies within the studies that are discussed (some found differences and others did not), one major finding is that those students who are generally disadvantaged in education benefit the most from being in smaller classes. The benefits that they gain, also, last much longer than benefits reaped from other classes. This applies to my small class, as I have a few students who are recent immigrants and still struggle a bit with language and comprehension; being in a smaller class will hopefully help them improve in these skills.

Another article built off of this information by discussing how, in smaller classrooms, teachers are able to spend more time on instruction, give more individual and small group attention, and focus more on students’ personal concerns. In larger classes, we often end up spending more time on classroom management and keeping students on track with what they need to work on. My students in the small class are very quiet and it’s been hard to get them to participate openly so far, but I hope that being in a more intimate environment will hopefully help them open up more so there is more teaching and learning that can take place.

I believe that in smaller classes, there is so much more opportunity to build community and relationships with students as well as focus on the learning that needs to take place rather than the logistics of the classroom. However, there are some tools that can be used to help manage my large classroom, as well, and thank you Edutopia for helping me reflect on that. I should note that Edutopia’s article focuses on classrooms that are well above my 20 students, closer to 40 in fact, but I still think these are tips that can be used for my own planning. This article’s four ideas are as follows:

  1. Continue using grouping and collaboration so that quieter students find a more comfortable space to share their thoughts and students can still connect and share ideas regularly.
  2. Be ok with activities taking longer in class because there are more students to work with. There are always quick ways to check and see if students are on track.
  3. Even in a large class, relationships are crucial and we should find ways to get to know each one at a personal level and continue to work with them at the academic level they need.
  4. “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean they aren’t learning” (something I truly live by in my classrooms) and using students to help with managerial tasks can help teachers free up time to make sure the relationships get built and the learning happens.

In the end, there are many advantages and disadvantages to working with either a small or large group of students. Compared to most secular school systems, my classes are perfectly manageable and I don’t have any huge issues to contend with. However, reading more about the benefits of small classes and looking through ideas for handling large ones, helped me reflect on my classrooms and what I can do to make each of them a wonderful experience for everyone in them this year.

Have you ever dealt with a very small class or an extremely large one? How did you handle it? Do you have any ideas for me?

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