An important part of the fundraising efforts at Grattan supports an additional 4/5 grade teacher to keep the class sizes in the upper graders lower. At Grattan we have 23-25 children in each 4/5 class instead of 33 kids. Understand how big of a difference that makes for the learning environment at Grattan below.
Do the Math - this is class size reduction.
35 kids in the classroom or 24 – you want to know the difference? Let’s visit Ms. Walter’s former classroom and learn everything about it.
It’s Wednesday morning; cheers erupt from a small group in the back library playing math games. Ms. Walter (now our Principal but formerly a Grattan teacher) works at the U table reviewing a lesson with a few students, while the remainder work independently across the room. All this individualized instruction is possible in a room of only 24 4th and 5th grade students. Smaller class size spells success for both students and teachers.
You all know Ms. Walter? She has taught at Grattan for 10 years in 3rd through 5th grade and she was an instrumental part of the big upper grade shift to 4th/5th grade combo classrooms. And now she's our Principal!
“Let me start by saying: class size does matter. Many are quoting research that says class size doesn’t matter, that there will be no difference in student outcomes if you have 20-or even 35 kids in the classroom. And that can be true, if you teach in a more traditional whole class structure. If you have one teacher standing up in front lecturing, not responding to individual needs, it doesn’t matter if there are 25 or 40 kids in the class, the result is going to be the same.
However, that kind of instruction is something current educational research shows us we need to move away from. Whole class instruction doesn’t foster critical thinking and cooperation, nor does it connect the students to the outside world. More importantly, it does not take into account the individual students’ needs. It’s when we are talking about differentiated learning that class size comes into play.
Ms. Walter has learned first hand, here at Grattan, the challenges of teaching large classroom with 34 or more students.
- The biggest challenge that comes to mind is having time to create relationships. To have to time to get to know the students, to be able to push them, encourage them, and nurture them. For that you need to know their interests, what makes them tick. For example, if I have a reluctant reader, and I know she is into basketball, then I can use that to motivate her.
- You also need time to build relationships with their families; we know that the connection between home and school is paramount for student success.
After the student’s initial few minutes of work Ms. Walter calls the class to attention to give them some instructions. I can see that there are four groups emerging, with about six students in each. One group stays with Ms. Walter by the white board for more instruction, the others gather at different areas of the classroom. Some are working on an enrichment project they started yesterday, a few seem to be diving into their math workbooks, and a couple of others are working together to come up with “Four Numbers” equations. After a about 15 minutes, I see Ms. Walter move around to other groups and even observe her moving students to different activities. She sits down with one of the groups and starts inquiring about their progress.
After class Ms. Walter explains:
- So yesterday I had the students do a quick exit slip to assess their comprehension of the last two days lessons and today I divided them into smaller groups depending on who needs more time to practice the concept or who is ready to move on. This way I was able to teach to a much smaller group, giving each and every one more attention, based on their needs.
- This is similar to what we do during our writing and reading instruction as well; it’s a workshop approach. It allows us to deliver content and instruction in a variety of structures depending on student need and student interests and is far more successful in a smaller class.
- With 24 students I can also do a lot of one to one instruction. I can follow their individual development; I can remember where they are with their stories, what their goals and interests are. It’s all about having the time, the room and the capacity to give the kids a very individualized educational experience.
- If they were 34 of them that would be so much harder. So much harder.
Ms. Walter is silent for a moment, and then adds:
- 34 kids, it’s just a lot, it’s a lot …
- Many of us have done it, but it’s not in the best interest of our students. You simply just cannot deliver high quality instruction on a consistent level in a class of that many students. Something has to give at some point. These are still little kids we’re talking about. They may want to think of themselves as all grown up but they’re not. We want to foster that child as long as possible, being there for them, seeing each and every one of them for what they are and what they need.
- 25 kids, it really makes a difference.