Why was it teachers want smaller classes again…?

A few month ago on this blog I wrote a piece about the unique situation (at least unique for me), I found myself in of having one class of just sixteen pupils. I found myself reflecting on the educational opportunities such a small group offered me as an art teacher.

This week I return to school and it is fair to say that normality has returned with a bang, at least in terms of the numbers in my classes, except somewhat worse than every other year I can remember in my 13 years of teaching. The forthcoming year I am teaching six different classes, three younger classes for art and design and three slightly older classes for a broader art and cultural studies class. All these lessons involve a mixture of theory and practical lessons.

The overall picture is as follows:

1st years (12-13 year olds), one class of 30 pupils

3rd years (14-15 year olds), one class of 25 pupils and one class of 29 pupils

4th years (15-16 year olds), one class of 28 pupils  and two of 32 pupils

full class

Thirty two is more than I’ve ever taught. I don’t like to start the year with a moan or a rant, but how can this be good for the quality of education that we offer?  Way too much of my time in these situations is spent simply being a sort of technician, ensuring everyone has their work and their materials at the start and that everything gets cleared up and put away at the end of the hour. Where’s the space for the teaching? Well it’s in there somewhere squeezed in between the start-up and the closing down phase.  Needless to say, it’s not so much time, and spread between thirty two pupils there is not a lot of space for differentiation towards the abilities of the various types of pupils in the group. Individual assistance…..so often needed in a practical art class is close to impossible for more than just a few seconds!

I said in my earlier piece that education quality has everything to do with class size and class size has everything to do with quality. I find myself right at the beginning of the school year looking at my course plans, particularly for those two classes of thirty two and thinking how can I slim this down, what can I get rid of?  This simply being to make it possible to cope with the deluge of written marking work that such a class produce and to make the lessons themselves work practically with thirty two sixteen year olds filling a classroom to a level of over capacity.

From the very first lesson of the year the education is being compromised and the quality reduced. This is why we need smaller classes.

If anyone has similar problems or suggestions on how to deal with these challenges I’d be only too glad to hear them!

Advertisements

So why do teachers want smaller classes?

Many of the classes I teach are groups of thirty pupils. Much is written in the media about the significance of large classes and the negative effect it has on the quality of education offered to pupils. My own personal opinion is that thirty is for most teachers in most situations simply too many.

As a teacher of a practical subject that involves an assortment of materials, setting up at the start of a lesson and clearing up at the end this is definitely the case. Add to this that fact that teachers are encouraged to offer lesson material that reflects varied abilities in a class, allowing individuals to play to their own strengths, resulting in even more one on one teaching being necessary and, well, I’m sure you get the picture.

Image

With this being the prevalent situation there is one particular type of assignment that often falls victim to this pressure of numbers. That assignment being the three dimensional assignment.  Whether you are working with clay, wood, papier-mâché or some other material, the sheer logistics of it is hard enough in a one hour lesson, let alone when you are trying to shepherd and guide thirty thirteen year olds…..and this is of course before we even get onto the potential safety issues that arise from such a group working with band saws, sanding disks, knives or other tools.

With all this in mind it can be incredibly refreshing when through a quirk in the timetable you unexpectedly end up with a radically small class, as is the case this year with my group of 14 year olds in 2hvq. It is a class of just sixteen children and has opened the door on a chance to try out a few things that in a larger class I might not have embarked on.

With a larger class the temptation is to often rely on assignments that the whole class can work through step by step together. This is all well and good but such an approach often places limitations on the creativity that pupils themselves bring to the project. My smaller 2hvq class has allowed me to put such limitations aside and we have worked on an insect building project that grown and developed through ideas that the group themselves have brought to the table. A large range of materials have been used, conventional and found materials. The resulting work has been surprising to watch develop and interesting to see just how engaged the class has been.

So why would I generally like smaller classes? It really is pretty simple, my pupils would be better served by it. In most lines of work you deal with one customer at a time, in teaching it is often thirty, it would be fine if they all wanted the same thing at the same time, but believe me this is not the case, and in the art room I wouldn’t want it to be either.