One of the primary reasons parents send their children to private school is for the individual attention students receive. Private schools can provide that sort of attention because their class sizes are small. Small class sizes work. Small class sizes are one of the main reasons you send your child to private school. With that in mind, let's look at why small class sizes are so important.
1. There's nowhere to hide in a small class.
Imagine your child in a large high school class of 30-35 students. She's not good at math. Most of the students in her class don't understand math and could care less about it. So your daughter hangs out in the back of the room, keeps quiet, and tries to pay attention. The distractions and cutting up around her mitigate against any meaningful learning. Consequently, your daughter falls further and further behind in math. Sadly, public school class sizes increase as school districts struggle with budget deficits. As a result, class sizes of 30-35 students are common.
Contrast that learning environment with 12-14 students seated around a Harkness Table in a boarding school. A Harkness Table is an oval table. The teacher sits at the table with his students. This arrangement places students in a situation where they have no choice but to engage and interact with each other and with their teacher. A Harkness table creates a climate for learning.
This video discusses teaching in large versus small classes.
Implicit in the small teaching groups is a climate of tolerance. Each student can express their views. The small group allows time for each class member to practice and polish critical thinking skills. It isn't easy to do that with a large class. Drawing out each student in a large group is a challenge. Drawing out students in a small group is easy, effective, and expected. Your child cannot hide when she sits at a Harkness table. She will get help when she needs help. She will be encouraged to express her point of view and defend her beliefs. That develops self-confidence and poise as she progresses towards adulthood.
Small classes involve students. Small classes surround students with attention and encouragement. Teachers provide attention and encouragement as part of guiding students' learning. The small group setting fosters sharing and teamwork as students explore concepts in the give and take of discussion. Because students learn in different ways, the teacher can take all the time he needs to present the lesson material in various ways appropriate to his small class of students. That is much more difficult to do with a large class.
This video describes the advantages of small class sizes.
2. You can teach when classes are small.
Few teachers enjoy managing a large class. It's tough to do. Unfortunately, that's what you end up doing when confronted with a large class of students. It's not easy managing 25-35 students of any age in any situation. Behavior problems in a small class are the exception rather than the rule. Behavior problems in a large group of students of any age can quickly escalate out of control. The teacher often has several different achievement levels to manage. That's tricky enough to handle under the best of circumstances, but it becomes a significant challenge in a large class.
Students do learn more when classes are small. They learn faster. They progress through the material more quickly. They soon develop the confidence to express their ideas and opinions without fear of scorn and retribution from their peers. Small classes help create a climate for learning. After all, the students are there to learn.
Since teaching has so much to do with a teacher observing how a student learns and retaining information, a small class allows a teacher to observe closely and carefully monitor how individual students are doing. As a result, the quicker response makes for better progress. In addition, children learn more in a small class because the teacher can do more teaching and assess the effectiveness of his teaching.
After all, teachers are exemplars. Students listen carefully to what teachers say but are always more impressed when adult practices what he preaches. Allowing a teacher to teach in a smaller, more intimate situation where students and teachers can interact spontaneously enriches and enhance learning. That Spanish phrase that was so difficult to pronounce flows effortlessly when you, your classmates, and the teacher can polish the pronunciation, create the correct labial and consonant sounds, and so on. Listening to a Mozart symphony in music appreciation class takes on new dimensions when you sit next to your classmates and your teacher and observe their reactions to the music. While a teacher must teach, he will be a much more effective teacher in a small group situation that fosters happy, relaxed, enthusiastic learning.
This TEDTalk explains the advantages of small class sizes.
3. What are the social benefits of small class sizes?
Small class sizes impact how children interact with each other. Small classes afford students the chance to develop closeness and a cooperative spirit. Those are important lessons for children to learn. As adults, they will have to get along and cooperate with coworkers and other colleagues in work and professional situations. Appreciating diversity is very important in the 21st-century workplace. It is much harder for factions to thrive in a small class setting. The class is generally more homogeneous and unified in spirit and focus. Small classes help you get to know your classmates. Knowing and understanding your classmates allows you to develop lasting friendships.
This video offers another take on the benefits of small class sizes.
The truth is that the small classes at private schools are logical extensions of an educational philosophy that believes that educating the whole child is vitally important. In other words, it's not just a matter of teaching math or Spanish verbs, but rather teaching those subjects and everything else within a larger context. Giving a child a sense of who she is and where she fits in is part of that mission. We equip a child for a lifetime of achievements when we accomplish that. The intimate, small class facilitates that kind of teaching and learning.
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