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Views From a Mom and Teacher: The Benefits of Small Class Sizes
During our interview, Laura, a proud mother of three and math teacher, can’t help but brag about what her children have learned since joining a microschool last June to supplement their public school classes: “They know stuff about history that I don’t know. And that is the best experience as a parent. Because I don’t know it, I couldn’t have taught it to [them].” The whole experience, she tells me, is nothing short of “magical.”
So what is the secret that has Laura so impressed? It all comes down to small class sizes. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), “Students in smaller classes perform better in all subjects and on all assessments when compared to their peers in larger classes.” It isn’t just academic performance; kids in small classes also see a boost in engagement and are more likely to see increased “life success” after graduating from school.
Unfortunately, large class sizes can be a fact of life for many families across America. In the US, the average class size for public elementary schools is about 21 students, but depending on where you live, that can change drastically. For instance, the average in Oregon is 24.5 students per class, while the average in Vermont is 16.4 students.
Throughout our chat, it always comes back to one thing: Small classes make for better learning. As a mom and a teacher, Laura can see how feedback, interaction, and freedom all help her kids and their classmates get so much more from their school hours. Teachers are able to help each child succeed and find joy in learning, and kids have the space to discover who they are. Making class sizes smaller is a game-changer in education that has the chance to help each and every child leave the school system ready to succeed and change the world for the better.
1. Kids get the feedback they need
Effective feedback is one of the most successful ways to help students in the classroom. According to one estimate, effective feedback can “almost double the average student growth over a school year.” When students have teachers who can take the time, understand where they are, and give them tailored suggestions, advice, and encouragement, those students will achieve far more than they ever thought possible.
However, effective feedback requires a teacher who has the time to do it. In Laura’s case, she saw that two of her kids just weren’t getting it in public school. Her oldest child was bored in math class because her assignments were too easy, while her middle child was happy just to meet expectations and wasn’t reaching her full potential.
When they joined a microschool, this all changed. Laura’s oldest child was challenged with math problems suited to her level, forcing her to learn what to do “when things get hard” for the very first time. On the other hand, Laura’s middle child was pushed to do better when her work wasn’t what the teacher knew it could be. In both cases, their teachers intervened and used their professional insight to help the kids push the boundaries of what they believed they could do.
[Picture of a Teacher Helping a Child]
Effective feedback is not just for overperforming students, though. Some of the kids in Laura’s microschools are students who struggled in public school. In these kids, too, Laura saw a huge improvement: “When they get the TLC, they can change who the school has expected them to be. As a result, they’re getting this boost and this opportunity to have more confidence to participate in the world that we live in.”
When teachers have the time to help students one-on-one and give feedback that is meaningful to a child, it shows them that the teacher is invested in their learning and growth, which is often all children need. But teachers need the time to come up with and deliver meaningful feedback, and that’s only possible with small class sizes.
2. Small classes are more engaging and exciting
In large classes, teachers use less engaging but easily scalable methods like textbooks and worksheets to teach simply because they have no other choice. But in a small-class setting like a microschool, teachers can get creative and squeeze every little bit of fun, engagement, and learning out of each class hour.
Keeping classes engaging and exciting is more than just fun for students—it’s also crucial to helping more students succeed in school. In one survey of Indiana high schoolers, 75% of students said that teaching materials were boring, and 40% said it “wasn’t relevant to me.” These feelings can have real consequences: A whopping 25% of all high school dropouts reported boredom as their main reason for giving up on education.
Small classes are an ideal setting to get students excited and involved in learning because it allows for teachers to use hands-on, active learning, which leads to better engagement overall.
Laura experienced this first hand in one of her daughter’s learning pods. The teacher learned that the girls were all interested in “rocks and geology.” In response, the teacher devised a series of lessons that had them harness that interest to teach them about science. It started with a field trip to find and learn about local rocks and minerals. Then, they did an experiment together to learn about how to create crystal formations. Finally, the girls were broken up into groups to design a stronger crystal formation that they could create on their own using the process they learned during the earlier experiment.
[Picture of Girls doing an Experiment]
The result was that the girls “learned that, in real life, scientists don’t always have their experiments go the way they want to.” Since the teacher allowed the girls to be active participants in their own learning, they were more engaged and more excited to come to class every day. Laura even shared that the girls would often “rush to get their public school work” done so that they had enough time to come to the microschool in the mornings before their public school started.
Kids learn what they want to learn. When class sizes are shrunk, kids can rekindle their love of learning because they’re not sitting through boring lectures; instead, they’re actively learning about things that keep them curious about the world around them. All it takes is a teacher with a manageable number of kids and a little imagination to get the most out of a class of young minds.
3. Kids are free to be themselves
School is the wonderful, if confusing, time in life where you start to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Unfortunately, countless kids across America’s school systems change or hide who they are—or face bullying if they don’t conform to peer pressure. Currently, one in five students faces some form of bullying in school. If not quickly addressed, bullying can lead to depression, health problems, and lower academic achievement in bullied students.
One way to help students is to move them into a smaller classroom setting. Research has shown that small class sizes and the strong class community fostered there are effective ways of reducing bullying in schools. Being a former teacher, Laura has seen how awful bullying can be in traditional schools; that’s why she was so surprised with how different things could be in a microschool.
In a microschool, she noticed that her fifth-grader had started to play make-believe with her classmates. It struck her that “there is no way that those fifth-graders are playing imagination [in public school]; someone is going to knock them down and make fun of them.” This kind of play is only possible because the kids feel safe and secure within their group to have fun and express themselves without fear of being bullied.
[Picture of Children Playing]
Getting rid of bullying is good for its own sake, but it also lets kids develop through playful learning. Playful learning happens when kids explore and experiment with the world through imagination and games. It’s fun, but it also helps kids with their intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development. In a small class environment, kids are free to engage in playful learning without the fear of being ostracized or bullied. When kids are given the freedom of a small class, they can engage with their imagination and explore who they really are.
The way school ought to be
Small class sizes help schools be the enriching, educational, and inspirational journey that they were always meant to be. Decreasing class sizes is the shockingly simple solution to turning our schools into better places to be for students, teachers, and parents alike.
If you want to see how small class sizes can help your child as they did for Laura, you can check out our testimonials page. There, you’ll see how the small class sizes of our microschools have helped students engage with their learning, improve their academic standing, and become the best possible people they can be.