It’s no secret that the number of students in a classroom makes a real, impactful difference on both teachers and students. The fewer students in a classroom, the better the educational experience for all involved. This is even more obvious if you think back to your college days:
Did you take a class in one of your university’s large lecture halls? The kind with 100-200 students, one professor, and maybe a teaching assistant or two? We took several of these courses during our undergraduate days and, while we did fine in them, we never felt connected to the material or the teacher in a meaningful way.
It wasn’t until we started our later course work, those classes that were actually related to our majors, that we started to truly enjoy going to class. The reason is simple: those classes were smaller. We got to know our professors, they got to know us, and we were able to share our thoughts and work with students who quickly became friends rather than those people we happened to sit next to on any given day.
As it turns out, the benefits of smaller class sizes aren’t limited to college-aged students! Let’s look at some of the ways smaller classes benefit students starting in elementary school.
A Personal Relationship with the Teacher
The advantages of smaller classes start long before we even consider academic achievement or test scores thanks to the personal relationships these environments foster. With smaller class sizes, teachers can get to know each student as an individual and learn about their personalities in a way that is simply impossible in larger classes. In time, this can lead to more individualized instruction where teachers can tailor instruction to each student.
Teachers are often overworked and get an unfair reputation for teaching to the lowest common denominator. This criticism all but disappears with smaller classes, as teachers can help their students stay on level by offering more one-on-one instruction. Fewer students usually means the gaps between the top student and the bottom student is much smaller, and teachers can work with both types of student to ensure they are staying on-level and getting the instruction they need.
This might be our favorite part of being Branch School parents (though don’t hold us to that because our favorite part changes every week). We can’t tell you how satisfying it is to have a conversation with a teacher and have her say something like “I’ve noticed your child is really strong in Subject A, but sometimes struggles with Subject B because it doesn’t come easy to her like her other work.” The teachers at The Branch School truly know our child, they know her strengths and weaknesses, and therefore they know how to get the best from her.
Students in a small classroom aren’t just faces in the crowd to each other. They get to know their peers in a much deeper way than we did during our days in public elementary, middle, and high schools. These relationships are already deeper, and promise to be longer-lasting, than most friendships forged at such a young age. Because they are all friends, students in a smaller classroom are less likely to be disruptive and more likely to respect the time and talents of their classmates.
With fewer students per class, children are able to connect more closely with their peers. This leads to them becoming much more confident and comfortable when it comes to sharing their ideas and perspectives because they know what they say will be treated with respect. If the school has an international student body, children will respect and connect with peers who are from different cultures and countries. Learning to be part a community in this way is a very important skill in the globalized 21st century.
Research Supported Results
The above benefits all sound nice, but what about the facts? Where’s the hard data to support smaller classes? Then National Education Foundation (NEA) has you covered. They looked at the Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) and found that students in K-3 classrooms of 13-17 children made significant academic gains over their peers in classrooms with 22-25 students. Kindergarten students in smaller classes in this study were one month ahead of their peers by the end of the kindergarten year, and were two months ahead by the end of their second grade years.
The NEA recommends a class size of 15 or fewer students in regular classrooms, and even smaller classes in programs for students with special needs. In contrast, the state of Texas mandates a ratio of no more than 20 students for one teacher in public school classrooms. Clearly, there is a divide between these numbers, one that tips the scales in favor of private schools in Texas. Classes at The Branch School average 13-14 students, and we’ve seen her grow both academically and socially by leaps and bounds during her time there.
Private schools in Texas often provide the best of all possible worlds when it comes to class size and student achievement. There can be no doubt that smaller classes lead to stronger students, both academically and socially. The relationships forged during their time at the school are one of the reasons so many Branch School alumni visit the school once they’ve graduated, and it’s one more reason we’re proud to be a part of this family.
A Branch School Parent