Class Size—Beyond One Teacher and Four Walls

One year I team-taught in a school where I was one of two teachers for 25 fourth through sixth grade students! In that small class I could creatively meet the needs of a wide range of student abilities, from non-readers to nine-year-olds reading Shakespeare plays with me.

By the way, my students who were non-readers at the beginning of the year read Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang independently by the end of the year. In that one year I had the time to work intensively with their small group, teaching them both phonics and sight reading, and taking them through the first, second, third, and fourth grade readers before they tackled their chapter book independently, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. They loved the book and reveled in their success!

Meanwhile, I also had the time to work with three other reading groups, including the group working on Shakespeare. After we finished reading one of the plays at school, the students watched the BBC production at home, and their parents came in afterwards to say how much their children enjoyed and understood the play. Then they me asked if they could attend the class next time we read a play!

I know from firsthand personal experience how much I can accomplish with significantly smaller classes.

Even if we get smaller class sizes, even if the McCleary decision forces the legislature to fully fund education, even if the money arrives in my lifetime, I do not necessarily expect the ratio to work out to be one teacher, four walls, 23 students.

For one thing, as people have pointed out, to have smaller groups of students per teacher requires more classrooms. The cost isn’t just about hiring more teachers, it’s about building more classrooms. More buildings.

Or maybe not.

When I was in New York years ago I ran into an enthusiastic group of teachers. They worked in a program where three teachers taught two classrooms of children in one double room. That worked out to a one to 20 ratio without building an extra classroom.

The kicker to their program? One of the three teachers in each partnership had to have training in Special Ed.

The teachers said, “Go to reading” or “Go to math.” The kids scrambled to the three points in the huge space for one of three reading or math groups—on grade level, needing help, above grade level. By the way, the groups needing help were having so much fun, everyone wanted to be in those groups! There was support in the classroom for science and social studies. No students left the room for special support services. There was no stigma to getting services.

My only suggestion to them was that one member of the team should have training in gifted education. They thought that was a great idea. I moved to Washington and never heard any more about that program. But I always liked the idea.

Three teachers, four walls, 60 students. Teachers trained in teams with specialists in Special Education and gifted. It’s a way to reduce class size without paying for more classroom construction. (Some remodeling, maybe, it’s true, but nothing more.)

And it’s a way to provide for differentiated instruction all day, every day.



2 thoughts on “Class Size—Beyond One Teacher and Four Walls

  1. Maren Johnson (@maren_johnson)

    Cool idea! I actually went to kindergarten in a class with a concept like this. There were 50+ kids, 2 teachers, and a number of paraprofessionals, all in a very large room. I remember spending lots of time at various stations doing small group activities. I also remember feeling overwhelmed during “circle” time with the whole class. It is worth looking into, however!

  2. Spencer Olmsted

    This is an interesting approach. I think it’s going to take some reinventing of the model that we have in place right now. Unfortunately, the shortage of space won’t be the only problem. I imagine that the vision it will take from district leaders to review, research, and implement newer ways of working may be uncommon. Additionally, there seems to be a looming shortage of qualified teachers on the sidelines ready to step into the classroom.

    Still, these are problems with solutions – many solutions. It would seem that McCleary is the first step towards any of this change, and unfortunately progress towards adequate funding has yet to materialize.

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