I was fortunate to meet John Hattie recently who is one academic I often quote in my work. John Hattie is from New Zealand and has been researching amongst other things the effects of various strategies or innovations on student learning.
As I start to plan the 2009 school year I hear the catch cry from parents and teachers alike “we must have lower class sizes”. I recall John’s work on the effect of lowering class sizes on student achievement, which was minimal. Unless and I say unless it is accompanied with a change in teacher behaviour. He wrote a paper on this titled: “The paradox of reducing class size and improving learning outcomes” and concluded that whilst lower class size improved teacher morale for a time it did not of its own accord significantly improve student learning outcomes. He cited other factors with much greater impact on student learning:e.g. disruptive children or teacher “instructional” quality being two of them. It would appear based on John’s research that to reduce from 28 to 25 or 22 therefore without working on teacher instruction or managing children with challenging behaviors would have minimal impact on improved learning outcomes.
Therefore the balance of low class sizes is one where investing in improving teachers instructional skills and systems that minimize the effects of disruptive children is of at least equal value. How to get a consistent message on class sizes to all parties is a challenge?