Throughout my schooling I experienced small class sizes: an average class in my primary school taught 13 pupils, at A Level my largest class was five and my smallest had just two, besides the teacher. Coming to university I have met a host of others who had 30+ in their classes and this led me to think how this difference in education may have affected our learning. Subsequently, I pondered over evidence showing that good teachers make a clear difference in student achievement: the problem we face is that we don’t really know what makes a good teacher. This blog will discuss how class-size reduction (CSR) may affect children’s learning and whether you can define a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ teacher.

Research in the state of Indiana found that students in smaller class sizes scored higher on standardised tests than those in larger classes (Bain & Achilles, 1986); it has also been noted that smaller class sizes reduce behavioural issues and the teachers themselves reported more efficiency and productivity within the classroom. But how effective can these smaller class sizes really be? Bain and Achilles established that smaller class sizes require potentially large scale costs for additional classrooms and teachers, which may be why more schools do not take this approach to learning.

PROJECT STAR: Mosteller began a three-phase project, the first entitled Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) in 1985, obtaining results from kindergarten, first, second and third grade. Students and teachers were randomly assigned from approximately 80 schools to three different size groups in order to investigate the effect of class size on learning development:

  1. Small – 13-17
  2. Regular – 22-25 (with paid aide)
  3. Regular – 22-25 (no aide)

Curriculum-based tests were used to assess and compare the performance of the 6,500 students. The results showed a substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies in those smaller class sizes. Interestingly, the initial achievement of pupils from minority groups was double that of the majority children, however this levelled out in later years as the majority group caught up.

LASTING BENEFITS STUDY: Four years later Mosteller (1989) began the second phase of the study, observing the progressive performance of the children when they were returned to regular sizes. Students who were originally enrolled in the smaller class sizes continued to perform better than those who had experienced larger classes.

 PROJECT CHALLENGE: The third and final phase of the project funded 17 of the economically poorest school districts to provide smaller class sizes for kindergarten, first, second and third grades. Their mathematics and reading end-of-year standing from within 139 districts was improved from below average to above average.

Given that most teachers are trained to teach in larger classes of children, Stecher et al. (2001) have highlighted the importance of teacher personal development for the successful implementation of CSR.

On the other side of the scale, a meta analysis conducted by Glass and Smith (1979) found that reducing class sizes from 40 pupils to 30, and even to 25 showed little gain in student performance. However reducing it to as little as 15 pupils did yield a higher level of achievement.

It seems clear that class size does affect the performance of students, with smaller class sizes producing higher levels of achievement; however the reduction of such classes must be substantial in order to see such an increase in performance.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEACHER: Regarding teacher performance and characteristics, Sanders and colleagues found that the effectiveness of teachers has more of an influence on student achievement than any other schooling factor. The researchers placed the teachers into effectiveness quantiles based on the students’ growth in achievement. Teachers who fell into the first quantile – the least effective teachers – were found to elicit an average of 14 percentile points per year for student gains. The most effective teachers elicited an average 52 percentile points for student gain.

One can see that the teacher you have is incredibly important to your learning; if you have a ‘bad’ teacher for a subject you do not like, then you are less likely to succeed in that subject than if you had a ‘good’ teacher. However, you cannot choose your teacher and while good teaching is important, it is not clear what makes for a good teacher. Most measures used by school systems to screen candidates for teacher quality look at certification, experience and education level, however there is little definitive evidence to suggest that these characteristics are associated with higher student achievement (Goldhaber, 2002). There is some evidence that experienced teachers are more effective with students, (Darling-Hammond, 1999) but the benefits of additional years of experience appear to level off early in a teacher’s career. Measures of teachers’ academic skills, such as their verbal ability (Peterson, Marx & Clark, 1978), may more accurately predict their effectiveness, but there is far less evidence on this issue, and these findings are also not conclusive.

Interestingly, the effects of a teacher’s quality persists for years after the student has a particular teacher which could either be detrimental or beneficial, depending on which teacher you get stuck with!

Bringing these two topics together, one can see that a large class size coupled with a bad teacher can create a negative learning environment, compared with a smaller class size and a good teacher.

Below is my corresponding talk:


5 thoughts on “BLOG 3: CSR & “WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEACHER?” (Video Talk)

  1. Wow only 2 people in one of your classes? that sounds amazing! I was always stuck in a class with 30 odd people which was terrible – we never got anything done!!

    To expand on your blog I wanted to find out what actually makes small class size more successful than a large class size! There were a number of reasons why small classes are more effective, such as: teachers’ interpersonal styles (Bourke, 1986) and fewer reasons to get distracted (Blatchford, 2010). Although one consistent finding was small classes are more successful due to the students’ behaviour – they were more engaged in learning behaviours and displayed less disruptive behaviour. Finn, Pannozzo and Achilles (2003) suggest that student’s behaviour improved because they stand out more when they are in a small group, in other words – there is more of a chance that a teacher will ask them a question!! So they will need to focus so they can answer the question. In a large group they can just hide behind someone else and the teacher will probably pick someone else. Another reason for behaviour improvement in small classes is due to a decrease in social loafing – students are more likely to sit back and not do any work in a group as they feel as though someone else can do it for them! And other reason that small class size encourages good behaviour is because the students feel as though they belong to the group.

    Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Goldstein, H., & Martin, C. (2003). Are class size differences related to pupils’ educational progress and classroom processes? Findings from the institute of education class size study of children aged 5–7 years. British Educational Research Journal, 29(5), 709-730.

    Bourke, S. (1986). How smaller is better: Some relationships between class size, teaching practices, and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 23, 558–571.

    Finn, J. D., Pannozzo, G. M., & Achilles, C. M. (2003). The “why’s” of class size: Student behavior in small classes. Review of Educational Research,73(3), 321-368.

  2. A comparable study to that of STAR is project SAGE by Graue et al (2002). They set out to reduce class size in nine low income schools. During my blogs I’ve preached how the under privileged are currently stigmatised in the educational system. Therefore, the aspect which most impressed me about this initiative was that those that benefited most were ethnic minorities or under privileged children.

    An issue encountered in the programme was unsurprisingly funding. It seems like a cruel paradox that those benefiting most from smaller class sizes are those that are least likely to be able to afford the luxury.

  3. Sniders (2006) believes that it is a myth that the aspects of a teacher have an effect on the learning of the students. I to some extent agree with it being a myth. However, I believe, that there must be some sort of link between a teacher and the increase in learning. I believe the link may be to do more with the bond a teacher gains with a student rather than whether the teacher is good or bad. If the teacher can gain a relationship with the student (I’m talking on a strictly professional level here) then the student is more likely to learn, even if the teacher may be branded a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ teacher. Like you said in your blog, not all students will get on with every teacher, so there may be a rise and fall between effort levels in each class, if the student doesn’t get on with the teacher there will be a decrease in the level of attention, therefore leading to a decrease in learning but I do believe a bond is needed in order to increase the levels of attention from students.

  4. Part of me wants to agree with what your suggesting, with the use of one-to-one attention to children, mainly due to watching a TED talk that really makes you believe that this form of tuition can really help some individuals ( But on the other hand, by being in a class of two at A- level, are the students missing out on anything? It has been suggested that a classroom, no matter the size of it, sits in groups, but very rarely works as a group (Galton et al., 1980). With such small class sizes, the benefits of working in a group isn’t even an option, small groups being able to offer the ability to discuss opposing pieces of information and ideas about the topic- which to me increases the chances of understanding. It also links itself to the “problem analysis framework” which acts as a support system between students within the group setting (Gill, & Monsen, 1995). I will always remember a quote from Mike’s education module last semester from Schultz- “going to school is an education in itself, not to be confused with getting an education”. Will students in smaller class sizes miss out on the social skills developed through schools?

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