This won’t surprise anyone in education, but class size matters. It matters a lot. The bigger the class, the harder it is to meet the individual needs of the learners in our classrooms.

As I began to pilot NEW School this year, my goals were to:

I realize now that the number one hurdle I face in successfully accomplishing these goals is the sheer number of students I see on a daily basis. There is only so much time in a day and large class sizes make connecting with individual students challenging. My co-teacher and I use blended learning models to create more opportunities to connect with students in person and online; however, it’s still a daily challenge to meet all of my students’ needs and attempt to tailor learning for individual students.

Piloting this program has been a real eye opener about why it’s so challenging to execute innovative, outside of the box programs at traditional high schools where teachers juggle large numbers of students. Although smaller class sizes require a significant financial investment, I believe it’s necessary if teachers are going to be truly effective in shifting from the status quo to more innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

20 Responses

  1. As an English teacher at an urban public school, I often have friends/family members who ask me questions like- “if you could make just ONE change to your school what change would you make?” My answer is ALWAYS smaller class sizes. My small classes are near always the best behaved, see the most growth, and have the best clsss sommunity. It would make such a difference. Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Absolutely! I’ve seen the same benefits when I work with smaller groups of students. It makes total sense. Fewer students = more time spent with individual students.


    • Hi Brian,

      I’ve read John Hattie’s work and used a lot of that data to guide my work with students (i.e. students self-assessing/grading their own work), but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how class size has such little impact. It seems to directly impact several of the other factors Hattie highlights as having a higher impact on student learning. I agree it’s worth throwing into the conversation. That said, in my day-to-day work I feel like the higher the teacher to student ratio, the more challenging it is to meet the needs of the learners in my room.

      Thanks for the comment!


      • I often wonder about these “research” results and exactly what sizes the classes were that they were researching. Perhaps it depends on the subject classes they were researching or the variation in their class sizes, but I can’t help but think that if they did the research with classes that varied from 25 as opposed to 30 or 35 or even 40 they’d see a much larger difference.

        • Yes! That is what I have been saying for years! Those in power always cite Hattie’s research as a way to placate the public into believing that their way of funneling public funds into other programs as opposed to smaller classes will not affect student achievement, at least significantly. However, they do not consider that had he did not research classes of 35+, especially in high school where teachers may have a total of 220+ students a year.

          • I wonder if you control for the quality of the teacher if class size would have such a small impact?

          • Hi Grace,

            I heard a great interview with John Hattie on a podcast called VrainWaves and he clarified that class size does not impact learning outcomes significantly if teachers are using traditional teaching methods. However, if educators are using more dynamic approaches to designing and facilitating lessons, then class size can have an impact. I appreciated the way he explained it since clearly a lot of people have written off class size because of research. Unfortunately, that research does not account for the innovative new approaches to teaching that are blossoming all over the United States.


      • Yeah, class size is everything. Don’t let any study fool ya. BTW, @catlin_tucker, I really want to incorporate station rotations next year. Any blog posts on how to manage with class sizes of 40 (five times per day)?

  2. I totally agree that class size matters. I’ve often said, “We don’t need to pay teachers more; we need to pay more teachers!” (Although a decent wage would surely help!)

  3. About Hattie, most studies found that once class size is reduced not much changes in the teacher’s practice and thus the achived impact on success. This does not really apply to teachers who go blended or PBL, but more in terms of old-school lectures, exercices and correction. Giving a lecture to 36 or 28 students might not change much if students are still passively listening. But having very active lessons where the teacher seeks and gives feedback and I say SIZE MATTERS!

  4. Granted, it’s been a long time since I have looked at this research, but “back in the day” (2004-5) when I was working on my masters, this is one of the things I looked at with regard to student achievement. The research I used at the time was not about whether class size mattered but rather WHAT class size matters? In other words, how much do you have to reduce size before you see results? The answer in the research I looked at was you had to get down to less than 15 students per class. Not knowing the research cited in the comments here, I wonder if they took that into account. A school system that reduces the average class size from 30 to 20 looks like they’ve done a lot, but in reality that means very little in terms of student achievement gains.

  5. John Hattie’s research was conducted in New Zealand so I don’t understand why it would be applicable here with the problems we deal with in the US.

  6. Yes, I have also often wondered about Hattie’s research on class sizes. I’ve tended to think that maybe it’s as Martin postulated: if you’re doing the traditional direct teaching approach, class size probably doesn’t matter because there’s very little individual interaction anyway. I love Big Picture’s model with PBL and they stick to a maximum of 15 in each class in order to give each individual lots of time and support. I’m at a disadvantaged school and I’ve always said that if I had control over the literacy funding, I would put less into special programs and a lot more into ensuring a higher teacher/student ratio. With personalised learning, surely that’s the way to go.

  7. Hattie’s work on class size does not take into consideration several factors including homogenity, professional development, expertise, etc. Yes it is true that as a unique factor, class size only has a 0.21, but we all know that education is a conjugation of many factors (extrernal or internal)

  8. I find a huge difficulty in switching to a personalized structure because students have been conditioned to their role as the receiver of learning, not as active participants. As they are reconditioned to take increasingly active roles in their own learning, the role of a teacher/facilitator is bound to be exhausting as we make this necessary transition. Once students get there, I hope that the teacher/student ratios and burden on the teacher role to lessen as our education system revisions itself. In the meanwhile, additional time would be awesome; money to fund more favorable teacher ratios, development, and learning environments would be so helpful, but I don’t anticipate these changes within the lifetime of my career. It’s going to be work, and it’s going to be imperfect and messy, but it is so going to be worth it!

  9. Good evening! My school is in year three of redesign with a focus on blended and personalized learning. It has been a slow process but very enlightening. I am interested to hear more about your NEW School project and how that has worked out for you. A coworker and I have discussed wanting to design a program like this in our school, but testing it out on a smaller scale initially. How has it worked within a pod within a larger traditional school structure? I would really just love to pick your brain. I am a current high school teacher, going in to year 13, and getting my graduate certificate in instructional technology facilitator. Hope to hear from you, have a great night!!

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