After seven decades of educating young minds, Fairmont has embraced many valuable lessons about what it takes to provide an exceptional learning experience for our students. As a parent, you undoubtedly hold strong feelings about the factors you believe can have a strong influence on your child’s educational success. And if you’re like many others, having a small class size is part of that discussion.
Of course, the benefits of a small class intuitively make sense to us – with fewer students, a teacher can offer more personalized attention, such as tailoring lessons to individual learning styles, spending more time addressing specific questions, and closely monitoring each student’s progress. In fact, academic research bears this out. According to a widely respected study conducted by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, smaller class sizes – typically defined as having fewer students per teacher (i.e., a lower student:teacher ratio) – tend to lead to improved academic outcomes for K-8 students. The Brown study also suggests that the benefits of smaller class sizes can extend beyond the immediate academic year and follow students into subsequent years.
But while class size is a long-held component in the conversation surrounding student achievement, several other factors are far more influential. In his comprehensive work that synthesized over 800 meta-analyses relating to student learning, educator and statistician John Hattie examined the “effect size” of a wide range of educational strategies and calculated each one’s specific impact on student learning.
Dr. Hattie analyzed 252 attributes and measured their respective effect sizes, ranging from a high of 1.57 (most impactful) to a low of -0.9 (most detrimental). Interestingly, reducing class size was measured at just 0.21 – well below the 0.4 average, or what Hattie called the “hinge point” against which he judged each factor’s influence.
In contrast, the following is a recap of factors that were found to be the strongest drivers of student learning success:
- High-Impact Strategies – Hattie’s research highlighted certain teaching strategies and factors that have a particularly high impact on student achievement. Some of these include providing clear learning intentions and success criteria, developing student agency, and fostering positive teacher-student relationships.
- Teacher Expertise – Hattie emphasized the importance of teacher expertise in maximizing student learning. He argued that the quality of teaching is one of the most critical factors influencing educational outcomes and that professional development should focus on improving teacher effectiveness.
- Constructive Feedback from the Teacher – Effective feedback is a central theme in Hattie’s work. He suggested that timely and specific feedback can significantly enhance student learning, as it helps students understand their strengths and potential areas for improvement.
- Student Self-Regulation – The research recognized the importance of students’ ability to regulate their own learning. Teaching students how to set goals, monitor their progress, and adapt their strategies based on feedback can empower them to become more independent and effective learners.
- Classroom Environment – Factors related to the classroom environment, such as a positive and supportive atmosphere, also play a crucial role in student learning. When teachers establish a safe and respectful classroom setting, student engagement and motivation can be enhanced.
This is not to say that class size is unimportant. At Fairmont, we strive to structure our classes so they are small enough for students to receive the individual attention they deserve and large enough to promote whole-group interaction where they can engage as part of a vibrant and collaborative learning community.
Still, when we consider the student:teacher ratio, Dr. Hattie’s research clearly demonstrates that the number to the right of the colon is far less important than the person occupying the right side of that equation. Excellent teachers help create excellent learners. And at Fairmont, we have the best!
Continuum of Learning
Five dynamic campuses in Orange County, CA offering individualized instruction for P-12th grade students.
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