From 8:25 to 3:15, classrooms around the school are teeming with students working, learning, and growing. However, sometimes these classrooms are not so full. In fact, the school’s average class size is only 13 students, Registrar Chris Garrison said.
“Typically the smallest classes tend to be high-level arts and high-level language classes. The largest classes are around 20 students, but the deans and I try as best as we can to keep classes under that,” Garrison said.
“Our priority in scheduling is to accommodate as many student course requests as possible, so we are, of course, balancing that with whatever the ideal class size might be for that course,” he said.
Brigette Kon (11) has noticed that class size varies with the subject, not just the level, with STEM classes being much larger, she said. During her freshman and sophomore year, her math classes had 20 and 19 students, respectively, she said.
“My ideal class size would be around nine to 11 students for a humanities class, but around 12-15 for a math class,” Natalia Mason (10) said.
English teacher Jennifer Huang prefers to teach her English classes on the lower end, finding around seven to 10 students to be a sweet spot. “Too small of a class can put more stress on the students and the teacher to keep the conversation flowing. However, in too large of a class, students may begin to feel as though they need to fight for the time necessary to air everything they want to say,” she said.
Science and math classes are often larger, since you can effectively use a lecture-based style to give information, and humanities classes take advantage of an understanding and discussion-based environment, Jaden Piccirillo (9) said.
Students and teachers have indeed taken note of the link between the size of the class and the style of teaching.
“I think for discussion-based classes, it is better in a smaller class,” Madhav Menon (10) said.
History teacher Ricardo Alvarez-Pimentel similarly believes it is ideal to have a smaller number of students, especially because his classes are so discussion-based. “In a larger class, discussion is very difficult to have, especially because it leaves out some kids’ perspectives,” he said.
“I feel like smaller classes cause discussion-based classes, and if you have a larger class than it leads to a more lecture-based conversation,” Uddipto Nandi (9) said.
Huang also has noticed that there’s less of a need for very structured activities in smaller classes. “In a larger class, in order to have everyone be involved, especially shy students, it’s often best to break the class into smaller discussion groups. In a class where there are already only eight students, though, it can function as one big discussion group,” she said.
“Ideally, you want to have a smaller number of students because these are discussion classes, so in one that is too large, discussion is very difficult to happen. It leaves out certain kids if you have strong personalities in a class,” Alvarez said.
Piccirillo said that ideas can be shared more often in larger classes and more thoroughly in smaller classes.
Many students and teachers agree, believing that teachers have more individual connections with students in smaller classes.
“If there is a smaller class, the teacher can give more time to each student. Students can often understand things better, because each student gets more time to ask questions,” Nandi said.
Kon also feels more connected to her other classmates in smaller classes since those classes allow her to hear everyone speak almost every day, she said.
Huang also noticed that it’s easier to keep track of how every student is feeling at any given moment in a smaller class. “In a larger class, it can be harder to detect if a student is struggling because they may try to hide their lack of participation behind others who are more vocal,” she said.
Isabella Abbott (10) similarly found that because there are only eight students in her English class, taught by Huang, she’s become more acquainted with her peers and teacher. “I really like how small our English class is, because every student brings something distinctly different to out conversations. There’s a lot of variety in what students are saying, but because the class is so small, it also allows us to become closer,” she said.
Dallas Dent (11) noticed that she tends to meet with a teacher of one of her larger class more often. “I try not to add too much in the class because sometimes that takes away from the main lesson and confuses other classmates,” she said. “So, when I can, I meet with that teacher to either get clarification on something or to let the teacher know that I know what is going on.”
Mason, who is in the same eight-person English class as Abbott, finds that as a result of the size she’s been able to connect with her English teacher during class. “It becomes easier to build a relationship with teachers outside of a smaller classroom as well. If there are fewer students in a class, the teacher will tend to have more availability,” she said.
Still, many students prefer larger classes. Dent said she feels more comfortable in a larger classroom because there is less attention on each individual. She also appreciates the cultural aspect of being around more people in the classroom setting, she said.
Kon believes that students do not participate as much in large classes, she said. “I think that in large classes I tend to drift off more because the teacher gets distracted with the other students and I don’t really pay attention during those times,” she said.
Mason also finds that it’s far harder to get distracted in a smaller class. “In a smaller class, there are always less side conversations, and everyone priorities participating,” she said.
Overall, teachers and students agreed that there were numerous positives and negatives of all class sizes.
“The advantages [of teaching a small class] are that you feel like you can connect with each student individually on a deeper level, and you have a closer relationship as a class. However, having a class of a too small size can cause kids to feel as if they are put on the spot,” Alvarez said.
Imagine that you and your friend walk into a teacher’s office to discuss the material you’ve reviewed in class. Now instead, imagine that the two of you are the class. Ava Merker (11) and Sam Mayo (11) are the only two students in the school’s smallest class, AP Latin.
“It’s a pretty anomalous situation,” Latin Teacher James McCaw said. In past years, the class hovered around an average of 10 students, but the two person class emerged because of a number of scheduling conflicts. This caused Latin 3 to fragment, preventing what normally would’ve been a larger AP class, he said.
Generally, for Latin, classes can fall as low as five to six students and as high as around 14, though McCaw prefers classes with around ten students, he said. “10 seems to be the number which ensures daily participation; it grants everyone a voice in the class,” he said.
“When a class is this small, though, it becomes much more personal. There isn’t the same separation you’d get in a larger class,” McCaw said.
“I’ve enjoyed the experience of having a two person class because especially in junior year, everyone is dying to participate. To have the opportunity to be almost solely one-on-one with your teacher is special,” Merker said.
In a smaller class, a teacher can play to the specific needs of a student. “It’s more targeted towards how the individual students learn best,” Mayo said.
“Last year, I had a larger class of around eight students. We didn’t have the same type of time to ask as many questions for our own individual clarification,” Merker said.
On the other hand, a smaller class puts way more pressure on the few students present.
“In this case, there’s far more of an onus on the students,” McCaw said. “The students have more work placed upon them, such as larger chunks of translation, which can be tough.”
There’s no longer any leeway in terms of preparedness, Merker said. “If you’re not completely prepared, McCaw knows, and that ensures we’re always on top of our workload.”
McCaw likes when both students understand the material at the same pace, he said. “The class can move along quite quickly, and we can dive into issues that are interesting to the few individual students,” he said. “Issues only occur when, or if, one student struggles to pull their own weight.”
By the end of the year, these two students will have experienced more interaction with the language and a greater exposure to larger selections of work, McCaw said.
“It’s about creating a healthy buzz of energy and a collection of supportive and creative artists,” theatre teacher Benjamin Posner said.
Posner teaches a seven student section of Acting II, an intimate class that hones in on actors’ ability to develop characters and analyze text.
“I think that the higher level studio classes naturally shrink in size as students focus in on areas of interest,” he said.
“Most of my arts classes have been relatively small,” Acting II student Dylan Chin (11) said. “In eighth grade, I had a theatre tech class that was three people.”
Chin said the acting class is the perfect size, but if he were to change anything about the class size, he would make it an even number of people in order for partner work to be achieved more easily.
“I definitely prefer small arts classes; they allow you to genuinely learn from the teacher and have a dialogue with them that would be harder to maintain in a larger class,” Chin said.
“I think it’s especially helpful to have small class sizes for classes like acting because in those classes, the teacher can really only work with one or two kids at a time. If you have a small class, you can spend a lot more time working with the teacher,” Lara Hersch (10) said.
Posner also prefers teaching the small class because performance work is about time and attention, and the smaller the class, the more time he can spend with each student’s work. Nevertheless, Posner thinks that there is such a thing as a class that is too small, he said. With their group now, students are still able to benefit and learn from each others’ work.
A conversational approach to the class allows the teacher to be able to spend more genuine time with the students, Chin said.
“With a smaller class size, you get to spend more time with each student, learning more about them as students and actors,” Posner said. “With a larger class size, you may not get to know them as well, or some students might take advantage of the size and hide amongst the group.”
Although she prefers being in a small acting class, Hersch thinks that working with a larger group of students would be better than working with the same few people each time, she said.
“Honestly, I would only prefer a larger class if I thought the class was boring and I wanted to check out and let others talk for me, but that is very rare,” Chin said.
HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY ART
The 19 pupils in the History of Contemporary Art class grapple with making their voices heard in the large, lecture-based class.
Mika Asfaw (11) said that the main disadvantage of being in a large class is feeling drowned out by everyone else. “There are so many people who want to give their opinions that it’s usually the people with the strongest will to give their opinions who control the class,” Asfaw said.
Gabby Fischberg (10) agrees with Asfaw. “A large class does lead to many opinions. The downside of that is that many of those opinions can’t be shared,” Fischberg said. Personally, Fischberg enjoys a smaller class with a larger student to teacher ratio. She believes that the direct mentoring and guidance found in a smaller class setting is integral to her education, she said.
“I think bigger classrooms make it so that students feel like they can’t ask as many questions,” Eliza Becker (9) said.
This lack of questions makes it more difficult to accommodate different kinds of students. “It’s hard to get to all of the learning styles when you have a larger class,” Art history teacher Avram Schlesinger ‘90 said.
The size of a class also tends to affect the learning of introverted students, Schlesinger said. “I think that with a larger class size students who view themselves as introverts have a better ability to hide in ways that make them comfortable,” he said.
Schlesinger typically hears more from the outspoken students, so he makes an effort to bring introverted minds into the discussion as well, he said
“For introverted people, it might be scary to start off in a class that is really large,” Madhav Menon (10) said. “The best way to get out of your comfort zone is by literally pushing yourself out, and I think that is what large classes end up doing.”
However, specifically with art history, many students believe thaat it can actually be better to have a larger class. “It’s fine to have a larger [art history] class since there aren’t as many discussions. I like having a really large class because it allows for a lot more ideas,” Menon said.
Fischberg agrees that the size of the class does not affect her learning as much as it would in other classes. “I think Art History in general tends to be a little bit more of a lecture-based class, rather than group learning or a discussion class, just because there are a lot of specific dates and specific things and concrete subjects that you have to learn and hit in each class,” she said.
Nonetheless, students receive the opportunity to collaborate with lots of different people in group projects, especially with people that you may have never met before or that have different ideas, Becker said.
The students have found that Schlesinger has created a more discussion-based learning environment, even in a large class like History of Contemporary Art. He often lets the kids take over to teach their peers instead, often through presentations or analyses.
The lecture-based style of the class is changing, Schlesinger said. “I have done a lot of what they call ‘flipping the classroom,’” he said.
“I believe that we are in a moment where we are capable of getting all the information we want,” Schlesinger said. “So, we no longer have to be the ‘sage on the stage’ as we call it. We have to teach you how to find the information, be critical of the information and present the information. That’s my belief.”